1. Stuffed Unicorns

    The latest “Giving Carnival” question is being organized this month by Peter Deitz, the brains behind Social Actions.

    Peter’s question: “Is person-to-person fundraising dead, or just getting started???”

    I’ll give my brief answer. Person-to-person fundraising is either dead or slowly dying, but that could be good news. Let me explain.

    We’ve all probably had some experience with person-to-person fundraising — me, I sold Girl Scout Cookies. Now, I wasn’t selling Girl Scout cookies because I deeply cared about raising money for the organization or because I was interested in sharing the story of the Girl Scouts with those whose doorbells I rang. I was in it for the badges and stuffed unicorns that I could win by selling the most boxes of cookies. Person-to-person fundraising has reached a point, I think, at which there is such commodification of an organization’s story that there is little meaning left in the actual transaction…just stuffed unicorns.

    Person-to-person action, however, is a different story — and I think that’s where there is tremendous potential. Take, for instance, what’s happening on PledgeBank. Individuals create a pledge to do “something,” but must make asks of their social network (friends, family, co-workers, etc.) in order to make that “something” happen. Rather than operating via a “transactional” outlook, it’s actually necessary to tell the story of why this “something” is important. There are few drive-by fundraisers on the site — you have to interact with folks and let them know why they should sign up to this social contract with you in order to meet your pledge’s target number of signers.

    Similarly, I recently chatted with David Stoker, who’s working with Ashoka’s Citizen Base Initiative. They’re addressing the problem of superficial interactions by encouraging organizations to rally a fan base of individuals who support them…much like a sports team. The analogy is lost when you start imagining people painting their faces on behalf of the Red Cross, but the idea of organizations looking to their network for more than just a donation is certainly compelling.

    Don’t get me wrong — I still buy and love Girl Scout cookies. But if I had to place bets on where the future of online organizing lies, it’s on peer-to-peer action that requires interaction, that illuminates an individual’s values, and that is part of a meaningful narrative arc. Thin Mint, anyone?

  2. Old lessons…

    I’ve had the good fortune to talk with a few folks over the past several days who have echoed many of the things that we’ve been learning at PledgeBank over the past several months and years, and I thought I’d share…

    First, I chatted yesterday with Jason Dick, who blogs at A Small Change. The blog focuses on nonprofit fundraising, and in our conversation we chatted about the tendency of nonprofits to be more than a bit behind the curve when it comes to adoption of new ideas/technologies…but that’s old news. We also chatted about the organizations that have decided to take a bit of a chance on online fundraising, and that have done some incredible things. We’ve seen the same thing happen at PledgeBank — a small organization (or a not-yet-formed organization) trusts its supporters enough to put some modicum of responsibility in their hands, and gets a tremendous response.

    I also chatted yesterday with Peter Dietz of Social Actions and the impressive lot behind the Social Actions Mashup (selected as a finalist in the NetSquared competition, btw). There was great conversation about the value in aggregating information, what the nonprofit sector can gain from the syndication of social actions, and how we can all work together to create more ways for more people to do more good. Really.

    Finally, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend, Susannah Cowden, who is now working with Be the Change. As an organization that’s still forming and growing, there’s significant pressure to both be different and be innovative — I hear the same struggle from a lot of organizations in the U.S. While there are many folks who have every intention of trusting their supporters to act on their behalf and equipping them with the tools to do so, there are very few who actually do it.

    I wanted to capture these conversations because these themes are not at all unique. We all know that nonprofits move slowly when it comes to technology. We all know that those willing to take a chance are, more often than not, rewarded. And we all know that there’s a delicate balance between controlling your organization’s message (especially if your tax status is 501(c)3 in the U.S.) and empowering your organization’s members.

    What I think these conversations illuminated for me is the need for someone to cut through all of these lessons and to find ways to make real stuff happen, with real impact. That’s what mySociety is about: giving people “simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives.” And (I hope) that’s what PledgeBank enables. Holler (heather at pledgebank dot com) if you’re interested in working together to create a larger platform for collective community action.

  3. The Mashup to End All Mashups

    Well, I doubt that this will end the mashup trend going on out in the interwebs, but I thought folks might be interested in seeing this…

    NetSquared (based in the U.S.) has launched their newest summer contest, the N2Y3 (that’s NetSquared Year Three) Mashup Challenge. You can see the 100+ projects that have been submitted here. One of mySociety’s projects, PledgeBank, is featured in one of the submissions: Social Actions. OK, the name isn’t super-sexy. But the idea is. Peter Deitz is developing a way to lead any given user (an individual or an organization) through the process of selecting a social action platform. Do you want to raise money? Do you need to integrate with a specific CRM? Do you need an online donation processing tool? Do you need a widget for your site? This mashup with combine 29+ (the list keeps growing) “action” tools (including PledgeBank) in that wizard, helping the average Joe or Jane figure out which tool would work best for them.

    Of course, in order to move forward in the competition for mentoring and money, Peter needs your vote. To vote for this mashup (and at least four more — NetSquared is smarter than to just let everyone vote for one), just create a free account on the site and add at least five projects to your ballot. There are some really cool ones out there, so browse around a bit. The polls opened on Monday at 8am PST, and they will be closing on Friday at 5pm PST. The 20 mashup proposals with the most votes will attend the annual NetSquared Conference in San Jose, May 27 & 28, 2008. During the conference, the mashup creators will have a chance to pitch their projects to funders, foundations, and fellow nonprofit tech professionals.

    As they say in Chicago, vote early and vote often!

  4. Another podcast…featuring a pledge campaign!

    A lot has been happening with PledgeBank in the U.S. over the past few months, but an exciting podcast just went up that’s a great synthesis of some of that work. Idealist just launched a podcast featuring PledgeBank, and also telling the story of one of our favorite pledge campaigns. You can hear the podcast here.

    You can also see more from the Bakul Foundation on their new website. Good things are happening, my friends…please help spread the word about PledgeBank to those folks you know who want to do incredible things like what the Bakul Foundation has done!

  5. Another day, another podcast

    Hello, all. Just wanted to let you know about another podcast interview I did about PledgeBank…this time on the 501c3Cast. This podcast is geared toward folks in the nonprofit/philanthropic world (the tax code classification for many nonprofits in the U.S. is “501(c)3″) to spread the word about new tools, ideas, and conversations in the sector. You can find the podcast here (though, be forewarned, it’s a bit long…).

  6. Sending PledgeBank into the podcast ether

    The “um’s” and “uh’s” on the interview are embarrassing, to say the least, but PledgeBank just got its first podcast coverage. Check out my NetSquared interview here. I’m hoping this gets us a bit of exposure in the U.S.

    And I’ll do better next time with all the incidental sounds… :-)

  7. Trying this out…

    Hello, all…this is Heather, PledgeBank evangelist in the U.S. Francis just hooked me up with the ability to post the the developers’ blog, so I thought I’d give it a whirl…

    We’re starting to get a little momentum around PB…I sent out emails this week to folks working at state networks of volunteer centers across the country and have gotten quite a few responses. This isn’t huge press or anything, but it’s good to know that folks who work at volunteer centers full-time think there’s enough value to the site on first glance that they’ll give me a chance to chat with them. I’ll keep you updated on how those phone calls and meetings go, and might be asking for some more specific tech details behind the site as questions arise.

    It might also be of interest to folks that I’m headed this afternoon to Georgia for a retreat with about 25 of the most prominent bloggers in the country and a handful of progressive funders…all talking about the state of and future of the blogosphere. You can see more about the meeting at http://neworganizing.com. I helped do a lot of the logistics for the retreat, and am looking forward to meeting some of these mysterious folks this weekend!