Non-Governmental Imagination

Vote for cool projects at NetSquared
April 11, 2007, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Donations, Imagination, Resources, social responsibility, Visionaries, Web 2.0

My good friends at NetSquared are doing a really cool project. Lots of projects/ideas/websites that have a social benefit have been submitted, and the top 20 vote-getters get an all-expenses-paid trip to the Net Squared conference in May, where conference participants will dole out $100k to the groups that they decide are worthy.

I feel pretty lucky to have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are doing neat and bootstrappy things. They’re all telling me to vote for their project. I haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for or how much time I’ll invest poring over the 120ish projects, but until I figure it out, please vote. Votes are only accepted through April 14.  There sure is lots of talk about changing the world through social tools, and it’s wonderful and rare when someone puts up actual US dollars to back an idea as chosen by a community.

The one thing I will say at this point regarding my vote is that I will not choose projects that already made it big, either in terms of financial sustainability or name recognition. This is an amazing opportunity for the little guys who have no other resources, and I sorta look negatively on the big boys on this list for whom the price of a ticket to the conference is negligible. Ahem.



Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Celebrity-Backed Charities vs. ChipIn
January 19, 2007, 8:31 am
Filed under: Big vs. Small, Donations, Imagination, Resources, Web 2.0

Kevin Bacon, famous for the well-known (and really hard) drinking game Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon, has teamed up with Network For Good to create Six Degrees, a charity badge sharing site that lets you give money to the favorite charities of your favorite celebrities or to the charity of your choice. The badges that you or people like Seth Green and Ricky Gervais created can be put on any webpage, and you and your crew can keep track of the donations. The donations are processed through Network For Good, which takes a hefty cut of 4.75% that the donor can choose to absorb or pass on to the charity.

ChipIn is a flash widget that you can also put on any website that allows you to accept and track donations through others’ badges. Unlike the Network For Good badges, the ChipIn widget has a handy-dandy little thermometer that shows you how close you are to your goal, and the donations go through PayPal, which takes only 2.9%. The downside is that you can’t customize the buttons at all, and let’s face it, celebrities’ faces tend to be more attractive than the ChipIn logo.

I think ChipIn is clearly the better project, but Six Degrees has the Network For Good marketing muscle behind it. This is one of those unfortunate instances where the better marketed product is not as good as its lesser-known competitor. Bummer.

The difference in fees is something that really can’t be overstated. And ChipIn supports a clear trend in online philanthropy: the preference of people to support individual projects rather than organizations. You can give to a particular project within an organization, which might annoy many orgs but please the new breed of online donors who abhor overhead costs and worship at the altar of efficiency.

Plus, there are plenty of worthy causes that are not charities registered with the IRS that ChipIn can support. If your kid’s soccer team needs new uniforms or your neighborhood wants to buy the local homeless guy a sleeping bag, ChipIn is flexible enough to accomadate you, while Network For Good will only deal with nonprofits that have been blessed by the IRS.

I gotta admit, Six Degrees is clever and slick. Good site design, a brilliant jiu-jitsu style transformation of a drinking game into a charitable endeavor, and famous celebrities. Not the washed up, B grade ones, either.  It certainly has a bright future, and I hope they can steer the absurd cult of celebrity in this country to support worthy causes instead of fragrance lines and shampoo companies.

But I hope people don’t lose sight of ChipIn, a less glitzy but ultimately more solid offering.

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Convio Buys Get Active And The Integration Proclamation
January 18, 2007, 8:11 am
Filed under: Resources

Convio and Get Active, two eCRM competitors who shower nonprofits with promos and pleas to use their CRM software, will be merging in holy matrimony. Democracy in Action has an interesting post with good background info and interesting food for thought.

On a related note, I’m tired of integrating and moving data/tools/stuff from one platform to another, so I signed the Integration Proclamation. It seems sorta toothless, and I usually don’t think much of cheap pledges, but in light of today’s merger, maybe the toolmakers will finally see a demand for easy transfer of data as a good thing, not just a scary thing.

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Chugger Chase Is Awesome
January 17, 2007, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Imagination, Resources

One of my favorite blogs from the creators of one of my favorite websites posted today about Chugger Chase, a hilarious game where the player tried to avoide “chuggers”, the annoying people on the street who ask you to ostensibly for a moment of your time but quickly try to wheedle money out of you for a charity.

One of the charities I dislike the most is PIRG, including all of its evil subsidiaries. They hire bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young people to hang out on busy street corners filled with yuppies and ask if you have a minute for the environment. Who doesn’t? Only jerks, and you’re not a jerk.  So you make eye contact and they launch into an oversimplified version of some environmental bill and ask you to sign a petition or give money to support it. You feel like an asshole for saying no, so you don’t. Once you’ve made eye contact and initiated conversation, you’re toast. And a lot of that money you donated went to paying for the salaries of the privileged college kid who stopped you in the first place, who will spend it on beer that night lamenting the fact that the “summer job to save the environment” seems a little sheisty.

Maybe if I play Chugger Chase more I can get better at avoiding them. I think I scored over 51,000 points.

While I shudder at the resources it took to create this mindless little game, it introduced me to Community Channel, I poked around their site a bit and challenged an easily-distracted friend of mine to beat my high score. So it definitely worked as an attention-getter.

Best of all, I like the big blue button in the right-hand corner that says “Boss Coming” that you can click to open up the legitimate, less-gamefied Community Channel website in a new tab/window, a nice touch to finish off a clever little time-waster.

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Thoughts on the Squidoo/Net2/Get Active 59 Smartest Orgs Online
January 17, 2007, 11:37 am
Filed under: Big vs. Small, Donations, Imagination, NGO Blogs, Resources, Visionaries, Web 2.0

Squidoo, Get Active and Net Squared teamed up to announce the top 59 smartest orgs online. It’s an interesting list, and while there are several orgs that are noticeably absent, all present seem to be doing interesting things and/or have big enough presences that they get to be noticed. There’s no cash prize, and people can vote charities up or down as long as they are, or want to, become registered Squidoo members.

But wait a minute, can’t this system be gamed? Sure. All you need to do is get your friends/colleagues/mailing-list to sign up for a Squidoo account and PRESTO, your charity, as long as it startedsomewhere on the list, is now ranked above Donors Choose, winner of the 2005 Amazon Nonprofit Innovation Award, which at the time of writing was ranked #55 out of #59 with negative one point.

All groups started with (positive) one point. So either two individuals think Donors Choose is doing a bad job of utilizing the internet to affect social change. Or two folks voted them lower because it would improve their own group’s ranking.

I’m not aware of anyone thinking that Donors Choose is either a bad idea, badly executed, or not in a position to utilize the internet to bridge the web 2.0 and philanthropy worlds. So obviously, there is some manipulating going on here.

That’s interesting. Is it ethical? I don’t know.

There’s nothing at stake here except for pride, and there’s no rulebook that says “don’t get your fellow charity staff members to create Squidoo accounts just to vote up your charity and vote others lower”. In fact, some organizations (which are ranked quite highly) are quite obviously pandering to their community to vote for them, even by mistakenly implying that there is a financial benefit for the group to do so.

So that seems wrong to me. Obviously, each of the people in charge of marketing or communications at these orgs got a pat on the back when their bosses learned what happened, especially at small orgs (look, we’re better at communicating online than The One Campaign/Gates Foundation/Greenpeace/etc). But what else is there to be gained by cheating?

I know, there’s no rules, it’s not illegal, blahblahblah. But it feels wrong.

Is your group great? Sure. When I saw that Interplast made the list at #31, I signed up, voted, hit the ‘ole refresh button and watched us jump to #25. My coworker did the same and we were at #18. Pretty good for 15 seconds worth of marketing. It was fun, but it left me with no illusion that we do a better job of empowering people to change the world than Kiva or TakingITGlobal. We eventually jumped peaked at #10, and we never voted anyone else down. Were we unethical? I don’t think so. We honestly believe that we are doing a good job, and I’m sure that Squidoo is more than happy to let us vote in order to bag a couple of new subscribers. We didn’t spend much time on it, got a good chuckle and a warm fuzzy, and went back to work.

But we used to have five points, and now we have four, so again, even though there’s nothing at stake an I shouldn’t really care, someone’s screwing with the system.

It looks like someone who either works for or is a supporter of some group near the top is voting everyone else down. At the time of writing, 12 groups were at -1, which means that two people voted them down.

But here’s the problem with your plan, evil voter-downer-people. If any person familiar with nonprofits, technology, web 2.0, fundraising, marketing, etc sees a list with (all rankings current at time of writing):

Then they will simply dismiss it as an unreliable source and ignore it. If, on the other hand, they see a reasonable list where groups at the top seem to be really innovative, then the story might get picked up by bloggers, MSM journalists, and other chattery types who would catapault the list and all orgs on it onto their radarscreen and into their publications. Everyone wins.

Seth Godin, the founder of Squidoo, made a big hubhub a while back in the nonprofit blogosphere by questioning the way that many charities market themselves, especially the ones that didn’t have a Squidoo lens. That didn’t win him many friends in the NP blogosphere, but it sure garnered him lots of links, discussions and yummy stuff which he probably prefers.

I think Seth Godin is really smart, and although I don’t quite get Squidoo and why it presents a credible alternative to blogs and/or wikipedia, I think that this list is a smart move. Squidoo will garner new subscribers like me or folks who like ferrets, and people will talking about Seth Godin breathlessly as innovative and clever, which he certainly is. (see? It’s already working.)

I’m curious to see what the list looks like six months from now, and I predict that Donors Choose will slowly climb the ranks until it rivals Kiva. What do you think?

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GoodTree Founder Responds to “Pointed Scrutiny” and Scam Allegations
November 7, 2006, 9:17 am
Filed under: GoodTree, Imagination, Resources

James Currier, the founder of GoodTree, responded to two of my posts about GoodTree in the comments. I thought I would put his comments, verbatim, in a post so they can be read more easily by all. I’m tired so I won’t analyze it tonight, but here is the response from An Open Letter To GoodTree:

Hi, this is James Currier, the founder of GoodTree. Sorry we didn’t get back to you. We’ve been suprised by the popularity of the site, and have been rushing to put the infrastructure in place to make it a real company that responds to emails and/or blog posts in a prompt way. We now have a person answering emails, which we didn’t before.

I’ve responded, finally, to your post, it’s comment #14 and it’s long. I’ve tried to address all the concerns. The basic story is you were the first to blog about us and we’re not ready for scrutiny, so my apologies.

We hope to build a valuable and respected service, and I hope we can soon bury these negative posts with positive posts.

and from Goodsearch vs. GoodTree:

Hello, this is James Currier, the founder of GoodTree. We are indeed legitimate, although we are not yet fully up to speed as a company, which accounts for the problems you’re having finding out more about us, the typos, etc. We’re still only three guys. We are not ready for your pointed scrutiny! My apologies.

We detail GoodTree more here: The site includes full disclosure about how monies are earned and disbursed, it includes our address in San Francisco, and several places to email us. We’re responding to email much faster now. We’re also adding to the About Us and the FAQ everyday.

As we say on our website, we give 50% of the money to charity, not 25%. We have our address on our site, and you can email us anytime. We don’t yet have enough people to answer a phone number promptly yet, so we haven’t put one on the site, but we hope to in as soon as we can handle it.

We’re sending out the first checks to the charities this month (from activity on the GoodTree site in July – August) totaling close to $9,000.

We’re hiring independent auditors so you can know we are accounting properly and paying the charities. We will also be publishing our financials on the site so you can see we are being totally transparent about what goes on and how it works. Until the last few weeks, we didn’t have any financials to publish or audit. We’re just getting going.

We are not using any of the charities’ names or logos in our promotional copy or marketing and any charity that doesn’t want to be included is free to opt out.

We are contacting each charity by phone and with a check in the mail, although we haven’t reached all of them yet. Every charity we’ve talked to so far is happy to be involved and receive checks. Iamgo, which non-profit do you represent?

We will be developing a set of UK charities for the UK, Canadian charities for Canadians, Australian charities for Australians and Indian charities for Indians. We’ll add other countries as requests come in.

There is no press on us because as you have pointed out, we are not ready. We’ve just been proving to ourselves that the concept will work and we can provide the right software systems to support it. Once again, the blogging community is scooping the traditional press. But there is a reason I have refused to talk to journalists: We’re not ready!

As the GoodTree website explains, our results are the combination of Google results, Yahoo results, Microsoft results and results. The aggregation of those results and the backend work is done for us by InfoSpace, a public company based in Seattle, WA, USA.

We are working to build different displays for search results so people can choose the format that feels right to them. If you don’t like the results layout the way we have it now, we hope to provide you with alternative in the coming weeks.

We will be publishing a blog, describing the ongoing efforts to bring GoodTree to life, and do good in the world.

We have 3 ways of letting people spread the word. One of them is to send an email to the people in their address book on Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. In order for people to access their address books, they need to log in to those address books, so yes, they enter their email and password, but we do not save anyone’s passwords. This is a very common practice used by many online companies. We are not a phishing site, we are not trying to get your information.

We are trying to build a very useful and safe web service that lets lots of regular people contribute to charities without it costing them anything, and hopefully encouraging them to get more involved in doing good (we’re coming out with more features by the end of November so people can find each other and take inspiration from each other).

I hope our slow start doesn’t turn too many people off in the future. We are taking action on the things you are questioning here, and we ARE sending money to charities in exactly the formula we present on the site. Thank you for your patience,

James Currier

Even though I commented today that I thought GoodTree was probably a scam, it seems to me now as though they are legitimate, albeit remarkably slow to respond to their community.  Let’s hope they build a tool that’s worthy of their buzz that does well for them and for the bureaucratic large charities which they support.

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Video Interview With Gregg Swanson of Humaninet
September 21, 2006, 7:47 pm
Filed under: Imagination, International Aid, Resources

Gregg Swanson, from Humaninet, is shown in this video discussing Sim Day, which I just talked about in my last post.