Reflections on America’s Giving Challenge

I was glad to see that the New York Times picked up on the final stages of the America’s Giving Challenge. The contest is over, and the cause I’ve been flogging/blogging appears to have (unofficially) emerged victorious. It’s pretty exciting, no doubt, that the Sharing Foundation is likely to receive a decent sum of money as a result of the contest — both directly from the donations generated, and from the $50,000 prize money for the top four organizations.

What’s also interesting is who did well in this contest and who did not. The New York Times article reported that smaller groups feared that they would be at a disadvatage to larger, international groups with big Facebook presences that already had lots of “friends.”

But Amnesty International had a hell of a time getting their online friends to donate during this contest. And tiny, new, unknown groups — NOT run by hip, trendy young college students –did really well.

Why?

“Everyone is still trying to work out how you organize these things and how you move these people offline into our traditional work,” said Brian Glasscock, a 16-year-old volunteer who is responsible for online organizing at Amnesty International.

It makes you want to speculate about the strength of the ties that exist between a cause and its “friends” when those friends can’t be mobiled to make a bunch of well-timed $10 gifts.

More than that, though, I think it points to the difference between “organizations” trying to mobilize online supporters, and people trying to mobilize other people.

I’d have to look more into how other the campaigns were run, but I know from watching Beth Kanter at work over the last month or so that, when she was mobilizing for donations:

  1. She was asking as Beth Kanter, not as an organization.
  2. She was emailing, twittering, and appealing to people she knew, or at least who knew her — as a person.

Would any of us have blogged this campaign, retweeted, or done much of anything if it had been An Entity, Inc. that had been doing the asking?

I doubt it.

Wasn’t it partly the fact that a person was doing the asking, a person who had already established trust and recognition on a number of vectors was making the appeal.

Wasn’t it also because it wasn’t entirely about the cause, as it was to show the world (or the readers of Parade Magazine, at least) that the social networking shadowlands — about which such astonishing, sensationalistic, fear-mongering, alarmist crap is written — is actually populated by passionate, articulate people who support each other and who work to advance the common good?

6 Thoughts.

  1. I think these are good points — specifically that people tend to give to a cause because a person they trust asked them to donate, but I do not think you can discount the importance of the organizations (and/or the larger cause the organization represents).

    Atlas Corps mobilized 1661 people to donate, we came in third. I personally asked thousands of people to help and they came through, but at the end of the day I dont think that I can take credit for Atlas Corps win, nor do I think that Beth can take credit for the Sharing Foundation (neither would have won without us, but we cannot really take credit for the win).

    I had tons of people, I had never met, who did not know me, email me saying that they were getting their family and friends to donate because they believed in the mission of the organization (promoting international cooperation in the nonprofit sector). Furthermore, at Atlas Corps, we were asking as an organization – or at least as individuals on behalf of a cause we were a part of.

    So, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. This contest shows how powerful social networks can be – especially when led by individuals that people trust and particularly when for a cause that people believe in.

    Thanks for blogging about this fascinating contest.

    Scott Beale
    Founder, Atlas Corps
    3rd place finisher in the Americas Giving Challenge. We won $50,000 and raised $33,000 from 1661 people.
    http://www.atlascorps.org

  2. Scott,

    Thanks for the comments. I absolutely agree that the success of any organization in this contest can’t be attributed to one person, but to the network. And the fact that you were “individuals (asking) on behalf of a cause we were a part of” is exactly my point. What I’ve blogged about in the past is my unease with organizations who engage in social networks solely as a “brand,” without allowing staff or encouraging volunteers to speak as individuals on behalf of the organization. I have observed that it is the people who make things happen, not the marketing department.

    And congratulations!

    Beth

  3. Hi Beth:

    Great post!! Can you track it back to the lessons learned?

    I agree with Scott. I can’t credit for all the work you did to help me get more people aware and donate to the cause.

    I asked everyone person I knew to ask for $10, but when they, in turn, asked their networks — and those donors came through – I can’ take credit for that.

    Here’s a great example:
    http://www.jenlemen.com/blog/?p=316

    Also, Dr. Hendrie did a great job reaching out to her networks as did other board members … I was sending out regular emails — urging them on – but I can’t take credit for their work either ..

    I did get people who I know who said to me that they wouldn’t give because they only give to carefully vetted causes and they didn’t know about the Sharing Foundation, even though they trusted me.

    So, key thing is trust – trust of the individual asking and trust of the organization.

    I dunno .. I need more sleep ..

  4. thanks, beth. I guess I have to clarify: I never meant to give one person credit. I only wanted to discuss the reasons why I – and the other people reached directly by you- responded the way we did. The same goes for the people who responded to me, because I reached out to them. It’s the power of the personal connection, passed down the line.

  5. What a great post Beth. I absolutely agree that the personal connection is the key. And you’ve really got me thinking about what is really going on here.

    I’m inspired to write a post in response to this… as soon as I can get all the thoughts down in some kind of order.

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