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.


  1. “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.”

    Currently I’m spending some of my time working with Ashoka’s Citizen Base Initiative and they are trying to collect and document those organizations that have done it, not specifically in technology but I think the principle of community ownership and participation are the same. You might find it interesting to search through their collection. The idea is to create a citizen community around a citizen sector organization just like a “fan base” interacts and supports a sports team or a religious congregation sustains a church.

    I have a thought for the online donation discussion. I notice that most efforts online that try to combine social networking with philanthropic giving do not incorporate that element that often people do not want to advertise how much they have given. Do some people not give online in a social networking context i.e. Causes on Facebook or the like because they don’t want to come across as ‘holier than thou’ to their friends. Thoughts?

  2. Great question, Dave. Citizen Base is a really interesting idea that I’m still learning about and thinking through. PledgeBank actually has a great example of exactly that kind of “rallying” support: http://www.pledgebank.com/rights. Over 1000 people agreed to give 5 pounds a month ($10) to support an organization that hadn’t yet started. What better way to gauge whether you should actually move forward with an organization than to crowd-source your support?!?

    There are loads of examples of organizations that have effectively motivated “fans” — and then done a dismal job of engaging them in action. My suspicion is that happens for one of two reasons: 1) the org was so self-doubting and skeptical that it didn’t think far enough in advance about HOW to engage their supporters, or 2) there was no tool put in the hands of their supporters to act on the organization’s behalf.

    I don’t have a solution for the first issue, but I hope PledgeBank and other collective action websites will help solve the second…but we have to convince organizations to take a chance on their own supporters.

    Other thoughts, anyone?