Archive for Facebook

CauseWired Alaskans Pick, Click and Give to Charity

Socially-conscious social media is working up north: Alaskans have taken to the Pick. Click. Give. campaign, which is leveraging platforms from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Causecast to draw attention to and explain the Permanent Fund Charitable Contributions Program. The program began officially in 2009 to allow Alaskans to donate a portion of their PFD to qualifying Alaska nonprofits of their choice while they filed online for their PFD. An underlying goal is to encourage individual philanthropy in Alaska. Here’s a Q&A on the program with my friend Aliza Sherman, a veteran digital guru and co-founder of the social media firm Conversify! in Alaska, and Jordan Marshall, initiatives & special projects manager for the Rasmuson Foundation and project manager for Pick. Click. Give.

1. Last year, Pick. Click. Give. raised more than half a million dollars for Alaskan nonprofits – how did it work and how was it unique to Alaska?

ALIZA: The entire Pick. Click. Give. awareness campaign is based on something inherently unique to Alaska: our Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) or the annual payment each Alaskan receives as part of a pay out to share in the state’s oil and gas profits. No other state provides a similar fund or payment to citizens of their state.

The overarching goal of the Pick. Click. Give. campaign is to draw attention to and explain the Permanent Fund Charitable Contributions Program. The program began officially in 2009 to allow Alaskans to donate a portion of their PFD to qualifying Alaska nonprofits of their choice while they filed online for their PFD. An underlying goal is to encourage individual philanthropy in Alaska.

Additionally, through social media, the Pick. Click. Give. campaign is working to give exposure to the program and motivate Alaskans to participate and to encourage their friends, family and followers to participate as well.

The previous year (2008) was spent assessing Alaska nonprofits based on a number of criteria to ensure that they qualify for the program as well as to set up the technical aspects of adding a list and way for Alaskans to check the organizations on that list they wished to support with an amount of their choice. Read the rest of this entry »

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Social Media Fatigue? Sure – But It’s All Good

To anyone who’s worked in direct fundraising, “churn” isn’t exactly a new concept. Indeed, losing members of any list comes with the territory of appealing for money to support causes. Yet when users leave social networks it seems somehow different than opting out of an email list. That’s because the investment of personal time and informational capital is much higher than signing up for an e-blast. You’ve made “friends” or garnered “followers.” You’ve created an identity. You’re part of an interconnected network sharing not only your favorite causes, but your likes and dislikes, the books you’re reading, the music you like, the movies you love.

When someone signs off from Facebook – someone who’s been pretty active and involved – it feels like the person’s disappeared. When an active Twitterer leaves, there’s a void; a channel of information with a real person behind it has gone dark.

And then there’s the hype factor. Facebook and Twitter have been deservedly promoted as the largest (Facebook) and the coolest (Twitter) social networks ever launched, the new Microsoft and Apple, harbingers of vast societal change. Yet the inevitable “is that all there is?” factor was always heading down the highway. You knew there’d be a backlash, particularly against two private corporations that assumed such important societal positions. Virginia Heffernan’s column in last Sunday’s Times was the roadside flare for that head-on collision, taking on the anecdotal surge in Facebook farewells among the writer’s friends:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Facebook, the online social grid, could not command loyalty forever. If you ask around, as I did, you’ll find quitters. One person shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. Another thought the scene had turned desperate. A third feared stalkers. A fourth believed his privacy was compromised. A fifth disappeared without a word.

Ask around, and you’d find quitters on Twitter too. And among some of the next rung sites like Digg, Ning and Mahalo. And among bloggers, Flickr photo-sharers, YouTube videographers, and various people-powered networks of all shapes and sizes. Churn happens. Time is limited. Life intervenes. As Heffernan (I writer I admire) says later in the piece: “Many seem to have just lost their appetite for it: they just stopped wanting to look at other people’s photos and résumés and updates, or have their own subject to scrutiny.”

Exactly. Yet as my friend, venture capitalist Fred Wilson, responded on his blog: “…churn is part of online media, particularly social media. People come and go. Some stick around, some don’t. These stories about quitters are true of course, but they miss the big picture. More and more people are using these services every day.” And then Fred posts the latest Comscore numbers for Facebook and Twitter. About 52 million people visited to super-hyped Twitter in July, makiing it the 47th most popular site on the Web – an incredible growth story that continues. And an whopping 370 million visited Facebook. As Fred says: “Facebook is a global juggernaut. It is the fourth most popular website in the world after Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!”

So if Aunt Sally and that boy you dated back in college drop from site on Facebook – and that social entrepreneur tires of Twitter – it’s interesting from a personal standpoint. But the sheer size and continued growth of the largest social media properties makes them ever more important on the social commons, in my view – particularly as they continue to be places of experimentation and innovation in fundraising and philanthropy.

The CauseWired Roundup

Don’t Panic: Scarcity Drives Innovation

Online social activism platforms are, generally speaking, lean operations. The more than 40 platforms we’ve identified here at CauseWired (and supplemented by Christine Egger over at Social Actions) do not boast deep balance sheets laden with venture capital, or vast marketing operations designed to build their brands rapidly. As hard times nip at the world’s heels – and this truly is, in my view, a global economic crisis – the cause start-ups should be well-positioned to survive, and in many ways, to help provide assistance where it may we be needed more than ever.

And as recruiters of CauseWired consumers – wired young activists who believe their work must stand for something great than themselves – the online social activism start-ups can provide a real outlet for soul-satisfying involvement even as markets close and opportunities suffer.

Nonetheless, these platforms are start-ups: from the venerable DonorsChoose (started way back in 2000) to the newest online cause. They require some cash to run, whether philanthropic or of the investment variety (or a combination of both). They are social ventures and are expected to boast models that lead to financial self sufficiency at some point in the future. So the disaster in the markets and the paralysis of the world credit markets may well leave their mark.

That said, I was struck today from some advice published by my old friend John Borthwick, a well-known entrepreneur from my Silicon Alley days who now runs an incubator for social media start-ups. I think some of the hard-charging CauseWired social entrepreneurs could do well to read his advice this Columbus Day weekend. Here’s an overview:

Things look ugly, but with distress comes opportunities. Scarcity drives innovation. Always has, always will. Do more with less: A trite one liner that you need to make part of your companies DNA.

There will be more emphasis on user value, more ways to make money from that value. We will finally fess up to the fact that many of the ad models of web 2.0 don’t yield results, and we will invent ones that do. All around there will be more innovation.

It’s counterintuitive, but during an up cycle people accept conventional wisdom, and during a down cycle people challenge it. That’s good. Very good. And the cycle will winnow competition.

And yes, you do have competition. Sure, it’d be great if all the well-minded social actions platforms grow and survive and help to change the world. But they won’t. Some will become part of the fabric of public life; others will whither. And the competition for attention alone – those precious clicks and minutes online – will eventually winnow the pool. Then other start-ups will come along and innovation will advance. And the big players we currently take for granted in the online world will also change, says Borthwick:

Pieces are going to move on the chess board. Big pieces. This shouldn’t be your focus, but things are going to have change around your business, and they might affect you. Yahoo is going to be sold or bought. Ebay will either be sold or bought or broken up. Facebook is going to have to change (cut spending, focus on revenue) or it will be bought. Same for Linked in. Microsoft, News Corp. TWX and other media companies will be buyers. What does Google do in this cycle — freeze or be bold? The newspapers — do they act out of fear or freeze up? Telco’s and cell cos; cable cos — do they jump upstream? Why should you care? Because as these pieces move around the chess board, they may well affect your future. So watch carefully. If Paypal — which by some estimates is now 50% of the value of Ebay — gets spun out of ebay, then they will accelerate services beyond advertising. Etc. etc. So consider the moves the elephants make. The equation for them, public or private, has changed.

Finally, the big downturn – and we’re looking at a couple of years, minimum, so don’t kid yourself – will help to accelerate another trend, one that favors the zeitgeist of online social activism. Borthwick:

I think this cycle is going to drive another significant shift in how open and interconnected the Web is. This is good news for you, and this is bad news for the Facebooks of the world, who tried to replicate the walled garden strategy of Web 1.0.

Think about what happened through the last cycle. Start with AWS. In the 1990s, Internet companies had to own everything top to tail. Today you can use Amazon and other services to pop up a new box for hundreds of dollars, if that. Thats a huge shift, and it’s also a shift towards interdependency.

We are all now dependent on the Amazon’s of the world for parts of our infrastructure. I think this turn of the cycle is going to drive a lot more openness. This in turn ties to the market figuring out how to rapidly establish bottoms-up standards. This is about working with others and figuring out how to do things without having to do all the work.

John Borthwick was writing about for-profit social media start-ups, but I think his advice is spot on for social entrepreneurs working on the web. It’s going to be a rough go, but I think the stakes of what we’re doing just got higher.

CauseWired: Legions of Community Organizers

I’ve been thinking about this since the Republican convention a month ago: isn’t the CauseWired movement the virtual empowerment of thousands – and potentially millions – of community organizers, that class of do-gooders so derided by the GOP nominees in Minneapolis? Sure, I know their derision was about knocking down a portion of Barack Obama’s biography, but I think the focus also revealed a stunning disconnect between a major political party and a major movement in American democracy that is unfolding in public.

I’m going to be putting up some excerpts from CauseWired over the next month as we get closer to publication, and in the spirit of community organizing, I thought I’d share a bit about Joe Green, one of the co-founders of Causes on Facebook:

Joe Green recalls working on the Kerry campaign in New Hampshire during the summer of 2003 and thinking social networks and organizing activists. “That’s when I first saw Friendster and I thought, here is this map of how everyone knows each other.” Friendster is a social networking service founded in 2002 that eventually grew to 50 million users, but peaked in the United States well before sites like MySpace and Facebook became household names. The service had much of what drives online social networks – profiles, photos, and lists of friends and contacts. Green was intrigued at its application on political and social activism campaigns: “That fall I thinking about it a a lot. I asked my roommate about creating social network for politics, but he was more interested in a social network for college students.” [Note: his roommate was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.]

Green went off to work for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in the general election, canvassing neighborhoods in rural Arizona for the unsuccessful Democratic ticket, but he continued to think about combing old-school organizing and new media social tools. set out to build one on his own. After the election, he founded essembly.com, a non-partisan political social networking website that would let connect with one another based on political opinions. The site was deliberately small in scale and by invitation of other members, and it was designed to try and force intelligent discourse while discouraging flame wars and personal attacks. Its design around small groups of dedicated voices – using political statements called “resolves” to start discussions – hearkened back to Green’s personal experience as an organizer – which began in high school in Santa Monica, California. Green described the formative experience on the progressive political blog MyDD: “I first got active as a senior in high school. Santa Monica had a living wage campaign – one of the first that covered not just city employees, but everyone in our tourist zone. The campaign barely lost but we got a lot of students at our high school involved, many of whom had parents who cleaned hotel rooms in beach hotels for like seven bucks an hour.”

At Harvard, he studied under Marshall Ganz, a professor of public policy and a well-known organizer who spent 16 years working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The lesson was an important one: “Here was Cesar Chavez trying to take pretty much the most powerless people in the country, the people who are closer to serfs than we’ve had for a long time, with almost no legal rights, and organizing them. But first you had to convince them that it was even possible for them to have any impact on all-powerful forces. And once you did, there were no shortcuts. You start with a small number of people, just speaking one on one in a meeting, and you share your personal story, then you convince them to have a meeting, and it’s through these existing social connections of family and friends and church that you grow these movements. Basically you’re organizing yourself out of a job.”

In thinking about modern media technology and old school activists, Green was struck by the potential of online social networking in organizing support for causes. “One hardest parts of organizing is sitting down with the address book and figuring out who everybody knows – the transparency of connections struck me – if we had one of these networks where you knew how everyone was connected, it would be very powerful.”

To Order CauseWired CauseWired is now available at Amazon.com and other online outlets. Order your copy today!

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?

Online Campaign Grace Notes

As Hillary Clinton conceded the hard-fought Democratic primary to Barack Obama on Saturday, many observers noted their campaigns’ online grace notes. The Obama campaign thanked Clinton on its front page, and prepared a special video page to pay tribute to the pioneering New York Senator. Clinton’s campaign called for supporting Senator Obama, and even included a form to sign up for Obama ’08 updates. I did note, however, that not everyone was exactly on message – in a note that showed the open nature of Causes on Facebook, I got a note from the “Hillary Clinton for President” cause that read like this:

On Saturday, Hillary, joined by thousands of her supporters in Washington D.C. and Millions watching at home, suspended her presidential campaign. She thanked her nearly 18 million voters (The most votes in primary history for ANY candidate of ANY party), and urged to form a united front to support Sen. Obama.

Although Hillary made history and paved the way for little girls everywhere, her historic voyage ended to soon. Lets help elect Hillary Clinton President, 2012!!

Something tells me that list bit especially was not, shall we say, an official campaign message.