Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Do you still win gold, if you're the only one competing?

Today, we were given honorable mention in the Best of the Web 2.0 Philanthropy category by web2.0awards.org We were the only entity in the category. It's unbelievable the amount of traffic we've generated because we've been labeled a Web 2.0 website. I'm speaking at a Web 2.0 conference in May and at the risk of sounding hideously uncool and totally out of the loop, I'm still not sure what makes us "2.0" and great sites like globalgiving, donorschoose and kiva not qualify for "2.0" status.

The award website generated quite a lot of traffic to our site today, so I'm certainly not complaining but I do wonder why other online philanthropy sites that I respect and consider our peers don't get included.

In other news, a principal of a small charity that has started a GivingGroup at GiveMeaning emailed me last week asking if he could volunteer at GiveMeaning! Here's a guy who is working full-time on a volunteer basis for a charity and is asking us if he can volunteer for us!! This is why I love my job so much! Every day, I talk to tens if not hundreds of people who are so totally full of passion and conviction! It's an infectious energy!!!
I'm laughing at myself for my abuse of punctuation marks but really I can't contain my appreciation and the joy I get from the people I interact with on a daily basis.

So, I suggested that Ron come down to the GiveMeaning office and told him I had a project in mind for him. The project was to teach him how to search for bloggers that were talking about the subjects that his charity is helping address and then helping him craft a message of appeal to these bloggers asking them to link to his project profile at our site. Well tonight, as I went to check the 3rd party referrals to GiveMeaning, I noticed the first blogger had already posted a link to his GivingGroup!!!! This really brought me a lot of joy for a lot of different reasons. Not only was I happy for Ron that his efforts were bearing fruit but also it helped reaffirm how important it is for a part of my daily activity to be focused on sharing what I know about how the larger internet (not just GiveMeaning) can help play a part in cost-effectively building awareness for small charities. It's the old "teach a man to fish" axiom and hey, it's one blog (so far) but to me, it validates that a part of my job needs to be helping build capacity and greater knowledge of the internet and it's uses in the charitable sector.

I had a Photoshoot for a magazine today. I once felt cool doing press and now I just feel like a total frickin' dork. Perhaps I'm just reaching a new level of awareness (Have always been a dork?) but I'm growing increasingly uncomfortable with the attention that is put on my personal involvement in GiveMeaning. Not only is my role but a part but so too is the whole system of GiveMeaning but a part in the outcome. The real stories that emerge from what all of us at GiveMeaning are involved in are from the people that use our site. It's the Canadian living in Honduras who uses our site to build an orphanage, it's the wicked-smart academics who are raising funds for the people and places they are studying that deserve all the attention.

That's it for now... The last thing I will say, and this is so off-topic but I have to mention the CBS show "The Unit" It's a show based on the book "Inside Delta Force" by Eric Haney. The Unit is co-created by writer David Mamet who also wrote Spartan, a little-seen movie starring Val Kilmer that also used Haney as a technical consultant. Haney was a founding member of one of the most elite special forces units in the world and I suppose the world has a greater interest in the role of Special Forces in post 9-11 world. Anyway, 24 has long-been the show for drama using counter-terrorism as a main story-line but The Unit is giving 24 a major run for its money, and by my estimate, is a much better show and here's why:

24 appeals to a wide-ranging group of men. Most every man can relate to Jack Bauer because while his story-line may not be directly similar to any of ours, its very relatable. Office politics, navigating tough moral dilemas, the struggle between personal life and moral and professional obligations etc. And the advertisers that are attracted to 24 are Ford "built tough" and other very masculine-oriented brands.

But what's most interesting about the Unit is that their advertisers are predominantly female-skewed (Rimmel make-up, Expedia, a few feminine hygene products, etc..) For the most part, decidedly skewed female for a show about one of the toughest special forces teams... Tonight's episode of the Unit was a perfect mix of special forces action and the drama of the women who care for these men. There is something to be said of how this show straddles the basic desires of two very disparate sets of demo/psychographics.

I cant' say enough good things about the show and from an advertiser's perspective, it makes for an interesting analysis.

Monday, March 27, 2006

What a week

More than a month overdue, we announced our newest feature, Personal Fundraising Pages. These pages are for anyone who is involved in any kind of event to raise money for a specific charity. Walking? Running? Dancing? Singing? A young woman approached me recently after I gave a talk at a school and said she was organizing a "silent-a-thon" amongst all the most chatty young women in her class.

They were going to their friends, family and classmates and getting them to donate for the girls to keep quiet! So, there are all kinds of events people are participating in to raise money for charity.

GiveMeaning isn't the first organization to offer hosted pages to participants but we do offer some distinct advantages, number one being that we're the only organization offering this totally free. But beyond cost, I think our pages are going to do a better job of connecting the fundraiser to their community of supporters leading-up to and most important after the event.

So we launched the pages late Wednesday night and Saturday afternoon, our first official page was created by a guy in Virginia. There is almost no feeling better than launching a new aspect of the site and seeing the first person use it. Seeing Andrew's Page brought me back to the first purchase of GiveMeaning card's that came through the first GiveMeaning site back in December 2004. That first $50 trumped all other financial transactions in my life! And seeing Andrew's page brought back the same sense of pride and excitement.

Already, we have signed-up our first event where all of their participants will be encouraged to create fundraising pages at GiveMeaning and several national fundraising events have approached us for more information, all in the first few days of us announcing our pages.

Today, we've surpassed a new non-holiday web traffic metric, and our development team is working hard to release our new design to the site. We've been working on a major redesign based on user feedback that - once integrated - will remove a lot of the frustrations some people experience with the current site. We'll be rolling this out in stages over the coming weeks and months.

Finally, on a personal note, I feel compelled to say how happy GiveMeaning makes me feel. Every donation, every new GivingGroup or fundraising page created, every email from a satisfied donor, it gives me so much joy.

"I believe strongly in what you are doing and thank you so much for the creativity and effort that went into building this foundation."

and another:

"Good luck with all your projects and it feels great to help children in Cambodia from my computer in Barrie, Ontario." I cherish these comments.

Lastly, I gotta say: I'm on the front-lines. I read every customer support email that comes through the site. To many people. customer support might seem like a such dull, thankless job. Not here. It's the most exciting part of my job. I love our team. I love working on new functionality and new ideas but the joy I get out of interacting with charities and donors and knowing that we're helping make a difference for the things that are important to them: Absolutely priceless.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


On the way in to work a week ago, I read a small blurb in the Globe & Mail about a Journalism Student at the University of Niagara (Ontario) who had begun a letter writing campaign to 250 of the world's biggest companies in hopes that they would sponsor his education. The student - Shawn Taylor - made a promise to his dying Uncle that he would complete his schooling.
Read more about Shawn's story here.

He needed to raise CDN $10,000 and at the time I first visited his blog, no companies had stepped up but he displays each of the rejection letters he receives on the blog. In a way, some of the responses kind of reminds me of Letters From A Nut. Pepsi responded by giving him a bunch of merchandise whereas others just explained that supporting an individual was outside of their scope of social responsibility and community investment.

I called Shawn and wanted to know about his responses and what his values were. I quickly came to understand that Shawn wasn't willing to act as shill for the highest bidder. That and other parts of our discussions made me appreciate that this was a genuine attempt at finding an innovative, alternative means to funding his education and making good on his promise to his Uncle.

Shawn's story intersected almost perfectly with a plan of ours at GiveMeaning to create an Ambassador Program. For a while now, we've been working on an idea that would see us partially sponsor a student's education in return for that student explaining GiveMeaning to their community both on campus and off. In my discussions with Shawn, I felt a great fit and decided to launch the Ambassador program with Shawn as our first Ambassador.

In a way, his blog is an ad-hoc form of what we do on our site: Host pages each with their own specific charitable goal and encourage individuals to donate to that goal and get updates and progress reports through that page. Of course, Shawn's project does not qualify as a charitable activity and would never get approved for listing at GiveMeaning but both the spirit of his blog as well as the response from caring individuals is very much aligned with the spirit of GiveMeaning.

Given Shawn's goal is $10,000, I'm hopeful that three companies will follow GiveMeaning's lead and each contribute $2500. If not, I have a 'Plan B' for Shawn's goal but I'll wait to see if the momentum for Shawn's goal changes any with the first major contribution to his goal.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Important Meetings

Originally uploaded by tomgivemeaning.

This is a picture from our new office. The drawing in the background is something I made when I was 9 for a local Oxfam newsletter. It's a stick figure standing on a ladder, dropping a heart into a huge bucket of hearts. The caption is "Give Money out of your heart"

18 years after drawing that, the charity I work for moves into its first office and who is our next door neighbour? Oxfam.

A tiny explanation to a strong belief that the work I'm doing I've been destined for.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

What a week

GiveMeaning has moved into its first office! Since starting in December 2004, we have all worked from home with occasional days worked as a team from my apartment. The office is located in the Downtown Eastside (two blocks east of Main) which for those of you who know Vancouver is also one of, if not, the poorest neighborhood in Canada.

There have been repeated break-in attempts to the building including a successful one that occured the day before we began painting the office where a thief broke through a skylight, jumped several feet down into the suite, stole a monitor and then kicked through the wall (the door was locked) to get into the hallway and walk out the front door. All for one monitor!

We share our office with Medicians Sans Frontieries (Doctors Without Borders) and our next door neighbour is Oxfam. I brought from home a big poster of a drawing I drew when I was 9 of a stick man dropping a heart into a bucket of hearts with the caption "give money out of your hearts." It appeared in an Oxfam newsletter and 18 years later GiveMeaning's first office is next to Oxfam. Maybe to others this doesn't seem significant but to me, it reaffirms that GiveMeaning is what I've been meant to do.

I realize that what I'm grateful for most is that I show up every single day and love what I do. I love interacting with people, I love being on the front lines of customer service, I love interacting with people in the charitable sector who have as much passion as I do, I love applying my intellectual energy to ideas where I can see real impact being made as a result of those ideas.

Many thanks to Jeff Cutler and New Vision Projects for donating his time to paint and help beautify and secure our little space. I know I speak for everyone on the Vancouver staff when I say that we're really enjoying our space and feeling even more inspired and productive than before! New Vision did a great job in a very short period of time and both New Vision's and Jeff's personal contributions are really appreciated by all of us at GiveMeaning!

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