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Microactions an excuse for youth? by sylvng
August 29, 2009, 12:44 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

I attended Toronto’s first Ignite event on Tuesday, and had to chance to connect with other individuals who are also very interested in the microphilanthropy / microfinance space—including Renjie Butalid of SiG Waterloo, Karim Harji of Social Capital Partners and founder of Social Finance, Ramy Nassar of Engineers Without Borders, and entrepreneur and socially-minded dude Joseph Fung.  Of several great conversations we had, I particularly enjoyed one about the effectiveness of microactions,  a topic that’s always interesting because it can be fairly controversial.

I obviously personally believe that microactions do make a difference (otherwise Charity CHAMPS wouldn’t be here) and in general most of the people I know agree with me (although there’s bias there since I have a tendency to talk to microphilanthropy organizations). Usually the discussions I see and read about are on microcredit and the question of whether it has any long term positive effects (the latest article I read from The Economist quoted studies finding no short term poverty reduction results, but microcredit does positively impact the lives of entrepreneurs).

On Wednesday, however, an interesting line of discussion emerged postulating that the younger generations do less good than the older generations—and microactions might just encourage this behaviour by giving a deceiving sense of how much good is being done.

This idea gave me a lot to think about, as I had not heard it before.  Some of the assertions made to support this argument were that:

  • Baby boomers grew up with a tradition of doing good—for example giving 10% of one’s income to charity, no questions asked.  The younger generation doesn’t have this tradition.
  • The activist culture of the 60’s and 70’s was far stronger than anything today
  • The sizable donations the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) depends upon are becoming scarcer and scarcer.
  • Younger generations are less religious than older generations, and give less through religious institutions.

There were, of course, some solid arguments against the proposition, too—some of which follow.  But first a quick digression.

Microphilanthropy Predates Colour TV

It would be easy to think that microphilanthropy is a modern phenomena given all the excitement about it these days, but in fact it is not at all.  In 1938—fittingly just a short while after the passing of ultra-wealthy philanthropist John D. Rockefeller—microphilanthropy was born in relative anonymity.

A relatively unknown man by the name of Ron Gilreath started an organization whose mission was to fight polio, the most dreaded illness of the 20th century.  His effort began with a newspaper appeal asking everyone in the nation to contribute 10 cents to fight polio.  Over the next 17 years, this initiative became hugely successful, and contributed to the research funds of Jonas Salk, the creator of the first successful polio vaccine.  This organization came to be known as the March of Dimes, emphasizing the national and public nature of the effort, and contrasting it from the private foundations of wealthy families, such as the Rockefellers.

The March of Dimes was the first notable example of microphilanthropy and it introduced amazing new dynamics to the world of good.  Because it let new demographics participate in important efforts, younger, poorer, and less trusting people became included in the force of good.  It also had a much more inclusive and sweeping effect on society, as a much greater percentage of the population could be touched by the warming glow of doing good.   Just as smiling is contagious, so microphilanthropy sweeps a group of strangers with one small gesture.

Changing Demographics

So back to microactions encouaging a distorted sense of goodness amongst youth.  Anecdotally I can see there being some justification for this, although I’d like to see some statistics.  However, even if previous generations did have a stronger sense of moral obligation to give, it seems much more likely that without the existence and accessibility of microactions, youth would probably not give at all, rather than “step it up” and go for “the full 10%”.  Microactions are paving an on-ramp for youth to get back onto the goodness highway, not a side-road to nowhere for meandering in oblivion.

Changing Concerns

Another reason it may seem like people don’t give as much now as they used to is that people give to different things than they used to. Giving in the past was more religious and more local. Now that people are more global in their experiences and access to information, it is harder for the local girl guides and art gallery in Toronto to compete with millions of children in Africa with no drinking water, tragedies of Sri Lankan homes lost in a tsunami, or the inhumane slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan.  We have to be careful not to assume that just because those who used to be the recipients of goodwill may not be receiving the same support there is less support being given overall.

Paradox of Choice

The local supermarket isn’t the only place where there is more choice than ever these days. The rise of sites like Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and even my old project Eye On Development, are a response to the growth in the number of organizations who are trying to bid for your  “goodness” dollars or hours.  These sites seek to help the bewildered population figure out where exactly they should be investing their precious resources.  The younger generation is more accustomed to instant access to expert and peer opinions as provided by RottenTomatoes.com, Edmunds.com, Amazon ratings, and eBay feedback.  Much like I can’t decide what to order when faced with a long, delicious menu, without such guidance, people can choose to do nothing at all because they can’t decide which action is best to take.  Along similar lines, there is a greater desire for transparency and metrics in not-for-profit organizations, just as there has been in the for-profit world.  Efficiency rates are important enough that many organizations advertise them front and centre on their websites when soliciting donations.  Perhaps youth are donating less, but they may be ensuring that what they donate goes farther than their parents.

Time Will Tell

In the end, I think much of this will have to play out over the coming decades.  The affect that microphilanthropy and microactions have on this generation of givers may be best evaluated when you can compare them to the baby boomers, namely when they are also in their 50s and 60s.  I’m pretty sure that whatever the result it will be better than if microactions were not possible.  What do you think?

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Recycle and get free stuff with Freecycle.org and Bluebin.org by sylvng
August 16, 2009, 5:38 pm
Filed under: General Charity Musings, Microphilanthropy | Tags: , , ,

As a former eBay employee, my first approach to getting rid of things I don’t want is selling.  I’ve sold all sorts of things on  on eBay, and for bigger items that are hard or expensive to ship, I’ve used Kijiji or Craigslist. As great as those sites are however, there have always been 2 things limiting me from using them more: 1) it’s very time consuming to make a posting (you need to do price comparisons, upload photos, write detailed descriptions, etc.), and 2) I always think that  I can probably do more “good” by giving the items away to charity instead.

Well this month I have come across 2 sites that solve both those problems by being focused solely on the giving and receiving of free stuff for the purposes of doing good – both by diverting from landfills and by helping people in the local community who can use certain items.

  1. Freecycle.org – this organization has grown tremendously since its inception in 2003 and now has over 7M users worldwide. The interesting thing about FreeCycle is that it’s nothing super high-tech. It uses Yahoo Groups to bring together people in local communities, and “postings” are essentially emails to the group list. You can post both wanted and offer ads easily, with many ads being only one line long, so it’s really easy to list. What I like most about it is that by browsing the wanted ads I can basically offer things to people who are in need.
  2. Bluebin.org – this site was just launched this month, and while they don’t have the huge user base that Freecycle has just yet, it shows great promise. The site is more “web 2.0”, with a very easy and intuitive to use interface that does allow photos that you can’t do with FreeCycle, and a Twitter account for you to follow. Since they are new, they are looking for feedback for improvements and new features, so this would be a great way for you to get involved with a new microphilanthropy site.

And of course, if you’re actually looking for stuff, this is a great way to find things for free.  A quick browse of FreeCycle right now gives  you things from kid’s playhouses to shirts, fans, and even top soil! Try it out!

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Using Twitter to Fundraise by sylvng

Fundraising with Twitter has been getting a lot of press recently, with a lot of articles citing some novel ideas as well as success stories. For example:

  • Twitter’s Twestival raised over $250k for charity just this past February
  • 12for12k ran a Tweet-a-thon on March 19, and raised over $15k for Share our Strength by offering donors chances to win some great prizes for every $12 donated
  • The Vancouver based Tweetmyride Charity Foundation is looking to raise $1M through their Twitter campaign, which encourages users to donate to 10 charities and then Tweet about the donations
  • The Salvation Army recently launched the Kettle campaign to raise $10k

I had mentioned before that Tipjoy is a great tool to use if you’re looking to run your own campaign on Twitter. But if you’re looking for something slightly more fun, try out Twollars. Twollars is Twitter’s “currency of appreciation” – everybody on Twitter automatically starts off with 50 Twollars to give away. To see your balance, just go to http://twollars.com/your_twitter_username. You can give your Twollars to anybody you appreciate by just Tweeting (see Twollars FAQ for examples). If you give your Twollars to Charities who have Twollar accounts, the Twollars can be converted to real dollars by businesses who want to raise their social responsibility profile.

The idea may sound a little too flippant to work for very serious fundraisers, but so far Charity Water has already garnered $1500 from it. There are also no transaction costs involved so Twollars does not take any cut of the fundraised money.

So go get your Twollars and use them wisely!

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Online Fundraising Part 2 by sylvng

Since writing the last article on DIY fundraising I’ve come across a plethora of other sites that help you to do fundraising, whether it’s for a specific charity, project, or your next door neighbour who’s in need of some help. Generally all the sites let you create a webpage of content, and help you market to potential donors, and of course, take donations. The sites charge differing fees as a percentage of your total donations, so make sure you know what the fees are before you plunge in. Other things to check include: what payment methods the site accepts from donors (PayPal and credit cards are common), what currencies are accepted, and how the site lets you withdraw the donated money.

Here are the sites, in no particular order:

  • Fundable – Fundable’s differentiating factor is that money is collected only if the goal is reached. So donors don’t have to worry that they’ve given to a project that might not get enough money to be completed, and fundraisers won’t be in a situation where they only have 50% of their goal achieved and don’t know what to do with the money. While it’s free to set up the fundraising page and to receive pledges, Fundable charges a 10% fee if the goal is reached and transactions take place. With Fundable you can fundraise for anything you want.
  • Firstgiving – Firstgiving is good if you want to fundraise for 501 (c) non-profits (the non-profits are vetted with GuideStar). They charge a 7.5%  fee, and has helped raise $102M for 28k nonprofits.
  • GiveForward – GiveForward, like Fundable, lets you fundraise for anything you want, but if you’re a non-profit, they’ll require identification, and regardless of who you are they’ll be vetting your project to make sure you’re not fraudulent. From a donor’s perspective I can definitely appreciate that, because there are a lot of deserving projects that aren’t tied to non-profits, but but there’s always the risk of fraud if you’re allowing everybody to ask for money. The GiveForward charge is 3%, and as part of their due-diligence, they send out cheques to fundraisers for donated dollars, and uses the time for the cheque to arrive to ensure that the reciepient is legit. Interest earned on fundraised money that has not been issued out as a cheque goes towards non-profit projects posted on GiveForward.org.
  • GiveMeaning – GiveMeaning is free! Yes, no transactions charges for creating your page, as GiveMeaning uses donors and advertising dollars to cover all the costs, including the credit card processing costs. There is a caveat, however, and that is that they require to you gain 100 votes from the community for your project (which can be almost anything) before activating the page to receive money. This guarantees that there is at least some support for what you’re doing.
  • Givezooks! – all the other sites listed above allow you to create a fundraising page, but once that’s done, there are limited marketing tools for you to get the word out there about your project. Of course the existing donor community on the site itself will see your page, and you can email out links or do your own marketing. But with Givezooks!, all of that is marketing can be right at your fingertips, if you’re a nonprofit organization. Givezooks! is fully integrated with the main social networking sites, has email marketing wired in, and even lets you create custom thank yous and gives you an analytics dashboard. With all this functionality there is a price, and while I couldn’t find the costs on the main site, there are sample costs posted here; it’s essentially a flat fee from $99 – $399 a month, depending on your organization’s size. Because it is a flat fee, the more you raise, the more economical it becomes.
  • MyCause – MyCause allows you to fundraise for any registered charity, sporting, community, religious, political or social group, and charges 6.5% plus bank fees. Since MyCause is based in Australia, all donations are made in AUD. This month (August 2009) they are raising money for 247 different charities based on the projects that users have created.

If you’ve tried out any of the above sites and have positive or negative experiences to share, I’d love to hear them!

And if you have a few spare dollars, check out these sites – there are some amazing projects that can use your spare change.

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