Archive for DonorsChoose

Affiliated Donors, Targeted Fundraising

More than a decade ago, when I first began to consider how great causes might be integrated into the wildly-expanding but still new commercial Internet, the big dream among marketers was contextualization. Surf “content” about, say, the New York Mets and you’d be offered “advertising” to buy tickets or gear. It was all very new then – but now we take it all for granted. Heck, simply be a 46-year-old male on Facebook and you’ll be offered all sorts of products aimed at middle-aged men; Google’s dominance is almost entirely about (occasionally appropriate) contextual messages in search.

Except for a few big fish, a Web publisher’s relationship with Google is that of affiliate to potential revenue source – you put in the code, generate traffic, and Google (along with many other services you might choose) serves marketing messages and assigns a micro-payment to you for each click. This is a fairly mature model, and affiliate relationships now exist for almost any product on the web – indeed, buy a copy of CauseWired by clicking on the box on the upper right of this page, and I’ll benefit with a few bob through my Amazon affiliate status.

But what about causes? Contextualization is one thing: Social Action is doing  great job providing “actionable” opportunities for social good from more than 30 platforms linked to a Website’s content. But what about the money? Affiliate relationships in the CauseWired sector – where site owners are rewarded for bringing donors to the cause – are almost non-existent. Until now.

DonorsChoose is experimenting with a new affiliate model that aims to both place opportunities for directly supporting public school teachers and children in context – and provide the economic motivation for publishers to do so.

Earlier in the year, it began offering a program on CommissionJunction, a database of affiliate offers – the offer is for a 4% cash commission or a 10% giving credit that can be used by site owners to make classroom donations. It’s important to note that either way, the commission is paid from a separate marketing budget and as a percentage of direct giving accounts; “It’s important for people to know that 100 percent of their donation is going where they think it’s going, said Best.

After a few months of kicking the tires – the “Kitty Hawk phase” according to founder/CEO Charles Best – DonorsChoose is launching a major partership with its first big partner, the nonprofit parent involvement and research site, GreatSchools.

Using the DonorsChoose API, GreatSchools will regionally target giving opportunities to its community of parents and education professionals, building the DonorsChoose classroom projects right into the GreatSchools design. “Thanks to the breadth of classroom project requests on DonorsChoose.org,” says Best, “GreatSchools.net will be able to present its national online parent community with needs from public schools in the same city or state. Many thousands of students from low-income families stand to benefit from this partnership.”

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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, Avaav.org, Change.org, 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 Alonovo.com, ChristmasFuture.org, CommunityGoals.com, DoGooder.TV, DonorsChoose.org,GiveForward.org, GiveIndia.org, GlobalGiving.com, Helpalot.org, Ned.com,Prax.ca, Six Degrees, and Uplej.com. 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.

One Widget, 20 Platforms, Your Blog, Infinite Ways to Change the World…

Congrats to the Social Actions team on the launch of their new widget, which recommends ways to take action on behalf of causes related to the content of any web page. Tailor-made for blogs (and I’m going to experiment with it myself), the widget is powered by the new Social Actions open API – so you probably guess this is just the first step in rolling out cause-related actions from many databases. According to Social Actions, “the widget automatically identifies the keywords on any page and lists social change campaigns related to the stuff you’re writing about. These campaigns are gathered from social action platforms like Kiva, DonorsChoose, Change.org, GlobalGiving, Care2, Idealist.org, and fourteen others.” You can go get it and read more 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 Kiva.org 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 Change.org, 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 brandchannel.com – 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?

Mashing Microphilanthropy

Plug-ins and widgets get released every day on the social web, but I think Friday’s release of the new Social Actions DonorsChoose plug-in for WordPress is an important milestone in peer-to-peer online social activism. For one, it’s a big step forward in the sharing of both data and opportunity in what I firmly believe is quickly becoming a real sector; and for another, it works off of three platforms and allows DonorsChoose – one of the top brands in the CauseWired movement – to reach a new audience of tech-savvy bloggers and publishers. And it’s also the first product of Social Actions Labs. Congrats are due to the super-active team at Social Actions: Peter Deitz, Joe Solomon, Eric Cooper and Christine Egger – they’ve moved from idea to API to small-scale roll-out of a micro product in short time indeed. This also shows terrific vision on the part of Charles Best and his team at DonorsChoose – they’re real leaders in this community. I’ll be using the plug-in over at my group blog for culture, newcritics.com, just as soon as I get a free moment. But you can see it in action already at MaxSchoolBus. [Note: I serve happily as an informal, unpaid adviser to Social Actions.]

Wanted: Development Ideas for Online Social Activism

The industrious team over at Social Actions – that would be founder Peter Deitz and new arrival Joe Solomon – has created a wiki to collect ideas around what applications, mash-ups, and tools to build using the Social Actions API, which aggregates giving and volunteering opportunities from 19 different online activism platforms, including Kiva, DonorsChoose, ChangingthePresent, and Change.org.

The team, which recently won some vital seed funding, plans to incubate a handful of apps over the next couple of months – and they’re actively seeking ideas and suggestions, so jump on over. Social Actions has grown rapidly in six months, and I believe the effort may well be a harbinger of the next big development in the CauseWired space; the API and the startup’s vision is entirely open and collaborative, in my view, and an and  welcome addition to the sector. Here’s a handful of the possibilities posted thus far:

  • WordPress Module – “Possibly Related Social Actions”
  • Firefox Extension – Replace Ads with Social Actions
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Made Easy
  • Social Actions Maps
  • Craigslist.org integration
  • Create a hook for Convio user profiles

That last one was mine; I think using a connector to a leading provider of high-end software to the nonprofit sector may be a winner for the various platforms. What are your ideas?

Live From New York…It’s CauseWired!

We’re rolling out CauseWired in panel discussion form at the fifth annual Summit onPhilanthropy in New York on Tuesday. Joining me to discuss the topic (what else?) “CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World” will be an all-star group of social media activism experts. Dig this lineup:

The Summit, which I created with onPhilanthropy.com editor-in-chief Susan Carey Dempsey, is an invitation-only conference of approximately 300 CEOs of leading nonprofit organizations; corporate, foundation and individual philanthropists; and leading companies serving the nonprofit sector. It’s sponsored by our company, Changing Our World, Inc. and also includes a keynote speech by Robert C. Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Planning and Policy Coordination of the United Nations.

Other speakers will include Susan Smith Ellis, CEO of (RED), Frank Kurre of Grant Thornton, Nancy Mahon, Executive Director of the MAC AIDS Fund, Mario Morino, the co-founder & Chairman of Venture Philanthropy Partners, Chronicle of Philanthropy editor Stacy Palmer, Sam Daley-Harris of the Microcredit Summit Campaign and Contribute Magazine editor Marcia Stepanek.

I’m looking forward to the panel, the first public roll-out of the book’s title and premise. And it’ll no doubt add to the text, which remains very much an intensive work in progress.