“Saving the World” DIY Style

People ask me how I go about figuring out what causes I really believe in and what’s the most effective way to support those efforts. You can find a list of what I support specifically here. My general philosophy is to do some real good in the short run, while learning how to scale that up in the long run – to the entire planet in maybe twenty years. I’m also very committed to helping people from the bottom up, to give people a break that rarely get one, and to help give a voice to the voiceless.

When it comes to business success and money, know when enough is enough, which translates to a business model of doing well by doing good. I guess I’ve been real successful at that, and I’ve been told by a lot of startup people that this approach has influenced them.

So, in the short run, I’ve been doing what I can to help US veterans and military families, figuring that if someone will risk a bullet protecting me, I need to give back. Recently, people helped me understand that the family of an active service member serves the country while that service member is deployed, particularly in a war zone.

I’ve chosen groups to support, in government and in the nonprofit world, guided by considerations including:

  • Do they impact something I believe in?
  • Are they good at it?
  • Can I help them via serious social media consulting and engagement?
  • Can I learn from the experience how to use social media on a very large scale?
  • Just in case, does the nonprofit tell a really slick, heart-wrenching story? Have they been seriously vetted? (If not, substantial chance it’s a scam.)

So, the themes here have to do with “social impact,” probably mediated by social media, while watching out for compelling scams. (Sorry, but this is currently a huge problem in the nonprofit world.) For that reason, I engage with Charity Navigator,GuideStar, and GreatNonProfits.org. In particular, Charity Nav is making real progress measuring social impact, which is about how good an org is at serving its clients. Social media provides the tools that effective people use to work together to get stuff done. We’re talking not only Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, but also tools like spreadsheets used to rank “employee innovation” efforts.

Human history suggests that change begins from the networks of individuals who work together through the social media of their times, from Caesar and Cicero, to St Paul and Martin Luther, and John Locke and Tom Paine. Consider the UK Glorious Revolution which resulted in modern representative democracy, which I frequently call the Twitter Revolution of 1688. (A great history of pre-Internet social media isThe Writing on the Wall, by Tom Standage, who reminds us that “history retweets itself.”) That history tells us that social media provides a set of tools which can effect real change. That history is one of democratization; the costs of those tools restricted them to the wealthy at first, but now the cost of entry is close to zero.

In the short term, my focus is normally on small orgs, since they can be more effective. However, I’m now working with a huge org, the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 360,000 people, and from that, I’m learning how to run large organizations – and large governments – effectively.

For the long term, I’m supporting efforts in the here and now that are fundamental to universal fairness; the intent is to give everyone a break, to treat everyone how you’d like to be treated.

One such effort involves figuring out how to get news that I can trust. I’m a news consumer, but for the past decade I’ve been getting training in media ethics and trust issues, as well as being shown how the news sausage is made. (It ain’t pretty, particularly with all the disinfo being flung around.) The theme is that “the press is the immune system of democracy” and that a good ethical framework might lead some part of the press back to trustworthy behavior.

Another effort involves voting rights in the US. While the Declaration of Independence reminds us that we’re all equal under the law, bad actors in politics can only survive if they stop certain groups of people from voting, and that ain’t right.

It might occur to you that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” and that is another articulation of what my stuff’s all about. You’d be right.

Photo: creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by USDAgov

Do eCommerce Giving Programs Effectively Raise Money for Charity?

Hey, the idea behind craigconnects is giving the voiceless a real voice, and the powerless real power. I see it as everyone doing some small, or big, part.

One way to do this is by giving back via purchases and a few key initiatives.  Organizations like We-Care.com team up with merchants and give a percentage of the proceeds to charity. We-Care works with more than 2500 online merchants, and it’s the merchants who choose what percentage of proceeds to donate (ranging from 1.5% to 15% of transactions). Participation doesn’t cost anything for the organizations, and there is no extra charge for the person who is shopping. Something that’s really useful on We-Care is their toolbar plugin. You can download a reminder that will pop up each time you’re shopping on a site that will give some money to your cause.

Amazon just started doing something similar to We-Care, but aren’t giving as much (just 0.5%). They’re calling it AmazonSmile.

Perla Ni, CEO of Great Nonprofits commented on Amazon’s new giving program, and what she calls “interesting benchmarks” –

“0.5% is an interesting percentage. Amazon’s revenue was $17B last quarter. It would be $80M/quarter if everybody who purchased something took it up. Even though it doesn’t cost anyone to do it, say 20% of users sign up, so that would be $20M/quarter. That would be about $80M/year donated to nonprofits. Google gives about $100M/year and Wells Fargo gives about $300M/year.”

Efforts like these are making donations an every day thing, and this way, according to Perla, “nonprofits may see donations through-out the year, rather than just at the end of the year for tax-deductions.” Perla does voice a concern though. She says: “the biggest potential downside I see is that it may cannibalize individual giving – ‘oh, I don’t need to give on my own, because I’ve already done it just by shopping.’ It may make shopping replace giving.”

We also contacted Ken Berger, President and CEO of Charity Navigator, about AmazonSmile to get his opinion. He said that Charity Navigator will be looking into the project to see if Amazon will use their API to display the Charity Navigator ratings.

Ken also shared with us that “shopping portals that give money to charity usually don’t generate enough revenue to make a big impact on an individual charity’s bottom line. One of the problems is the change of behavior required – same as with Amazon since customers will have to start their purchase process on a different website than the regular Amazon site. However, the scale of Amazon makes this a unique proposition with the potential to make a big impact on a charity’s bottom line.”

I think the most helpful thing you can do to make sure you’re giving to the good guys is to check out Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and Great Nonprofits (like Yelp for nonprofits, with user reviews). These will help you select good, effective nonprofits.

GNP

I support some nonprofits, and some not (more on that here). I make sure to look into a charity before I donate to avoid giving to one of America’s 50 worst charities. It’s useful to be able to give back to orgs that I support via purchases that I’m already making. Although, I don’t think that shopping should replace giving to an org when you believe in their cause.

How are you giving back, if you’re able?

Supporting some nonprofits, and some not, here’s the deal

For well over ten years, a whole bunch of nonprofit orgs (NPOs) have asked me for assistance, and I think I’ve gone way above and beyond to help as much as I could.

The vehicle for all that is now craigconnects.org, where I support some causes for the short term, while learning how to do it way, way better with a twenty-year horizon.

I’ve chosen a range of causes that feel right to me, they resonate for me at a gut level. Military families and veterans efforts feel right, so does the effort to help restore trustworthiness to journalism.

altruism2-meme

One way that I validate my gut reaction about a NPO is through good orgs like Charity Navigator, Guidestar, Center for Investigative Reporting, and GreatNonprofits. They help me find good, effective nonprofits. When they talk about America’s 50 Worst Charities or rate how NPOs are doing, I pay attention.

If I believe in a cause enough, it becomes a craigconnects focus, and my team and I locate NPOs who are really good at helping, at “moving the needle,” and support them.

Also, I’ll support NPOs that are effective and do things that I believe in, with no specific pattern.

The danger with going with my gut is that we’ve learned, the hard way, that some NPOs are really good at telling a really good, heart-rending story. Turns out that they aren’t really good at helping anyone who needs help. Cash sent to them winds up in some briefly attention-getting awareness raising, something normally useful, and in salaries and perks. Usually, an NPO gets attention via getting real results, but the kind I’m talking about, they get attention, and hope that no one checks if they get anything done.

NPOs want help from me in social media, both in consulting mode and in using social media to their benefit. I’m okay with both. Even a nerd can get to be good at all this, though I’ll never be good as a natural.

For more, please check out craigconnects.org, check out [connect with Craig], that’s a start, and I really appreciate it.

Thanks!

 

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