Fundraising Meets Social Networking

Fundraising Meets Social Networking

BY Allison Fine | Thursday, February 1 2007

New sites to help us become more educated and connected donors have come online recently. Three in particular caught my attention as particularly interesting both in their ambitions and functionality. The sites are changingthepresent.org, a donation portal, sixdegrees.org, a donation site powered by social networking, and Kiva, a site embodying social entrepreneurship through low dollar investments for microenterprises in developing countries.

Changingthepresent.org is designed in the style of a slick women’s magazine; the site provides a wide selection of causes to give to as well as ways to give. You can also click on a cause, such as children and youth, and browse a variety of different gifts to give. For instance, a playground by KaBoom can be paid for by a donation of $1,000 and a cancer care pack can be donated for $35. There are also buttons for spreading the word to your friends or finding a friend on the site. Finally, a celeb/expert tab gets advice from people who are more famous, more attractive and smarter than you are.

A few of changingthepresent.org’s features are particularly intriguing. One that is at the heart of the site (and at the heart of its name as well) is to encourage the giving of donations rather than physical stuff. One can create a registry for donations similar to a wedding registry for china at Bloomingdales.

The site also advertises a clever calendar function (under construction) that will send you emails of birthday and anniversary dates to remind you to donate in their honor. And in keeping with the present giving theme, my favorite tab on the site is the Hall of Shame, where users can input the worst presents they have ever received. Users will be able to vote on the worst of the worst gifts and the winner will receive 50 pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It is a funny, engaging effective way to convey the idea that donations are more effective gifts than, say, an inflatable dog hat.

Speaking of celebrities, Network for Good, the M&A king of the nonprofit sector, launched a site in partnership with Kevin Bacon called sixdegrees.org.

I love the irony of turning a drinking game into a charitable network, but, alas, no such references are made on the site. In his welcome video, Kevin tells us “You can become a celebrity for your cause.” The site aims to activate social networks to raise money for causes. Launched at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year, the site already boasts close to $80,000 in donations.

Working off Network for Good’s platform, six degrees has a very large database of causes to choose from and traffic to build on. And because AOL is a key sponsor of Network for Good, six degrees encourages users to use their AIM service to instant message their friends and tell them about their causes and encourage them to donate.

More than anything else the site builds on the appeal of celebrity donors. It will be interesting to see if Tyra Banks’ support of girl power encourages other people to give as well.

Finally, in an era of the blurring of for- and non-profit businesses, it was almost inevitable that Kiva (www.kiva.org) would come about to blend investing and donating for social change. Kiva is a micro lending site. For as little as $25, anyone can provide an interest-free loan to a burgeoning business in a developing country. You can monitor the progress of that business and tell others about it. When your money is returned (hopefully!) you can choose to invest in another venture. Kiva is a fascinating way to aggregate thousands of small investors to support business ventures overseas.

These sites are all so new it is too early to tell if they will attract a critical mass of donors to causes. But, a few observations can still be made. The first is that Kiva has the most stickiness to it, meaning there is an ongoing, compelling reason for donors to keep visiting the site. Kiva lenders will want to see how their investment is doing, and how other investments are doing as well.

And hopefully lenders will keep rolling their money into other investments creating, in essence, a large endowment fund for microenterprises. Once your donation is made on changingthepresent and sixdegrees it is difficult for me to see that there is enough interesting news, information, urgency to keep one coming back on a regular basis. And if I’m not compelled to come back for the content, it seems to be a stretch that social networking is going to generate its own momentum as well, but time will tell. The good news for sixdegrees is that the Network for Good platform provides it with great visibility and automatic traffic. I wonder if changingthepresent might be better served as a widget or part of a larger social networking site that users will visit more regularly.

Secondly, what about the lure of celebrities on changingthepresent and sixdegrees? Is it really necessary to have Ashley Judd and Jessica Simpson lead the way philanthropically for the rest of us to do the right thing? I hope not, but maybe I’m just a curmudgeon!

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