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CauseWired on Leading Podcast: How Nonprofits Can Use the Web to Create Real Causes

Corey Pudhorodsky has been producing the excellent 501c3cast, which deals with a wide range of issues in philanthropy and nonprofit management, since 2005 – and this week, I was honored to be his special guest on the 107th in this eminently NPR-worthy program. You can listen via the player below, but be sure to click through to Corey’s show notes and to sample the vast archive of essential programming – the 501c3cast really is a vital channel for any nonprofit leader.

I was also pleased to participate in a terrific panel on “Government by the People 2.0” hosted by the New York Software Industry Association last night in New York. Chaired by Howard Greenstein, my fellow panelists included Micah Sifry of the Personal Democracy Forum, Rachel Stern of, and Josh Levy of Over at his excellent Political Gastronomica blog, wired political consultant Sanford Dickert has a terrific live-blog of the panel (and includes his own observations).


Guest Post – Social Actions Round-up No. 21

Note: The online social activism sector is growing all the time, and sharing information and ideas is crucial to continuing that growth – and the very impact on society. We’re happy to carry the excellent Social Actions Round-up of links and resources here at CauseWired, created by the prolific and plugged-in team of Joe Solomon, Christine Egger and Peter Deitz. Enjoy it – and pass it along!

The Case Foundation -- Change Begins With Me

Over the holidays, online changemakers have not seized to churn out news. Below you will find the latest Social Actions round-up, bringing us up to date with the movers and shakers of online social activism. We’d like to start the New Year by featuring three breaking stories.

Over the holidays, The Case Foundation launched a campaign called, Change Begins With Me. The foundation is inviting people to write brief testimonies about how they plan to make change in 2009. One lucky winner will receive a ticket to President Elect Obama’s inauguration at the end of January.

Also on the change front, launched 7 new blogs on the second day of 2009. The new blogs include Autism, Education, Global Health, Health Care, Human Trafficking, Poverty in America, and Sustainable Food.

We’d also like to congratulate Tom Watson, author of CauseWired, on the formal launch of his new company, CauseWired Communications. [Note from Tom and his partner Susan: thanks!]

News Roundup

The Case Foundation launches the Change Begins With Me campaign. launches 7 new blogs and makes predictions for 2009.

Tom Watson formally launches CauseWired Communications.

Beth Kanter writes about the Facebook Causes birthday application.

Paul Lamb writes on the Cool & Conscientious Ning network about Living Givingly. writes about best practices for finding the lastest nonprofit news.

Amazee links to a new paper on the growing influence of social networks.

Razoo publishes a list of what it considers the 100 best charities.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy posts the transcript of a discussion about online social activism with Tom Watson.

FastCompany reports on Beth Kanter’s effective Twitter fundraising.

Jim Moss argues that Pointing and Clicking is Not Activism.

Qui Diaz publishes on Mashable a blog post detailing 50 ways to get your ‘give’ on.

Ning Network Creators features a post on building the perfect social network.

Peter Deitz posts on Pop!Tech a review of David Peat’s latest book Gentle Action.

Marcia Odell of Pact’s WORTH program receives the Vision Award for her outstanding work in savings-based micro-finance. Read the rest of this entry » vs.

If President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team are looking for a model that uses the power of social networks and citizen democracy to open up government, they ought to bring their own homepage – – and replace the g-o-v with a little o-r-g.

Online social activism portal, whose origins predate (by just a little bit) the theme of the Obama ’08 campaign, has opened up a super-connected suggestion box on national policy – and if they’re smart, the new Obama Administration will dive right in. I can almost picture a Capraesque scene in the Cabinet Room come January: Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dumps a huge hamper of suggestions on the big, shiny and table and calls on the startled Secretaries to “dig in” as President Obama nods in approval.

Not that you’d divine that sort of attitude from the dot-gov side of the Change domain spectrum: is a handsome, well-designed billboard with a light Obama agenda, the latest transition news, and the ability to apply for jobs and send in suggestions. It’s the polar opposite of the much-lauded MyBO site of the campaign, where the campaign allowed organizers to – well – organize publicly using the Obama team’s digital plumbing. And no, your once-prized MyBO log-in and identity won’t work in the Office of the President-elect.

I don’t think you can fault the transition team of, especially given the campaign’s track record on balancing real online collaboration with total control over the big brand messages – and I can see some of the wisdom in its skeletal “no drama” approach.

But man, imagine if they’d gone with the Ideas section of

I was hanging out over there earlier today and the breadth of the suggestions for the Obama Administration – most of them pretty clear from Obama supporters, as least in the general – was pretty amazing.

The site throws Barack Obama’s quote on open government right up top – both an as encouragement and as a not-so-subtle challenge: I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again.”

The ideas number in the hundreds and they’re divided up by causes – economy has the most suggestions, followed by energy, government reform and education. The suggestions are voted on by members – high vote-getters include: closing Guantanamo Bay, gay marriage initiatives, fighting global warming, and legalizing marijuana. Yeah, it’s a young liberal crowd on the whole. But there are some really interesting ideas – I was taken with the suggestion of Michael Kleinman, who describes himself as an aid worker from L.A.:

The most effective reform would be to establish a new cabinet-level Department of Development, with the power to coordinate US foreign assistance across and throughout the Government, while also implementing a long-term, strategic approach. USAID, as a sub-cabinet agency, lacks the ability to play such a role.

There are a lot of efforts out there to keep the super-wired organizing work that came to life around the Obama campaign alive – and even grow it into a real national movement that transcends a mere election campaign for a single politician. What Al Giordano is attempting with his network of Field Hands is a good example of the post-election “keep-it-going” mindset. It’s light on any unity of policy yet, but as Giordano points out, people are talking actively about their own roles as participants in democracy – something that is, frankly, a pretty new concept for a lot of Americans. And that’s what the transition site alternative is all about – a potential complement to the side, the “outside” to the politician’s “inside.”

“I see it as parallel attempts to get people involved in civic life again — one through the public sector, the other through the private,” said Josh Levy, editor-in-chief of in an email. “I think they can work together.”

Guest Post: Social Actions Roundup 12 – Re-launches with Social Change Blog Network

Note: The online social activism sector is growing all the time, and sharing information and ideas is crucial to continuing that growth – and the very impact on society. We’re happy to carry the excellent Social Actions Round-up of links and resources here at CauseWired, created by the prolific and plugged-in Joe Solomon. Enjoy it – and pass it along!

This week came the much anticipated re-launch of! The new combines online news channels (blogs) that focus on specific issues (i.e. – climate change) with relevant ways to get involved and take action. With a rock-star team of bloggers, and a super tight UI, the new is definitely worth checking out. You can also check out the posts that covered the re-launch here (including Newsweek, Mashable, and CauseWired) and follow on Twitter here.

More Platform News:

This week was also Online Giving Marketplaces – a conference that brought together “online giving marketplaces with philanthropy experts, so as to tap the pulse of what’s really happening on the frontier of philanthropy.” From the buzz I picked up from Twitter (Thanks @TomWilliams and @PeterDeitz), there was much discussions and excitement about collaborating on a philanthropy micro-format, which would unlock platforms’ giving opportunities – enabling 3rd party applications to offer them across the web. Check out Tom Williams’ awesome post for more info. You can also check out VentureBeat’s overview plus Lucy Bernholz’s post for excellent notes. You can also see a slideshow of Kiva’s presentation here.

In other platform-specific news…

  • Wokai is launching a pilot program for China micro-finance – Link (Also covered in WorldChanging)
  • ThePoint will launch a new site later this month called Groupon as in “group + coupon.”
  • Amazee shared a Drupal Case Study on their re-design here.
  • mGive Launches New Mobile Donation Campaigns – Link (Hat tip to Michael Stein)

Articles and Relevant News:

New & Noteworthy Campaigns:

  • Lend4Health won the first sprint on IdeaBlob! Now Tori Tuncan created a campaign on ThePoint to encourage people to vote in the next and final round!
  • Alex Steed got a matching $5,000 grant from the Case Foundation! In order to get the money, however, he needs your help to raise $5,000 (he’s over halfway there!) – You can chip in here.
  • Sign the petition to Ask Google for a World Diabetes Day Doodle

Social Actions News:

  • Britt Bravo asks “Have You Used Social Actions’ Search, WordPress Plug-ins, Widgets, or TwitterFeed Mashup? We Wanna Make You a Star!” – Got a story? Share it here.
  • Christine Egger introduces The Small Change Fund, a new organization providing small grants to local, grassroots groups across Canada. They recently approached the Social Actions team for strategic advice on how to include individual Canadians in their grantmaking process. With their permission, we’ve brought the conversation into a forum to encourage as broad a range of insights as possible – Join the conversation!
  • Peter Deitz shares his vision for micro-philanthropy at Online Social Marketplaces 2008, a closed event organized by and for grantees of The Omidyar Network.

Each week, Social Actions community members post links and news about online social activism – This round-up is a summary of the links that surfaced in the last 7 days.

New: As a bit of an experiment, you can now share links and news for future Social Actions rounds ups in the Peer-to-Peer Social Change FriendFeed Room.

The Change in

Way back in the dark ages, before there was a Google, some of the bright digerati both inside and outside of media companies had saying the loved to drop into presentations or spout at conferences. “Content,” they’d say with confidence, “is king.” Many of those who used that phrase in the early days of the commercial Internet (ie, the 90s) were misguided in their use of that phrase. While they were right about content being king in all forms of media, most were dead wrong about just who would be creating that content – and how we’d all consume it. Of course, it wasn’t traditional media companies who would control the new medium with their old broadcast and print models; they’d merely be part of it, and we’d all create content on a nearly constant basic. The consumer became the creator and back again.

Flash forward to the CauseWired web.

In the roughly ten months since I signed a contract to write CauseWired, many more platforms dedicated to some form of online social activism have come online. Some create ways of building people-powered campaigns across all of the million-plus nonprofits in this country; others go way beyond in defining “cause” to include political and advocacy causes, and small-scale personal efforts to change some of part of public life. The tubes are opening up, and the CauseWired web is beginning to mimic in some miniature form the vast opportunity for consumption that the web currently tracked by Google offers. Action-related databases are growing and succeeding – and they’re beginning to be integrated into the rest of the web. The Social Actions API, the DonorsChoose contests and widgets, the ubiquity of Causes on Facebook, the vast distribution of Kiva opportunities – these are all signs that online social activism is blowing out of its silo forever.

But I’m fascinated by the change in direction that one of the more well-known platforms took this week. is featured in CauseWired (I did my reporting last winter) because I was impressed with the ideas of founder Ben Rattray, who seemed to place an emphasis on impact, telling stories, and partnering with nonprofits already doing great work on the ground. Here’s what Rattray told me last winter:

“Obviously, we all care about the world’s problems but there was this chasm between the desire for change and practical access to the means for change.  When I was in school, social networks still hadn’t hadn’t been applied to philanthropy. There were real concrete problems for giving, volunteering, taking action. The traditional means are very impersonal, you have idea where your money’s going, no idea what the impact is. Truthfully, your $25 doesn’t matter.”

And was a very interesting platform: it tried to limit choices of those who wanted to take social actions, to make people choose, to present an intelligent selection of those choices. It was clea1rly an experient, very much a first pass.

The new is a more mature product – and a more compelling platform for social action. Guided by editor josh Levy, I took a look at the new just before its relaunch this week, and I was very much impressed. The site has embraced a strong commitment to content and story-telling – to making the case for support for an array of causes presented in several organizing folders with names like “Stop Genocide” and “End Homelessness.” And there are real people – accomplished bloggers and activists – behind each subject area, creating stories, building links, and putting forth potential actions. At the genocide sub-site, blogger Michelle F. writes about bombing in Darfur, the Obama and McCain stances on American intervention, and international law. She posts videos and links to other blogs – standard stuff, though well done. But the genocide site also presents the opportunity to take action through raising money, taking part in advocacy campaigns, or simply signing on other supporters. And there are fun ways for people to hook up by sending each other “compliments” on their actions. And I hear people-oriented contests and campaigns are in the works.

So the real test: I was surfing around and finding it fascianting. I sent stuff to friends. Threw some compliments. Watched some videos, followed some links. Learned a bunch. I looked up and a speedy hour had flown by. For this feed-obsessed, jittery-fingered media consumer, that is a lot of time.

When it comes to causes it seems….content really is king.

To Increase the Scope and Impact of the Citizen Sector

Tomorrow, I’m hosting a small working lunch at Changing Our World for Social Actions, the terrific online social venture that sometimes asks me for advice. We’ll have folks from Meetup,,, DonorsChoose, Idealist, ModestNeeds and other organizations – kicked off with a presentation by Peter Deitz and Christine Egger from Social Actions. I’m really looking forward to it.

A couple of days ago, Social Actions began to announce endorsements of its mission statement and terms of collaboration and they’ve already signed up,,, DoGooder.TV,,,,,,,, Six Degrees, and I’m sure there will be more; the value of Social Action is to create a combination of cross-platform search and collaboration among the various activism and giving platforms.

But to me, Social Actions is living proof of one of the key arguments I make in CauseWired – that online social activism is growing into a real sector. That’s why I really like the mission statement I grabbed for the headline on this post, one of four simple goals:

• To increase the scope and impact of the citizen sector by connecting people with opportunities to take action.
• To help individuals become effective wired change-makers independent of their age, location, wealth, or social media knowledge-base.
• To support and serve social action platforms that facilitate a range of actionable opportunities, including fundraisers, petitions, and offline meet-ups.
• To encourage collaboration among social action platforms so that the technology underlying online social activism reflects the full potential of social media.

The rest of Christine’s post on the endorsements is here.

What’s in a Name: Why ‘CauseWired’?

The book’s title has one thing going for it – it tends to make people curious. “CauseWired, eh?” they’ll say, perhaps rubbing a chin or two. “What’s it about?” The easy answer is “the rise of online social activism,” but that’s too short for anything but the quickest of elevator rides. So I thought I’d do a post borrowing a few thoughts from the book on what “CauseWired” means, how far it reaches, who it involves, and what it may come to encompass.

First off, “CauseWired” is a term of art – a bit of marketing short-hand that publishers love for book titles. It comes directly from a headline that the good folks at Contribute magazine put on an article I wrote last summer about Web 2.0 utilities and philanthropy. So I didn’t invent the term, but my publisher liked it and I thought it might come to stand for much of the activity I set out to chronicle. And I did break it down a bit before adopting the neat catch-phrase.

First, the “cause” part. To me, causes are situations that motivate people to try and change some part of the status quo; causes are, by definition, progressive. They are what drive people to seek change. But I also favor the widest possible definition for the purposes of this study. That change can be fairly conventional – what we’ve always thought of charities and nonprofit institutions to be about: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, protecting the environment, fighting injustice, educating the young. These areas, at the least in the United States, are dominated by established 501c3 tax-exempt organizations and religions organizations. Many of these groups have pivoted sharply in recent years and adopted cutting-edge technology in their fundraising and donor cultivation activities – they realize that as the donor pool gets younger and more open in its connection to causes, they must evolve quickly or be left behind.

Certainly, large nonprofits are part of the story but they’re not all of it. Unless you’ve been hiding away from the tumult and national argument, you’re undoubtedly aware of the effect online organizing has in recent politics. Millions of Americans have signed on as virtual supporters and they’ve contributed tens of millions of dollars to their candidates; all the while, a new class of activist-journalists drives debate and challenges the mainstream media’s view of the national polity from behind the dashboards of their blogs. Then there are what I call the “flash causes” – quick and fast-moving drives to organize people online to take action, in response to a disaster or news story, for example. Finally, there are the social entrepreneurs, a rising class of visionaries that is building online activism into plans for a new generation of change agent organizations.

And what is “wired” about this movement?

Surely, nonprofits and politicians have been raising money online for more than a decade now. And “wired” itself just doesn’t cut it in a media landscape so dominated by wireless technology. Yet, there is something about the current environment that makes wired causes so compelling right now, as opposed to a few years ago. First, “wired” doesn’t just mean the chords attaching your computer to the wall, or the high-speed cable inside that wall and leading out to the street. It means the people on the vast network of networks; never before have we all be so wired – that is to say, so closely related. Email was one thing, the “killer app” of the first decade of the commercial Internet – and it remains a vital connector.

But we’ve moved well beyond it, to a far more connected Internet. On any given day, I stay in touch with hundreds of people – real friends and Facebook “friends” – and they keep track of me, through Facebook, via Twitter (a short-messaging service that limits posts to 140 characters) and FriendFeed, by subscribing to blog feeds or Flickr feeds or YouTube accounts. That wired – or wireless, of course, but it makes for an inferior metaphor – infrastructure of personal interaction and its growth over the last three years creates fertile ground for fast-moving social activism online. It allows for a kind of charitable involvement that is both personal and open to the world, what microfinance pioneer Susan Davis terms “the philanthropy of you.”

There’s another force in the “wiring” as well. We’re living in a time of widespread experimentation involving causes – call it social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy, social enterprise or whatever term strikes your fancy. But at its core, this movement favors a tolerance for risk in seeking social change. It’s no accident that two of the poster children for changing how society engages in philanthropy are web-based, social network-friendly, highly viral – the microfinance site and the targeted philanthropy enterprise DonorsChoose. The ability to tap vast databases and provide a personal donor or lender experience is at the forefront of online social activism. Together they form what Ben Rattray, founder of the innovative giving portal, calls “the mega-public,” a vast and interconnected army of people who, at least in part, want to change the world.

Technology makes it possible, of course – new protocols and software “hooks” that allow websites to talk to each other, that break down the barriers and silos that held back true online collaboration in the early days. The authors of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams, describe that model for widespread collaboration: “Call them the “weapons of mass collaboration.” New low-cost collaborative infrastructures—from free Internet telephony to open source software to global outsourcing platforms—to allow thousands upon thousands of individual s and small producers to co-create products, access markets, and delight customers in ways that only large corporations could manage in the past. This is giving rise to new collaborative capabilities and business models that will empower the prepared firm and destroy those that fail to adjust.”

Tapscott and Williams, who focus primarily on consumer markets, foresee something of a golden age – “a critical turning point in economic and social history” – and it may well be possible extend their view of online collaboration to causes. Wikipedia, the massive free online encyclopedia that is written and edited entirely by its own user community, is emblematic of this possibility. In seven years, that community has built Wikipedia into a strong consumer brand – the the fifth highest brand ranking by the readers of – with over 10 million articles in 253 languages, comprising a combined total of over 1.74 billion words by March, 2008. Yet, Wikipedia is itself a wired cause, run by the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. a non-profit organization headquartered in San Francisco. To its most ardent volunteers, Wikipedia is a vital cause, a rallying point for online social activism: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment,” reads the foundation’s credo. Wikipedia’s 75,000 active users write and edit and check facts – and they support the cause of knowledge using a set of digital tools unavailable a decade ago. They’re part of a hidden economy, or “prosumers” as futurist Alvin Toffler calls them – amateur or semi-professional volunteers and activists, passionate in their work and contributing real value to the greater society. In terms of social activism, they’re part of Ben Rattray’s increasingly powerful mega-public.

And not to put to fine a point on it, much of that mega-public is young. The headlines and the ubiquitous B-roll footage don’t tell a particularly compelling story about the priorities of young people these days. To the popular press, young Americans are “generation clueless” – millions of selfish, naïve and coddled starlet types staggering through their lives intentionally blind to the suffering of others, to world poverty, to the great issues of our day. To some degree, this reputation is hard earned.

But the generalization of a materially obsessed generation masks a vital and important movement – a subtle shift in priorities and aspirations that will have a huge impact on the future of philanthropy. At no point since the student movements of the 1960s have young people worn their causes so openly – but this time around, the Facebook Generation isn’t fighting the establishment. The own it. For today’s super-wired, always-on, live-life-in-public young Americans, the causes you support define who you are.

And so, they’re CauseWired – at least I think so. What about you?