Friday, October 21, 2005

Open Tags and charity

I'm seeing the world in a whole different lens because of posts I'm reading by Jeff Jarvis, Stowe Boyd, Marc Canter and others regarding Open Tags and open social networks in general. is very much a work in progress. It's purpose is to create web spaces for specific charitable goals which aggregates people based on a shared desire to see the same benefit to a community.

We just raised $32,000 in 4 weeks for a woman who has had cancer three times in her young life all through her GivingGroup, essentially an exercise in viral marketing.

But I'm now realizing we are a closed community, which is very much not in keeping with the spirit of why people care. I'm really interested in the OpenTagging movement and I'm hoping some of the fine minds I'm tracking back to might take a look at the GivingGroup concept with a mind to the OpenTag discussion that has been going on.

What is the best direction our development team should take here, recognizing that whenever a human interest story initiates in a community, people immediately mobilize their own response to that issue. How do we recognize and aggregate their initiatives in such a way that doesn't splinter disparate energy expended in the name of the same goal?

As an example, could a GivingGroup be a microcontent spec which as part of its componentry would itemize the cost to achieve the goal and then allow individual blogs to collect different types of contributions which would update the total goal? Recognizing that concerned citizens will always initiate their own events, fundraisers, awareness initiatives around the same goal, what must GivingGroups do to help coordinate and harness those individual contributions in a de-centralized, open world?

Reading Drummond Read's discussion on OpenTags, I wonder if it would be useful to build a charitable authority that would host a charitable folksonomy? The idea of actually creating a mechanism that would allow you and I to each raise awareness for a different part of the same project and for progress on that part to be reflected on your site would be amazing.

Many thanks to any contributors in the spirit of building better communities (online and offline!)



Wednesday, October 19, 2005

In-Kind Donations

Reading other blogs today, I came across a post from Mark Cuban. What began as a simple comment to his post made me think it's important enough to discuss as part of my blog here. His blog entry blog entry was to do with his own desire to contribute clothing to a charity involved in the Katrina Relief operations.

The logistics issue of in-kind donations is more complex than most people acknowledge. Sites like FreeCycle have created internet-driven mediated "dumping grounds" which are great for non-response driven interests. By "non-response driven" I mean non-crisis, non-appeal oriented. It's a kind of Craigslist specific to connecting demand & supply in tacitly non-commercial transactions. And it works great! But in any major disaster relief, people wanting to "do good" inevitably start piling up clothes they want to get rid of for donation. I believe charity is inherintly a refined taste motivated by a self-centered desire so it's understandable that for many people, a disaster is the perfect way to do some late or early wardrobe spring cleaning.

But in-kind donations, especially of clothing are a logistical nightmare to charities, and even more complications arise when clothing is gathered in America (or Canada) and shipped abroad. Articles like this one at the San Francisco Chronicle and this one on CNN scratch the surface of the problem.

In local charities, in-kind donors would be surprised to know a good portion of their donated clothes are shredded and sold by the pound for small amounts of money by the receiving charity. I'm sure Marc's clothing wasn't too shabby but for the most part, the clothes people opt to donate are often shabby and raggy. "Beggars shouldn't be choosers" is simply not respecting people's dignity and self-respect and furthermore, when sending clothes abroad, cultural sensitivity and climate-appropriate clothing is often not a consideration of the donor.

Economists also argue that in-kind donations outside of your own country also can have disasterous consequences on local economies. Rich countries that mobilize huge respoonses of food, clothing, etc (as opposed to funding local sourcing "in-country") can have their good deeds serve as economic aftershocks! was launched by the i2 Foundation. This is a great start in the right direction! I'm interested to know what the Relief 2.0 team thinks about aidmatrix but from what I know of some of their success stories, this is the kind of procedure and process and could eliminate significant amount of wasteful donations in the future.

Over at, the charitable website I run, when a project is listed on our site, we offer the charity working on that project to list an appeal for in-kind donations. I'm not at all satisfied with our interface and our system should be much smarter than it is. An example of what is currently on the site is Click on the open box icon on the profile page and you will see our very elementary system.

We're working on a new version which will assign a specific dollar value to each item requested. I want Marc and all the other donors who give clothes to get equal recognition for their donation as someone giving money. In our new version, the total raised will be updated to reflect the calculated dollar amount. This would work well with food, equipment and supplies but the the interesting side-effect for clothes is that the real value for an item of clothing would be far-off from the perceived value of the donor. If Marc donates his gucci jeans to a charity on our site, he might have paid $600 for them but in our system, only be credited for a $30 donation. That said, that might be a useful message itself! ;)



Monday, October 17, 2005

Ben & Jerry's Return to Social Activism (or do they?)

According to an article in Today's USA Today, Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream is launching a new Television ad campaign that will profile social issues that are important to the company. The first television spot will profile a small family-run farming operation and seek to educate Americans about the consequences of industrial farming operations. This issue is near and dear to my heart and the consolidation of farming operations has far more damning consequences than just economic loss. But is this new form of "cause-linkage" to be applauded as the next step in cause marketing or is it bordering on crass?

Ben & Jerry's was one of the first mainstream socially-responsible businesses. By the accounts I've read, despite being bought by Unilever, they've managed to retain many of the same practices and values whilst growing the size and scale of their business. So if any company wants to lead with a social activism campaign over something that is also an important business issue, I suppose it should be B&J. So let's give Ben & Jerry's the benefit of the doubt and take them seriously in their activism. This means that we should expect them to create the resources by which their consumers can take a stand on this issue. And by take a stand, I don't mean just buying more Ben & Jerry's:
What actions will you ask your customers to take in support of this issue? What are the objectives of this campaign? How will you ensure longevity beyond initial awareness?

If a brand is going to become active in a specific campaign, it must eventually demonstrate the campaign's success. I fear that this is purely a positioning play positing Ice Cream made from small farmer's operations "good" whereas others (made from industrial operations) are bad. Support your farmer: Buy Ben & Jerry's has a nice ring to it and will likely work as brand positioning but if this is the crux of the campaign, it will forever label Ben & Jerry's a sell-out and worse insincere. Can the innovators of Social Responsibility pave the way for how a brand leads a social activism campaign? Let's hope so.

Recently, Adidas released the 25th Anniversary Terry Fox Limited Edition Replica Shoe. Profits of the shoe were donated to the Terry Fox Foundation and raised over $500,000 for Cancer Research but in my mind, Adidas took advantage of a Canadian Hero who had purposefully rejected advertising or sponsorship when he was alive. Now, Adidas has managed to link its brand to one of Canada's most treasured icons for a drop in the bucket. I'm disappointed with the Terry Fox Foundation for allowing such a deal and furthermore for selling the linkage so cheaply! The deal should at least been a multi-year deal with hard cash commitments from Adidas to the Foundation regardless of whether they have a shoe to hawk.

The problem with these cause marketing deals is that they work. By buying a pair of sneakers, I'm able to say I support cancer research and by buying slightly more expensive ice cream, I'm able to say I support local farmers. But as soon as that item has rung through the till what's the likelihood that the consumer will give further thought to that cause? A good cause marketing campaign needs to have sustained communication with the audience past the point-of-sale. I don't see that happening, at least not in a way that continues to focus the communication on the cause.

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Rolling Stones have nothing left to sell

According to the New York Post, the video for "Streets of Love" (from their newest album) will debut not on MTV, not even on MTV2 or VH1 but on "Days of Our Lives" the daytime soap opera. This tells us two things. First, that the Rolling Stones have now sold every last ounce of their credibility and second, the Mighty Mouth marketing team has pinpointed the Rolling Stones demographic as stay-at-home, soap-opera watching moms. This really should be all that's needed to convince Mick & the boys to exit stage right.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jenkins V Jarvis - Can't we all get along

It's interesting to read the exchange between Allan Jenkins and Jeff Jarvis. Jenkins compares that what South Asia Quake Help has already done to the "sluggishness and burreaucracy already clogging the arteries of Relief 2.0"

To compare the two efforts is absurd. The South Asia Quake Help site is comprehensive compendium of links and resources regarding this devastating earthquake. It's entire existence is reactionary. It has numerous links to volunteer opportunities and various organizations that "may be involved in relief efforts." I'll address the challenges inherint in these resource sites later.

Relief 2.0 on the other hand appears to be an IT-driven approach to building a set of systems that can be utilized to mount relief and recovery operations in future disasters. It is nascient, in the stages of planning, and going through the process that any new system must undergo before development begins.

You call that inaction? What about all the other disasters in the world?
That Mr. Jenkins takes Mr. Jarvis to task is hypocritical. Shouldn't we then take the SEA-EAT blog team to task for not mobilizing a response to other natural disasters occuring around the world? Visit the Center for International Disaster Information to see all the world's natural disasters that need our help. Of course not! They should be applauded for deciding to apply their resources to a specific natural disaster. That's what they've chosen to do. Let's hope that they or other groups choose to build awareness around other disasters around the world as well.

Reaction Versus Proactive Planning
But the efforts of Recovery 2.0 are not focused on one disaster, regardless of the magnitude. As CEO of, a website that raises money for specific charitable projects, I am always frustrated by the fact that we can only develop new functionality so fast.

Everyday there are at least a dozen charities or charitable projects I would like our site to help but can't because the functionality required to properly assist these organizations isn't yet available, due to our limited resources and thus, limited team. Every member of our team gets frustrated when this occurs BUT our experiences as software developers reminds us what happens when a software project "feature creeps." We all know the perrils that come from reactionary development in the software world.

Let the Tsunani Be Our Lesson
In the development world, reactionary aid is even more dangerous since its consequences are far more wasteful and tragic. There are far too many stories to point to as examples of this but the amount of wasted clothing and supplies, a lot of which never even reached the intended recipients, the amount of "volunteer travellers" who required more administration and training than their output was worth, and the amount of donations unaccounted for or spent outside of its intended application show us what can happen when the proper systems and planning don't exist to handle a sudden, instantaneous outpouring of support and caring coupled with requests for assistance that span the gamut of humanitarian purpose.

React all you want but don't criticize ongoing planning processes
My bottom line here is that it's petty and entirely unproductive to first compare a reactionary resource site to an effort to create an infrastructure for handling future disaster recovery operations. Second, I take issue with the effectiveness of resource sites and point to the current S.A Quake Help Site as an example of some of the problems with blog-based resources. There is no vetting, qualification or reputation management of the organizations offered as potential places to donate, nor explanation to the donor of what to expect regarding ineligibility for tax-receipting from foreign charitable organizations. And the problems with volunteer travel is best left for an entirely seperate conversation.


Relief 2.0 - Finance Mechanism an important component

I applaud what is emerging from Recovery 2.0 an "opensource disaster recovery initiative." The discussions I've read so far seem to miss one key link which is the financing infrastructure required to facilitate money flow from donor countries to other countries requiring recovery.

In the post-911 charity finance reform environment, the rules and liability on registered charities when funding projects outside of their own country are very onerus. The challenge the Recovery 2.0 builders must embrace is how to build a system which allows individual donors to financially contribute to projects in a country requiring relief, whilst allowing them to claim the donation for tax-purposes and providing sufficient financial accountability. I recognize that the mandate is not to build a donation portal but surely a system that handles money flow is a fundamental "core feature"

What we need is some form of micro-credit "citizens bank" which consolidates donations and then handles distribution of funds to intended recipients in partnership with the local financial institutions of the countries requiring relief and local ngo's.

Just a thought..

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