Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What is the $5 Philanthropist

The genesis of GiveMeaning was a site for me. I'm web-savvy, a media junkie, I'm quasi-informed on most of the major crisis' and conflicts in the world and can make great dinner-party conversation on a wide range of topics and yet I give little to no money away and haven't volunteered in years. The reason for this is not that I became selfish or mean-spirited but that I thought what's the point? I'm not a millionaire, I don't have a lot of time on my hands. The small contribution I can afford couldn't possibly make a difference to any cause.

Online Communities
But then I started thinking about eBay and how it started. Pierre Omidyar's wife was a Pez Dispenser collector. Difficult to find other pez dispenser collectors but when you create a common space where they all congregate, suddenly you have a dynamic community where trading can occur. If you create the platform to allow people to create their own communities, certain groups will thrive and accomplish things whereas others will never gain the critical mass needed.

Don't hope. Get what you want
What if there was a website that envisioned donating not as just givig to a charity and hoping they use it effectively but where you could specify exactly what you would financially support? Whether it's a water-well in an African village, or raising money for a friend's medical treatment or giving art supplies for therapy sessions, whatever you want to do, imagine a site where you could say "I'll support THIS outcome." That's the first step. And then other like-minded people join you because the outcome you've described is what they most want to see happen too. So you make your small donation, and she makes her small donation and you each tell 10 friends what you've done. We forward emails all the time to friends. Would we tell our friends what we're most passionate about? Would some of those friends be inspired to join us in trying to accomplish that goal?

A more intimate voice
One of the most powerful aspects of a GivingGroup is that it changes the way we communicate about charity. There are a lot of brilliant advertising people within charities and at ad agencies that have created some great Public Service Ads but the question is "is it too much?" These ads often share the same tone: Serious, guilt-inspiring, urgent. If these ads appear in the middle of the nightly news where we're being bombarded my bad news, are we as viewers likely to take action? Or worse, if they appear in my favorite tv show, am I going to allow myself to get out of my bubble and think of something serious?

The "voice of charity" may be getting lost on us. But one voice that is surely never to be ignored is that of your friend. If a friend sends you an email telling you a story of why they are supporting a specific GivingGroup, that's not only an email you'll likely take the time to read but you'll likely visit the website. On the left hand column of each GivingGroup profile is a listing of each person who has made a contribution to that GivingGroup. Each contributor is asked to say briefly why they care about that GivingGroup. Each story is a personal testament to why these people have contributed. These stories are highly inspiring and it just takes the one you connect with to inspire you to act.

The dreaded admin fee
There is an increasing amount of discussion regarding the percentage taken out of a person's donation by fundraisers and charities' own expenses. I'll leave my personal opinions on this controversial topic for another blog entry but we knew that if we wanted our site to be really different that we had to find a way to ensure that 100% of each donation to a GivingGroup is used in accomplishing the GivingGroup goal so that's what we've done. That's a huge differentiator for us and we can afford to do it because of our business model.

How we get paid
Basically a GivingGroup is a mini web portal for a specific charitable purpose. With new people coming to the site and with existing donors regularly visiting for updates and progress reports, we've got a pretty valuable commodity to advertisers big and small. Every company wants to communicate that they are "caring companies" the question is how to do it credibly and effectively? What's the point in spending thousands to advertise you supported a cause that only a small % of your customers care about and how would you ever know what your customers really care about?

Everyone supporting a GivingGroup is saying they care about that specific cause. Now we can offer an advertiser the ability to say "This cause is important to us and we're ensuring 100% of your donation is used to achieve this goal." That's a powerful message for an advertiser.

Cost Comparison
Companies big and small allocate a percentage of their budget to sponsoring events. We think that as soon as people leave the event, most of them forget who sponsored the event. But a GivingGroup is a charity event that lasts months on end. People are continuously checking on the progress and when all the money is raised, they're logging in to see for themselves the difference their coontribution has made. Everytime someone visits that GivingGroup they're reminded of the corporate sponsorship. So for the same cost as a one-day event sponsorship (and in some cases less), they are getting months of exposure to a very targeted audience.

Will it work?
I think we have a concept that can truly revolutionize philanthropy. There is so much power in numbers. If GiveMeaning can mobilize the $5 philathropist in all of us, well... As my grandfather said anytime anyone would make a big pronouncement, "Time will tell..."

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