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Causes on Facebook/MySpace -- Here to Stay?

May 30, 2008

Michael Arrington, co-blogger-in-chief at TechCrunch, the popular weblog dedicated to "obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies," reports that the company behind Causes, the Facebook and MySpace application launched a year ago to promote viral donations of time and money to charity, has released usage and donation statistics for the application's first twelve months.

According to Arrington, Causes has registered 12 million users who are supporting (with time or money) more than 80,000 causes worldwide and has raised $2.5 million for more than 19,500 tax-exempt organizations in the U.S. -- roughly $125 per org., as one commenter points out, or .21 per registered user, as another notes.

There's an interesting semi-debate raging in the comments section that's worth checking out. On one side are those who argue that the modest amounts raised to date are not enough to justify all the time and money expended on the application's development -- or the attention it has received in the mainstream media; on the other are those who argue that the application is all about awareness and consciousness-raising. There's also an interesting generational slant to the discussion (i.e., social media really is a young person's game, and young people, who "get it," tend to be broke, etc.).

I'm old, haven't spent any time with the application, and am not sure what to think. How about you? Does Causes -- or social media, for that matter -- have potential as a fundraising platform? Or are there better ways to connect donors, whatever their age or income, with the causes they care about?

-- Mitch Nauffts

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Posted by Gena Rotstein  |   June 02, 2008 at 12:04 PM

Hi Mitch,
While I have a facebook account, I don't log on anymore as I found the program more irritating than useful. However, as to your question regarding whether or not there are better ways to generate social change through the new media I would like to draw your attention to a foundation that is a hybrid of the social media platforms, traditional online giving and retail philanthropy sites like Kiva.org or GiveMeaning.org.

ChristmasFuture is an organization that has set a goal of ending extreme poverty in the next 20 years. Through the development of a blog, a space to share ideas, a platform to make donations AND to share gifts of donations with others as well as a Proof of Impact space for recipients to not only share their successes and challenges, but also to connect directly with donors I believe that this foundation's model will be the way that "Causes" platforms evolve.

I think the other piece to this is that the website and the messages are not just targeting the Gen Xers and younger. The site and its applications appeals to all ages and technology knowledge levels.

Personally, if an application gets people thinking and acting (on any level, to any degree) on positively impacting society then whether it raises $0.21/user or $1,000 per user the collective consciousness of society is being impacted. And that can only lead to greater impact.

All the best,

Posted by Matt  |   June 02, 2008 at 02:26 PM

The argument reminds me of the early days of online fundraising -- when nonprofit folks questioned whether they should try to raise money through their organizational Web sites. (Oh wait, some people still don't do that...) By now, most organizations have recognized that the Web is not going away and people need to maintain an online presence in order to stay relevant to their constituency.

The question you're really asking is whether places like MySpace and Facebook will remain active places to troll for potential supporters. The same question remains for Second Life, for that matter. Are these venues worth the time, energy, and expense associated with maintaining an active presence? There's risk involved, and it's one reason why an organization's culture and willingness to take risks will shape the answer to the question.

If more organizations dip their electronic feet into those waters, then they're more likely to encourage others to join. After all, that's what the model is about: social networking.

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