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Why Are People Taking America’s Giving Challenge? Just 'Cause.

December 20, 2007

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(Dennis Whittle is the CEO of GlobalGiving. In November, he wrote about GlobalGiving Guaranteed.)

There's a major new experiment in philanthropy going on right now, and here at GlobalGiving we're on the edge of our seats to see what happens.

Last weekend, America's Giving Challenge was launched in an issue of Parade magazine featuring Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington. With a call to "Help Us Give Away $500,000," the Case Foundation challenged Americans, including the magazine's 70 million readers, to choose a cause online and then mobilize others to support it to. The top eight fundraisers in the Challenge -- those who galvanize the most donors, not the most money -- will each win $50,000 for their cause. Another $100,000 will go to the nonprofits with the greatest number of unique donations. Steve Case, founder of AOL, and our friends at the Case Foundation have put up the funding for the experiment. The challenge ends January 31.

At GlobalGiving, we're excited that the challenge is putting global issues in the spotlight. When they visit the site, participants choose either an international or U.S. cause. GlobalGiving serves as the international partner (Network for Good is the Case Foundation's domestic partner). Those who choose to start a global fundraiser then select a cause that matches their interests, create a "fundraiser," and use social networking tools to drive friends and family members to the page.

In less than a week, we're already seeing fervor from "early adopters": one fundraiser for a global volunteer initiative is generating significant traffic to his challenge page through widgets, links from his home page, and e-mail blasts ("phase two" of his plan involves getting all of his friends to mobilize theirs). Megan from Denver hasn't made her final project decision yet but is considering one that provides clean drinking water: some of her fundraising ideas include involving local schools, throwing a water-themed New Year's party, and mentioning the cause in her post-holiday thank-you notes.

With 43 days to go, ideas are proliferating. Since launch day, Web traffic to the challenge site has quadrupled. Thousands of dollars are already rolling in to causes around the world. The challenge is on.

Beyond being a fun and motivating initiative, there are other big-picture questions that we hope the challenge will help us answer. What, for example, will it teach us about how and why Americans donate to international causes? What significance would a democratization of international giving have for global development priorities, international aid, and grassroots organizing? And how can we use this grand experiment to encourage more viral action on international issues at home?

Here's a YouTube video about the effort -- check it out and then get on board. It's still early in the game, and the playing field is wide open.

-- Dennis Whittle

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