First, Get a Worthwhile Cause; Then Get Wired
Feb. 24, 2009, The Chronicle of Philanthropy — The comedian Steve Martin used to do an amusing routine in the 1970s that ran something like this:
You can be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes! Yes, you can be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes! You say: "Steve ... how can I be a millionaire ... and never pay taxes?"
First ... get a million dollars. Now ...
Any discussion these days of online social activism and the promise of the super-wired millennial generation with nonprofit leaders tends to bring to mind a version of Martin's hilarious — and perfectly-timed — joke: "How can we do what Barack Obama did to attract millions of Americans to a cause and raise oceans of money in the bargain?"
First ... get Barack Obama. Now ...
While it's certain that the president's message of change and dynamic personal appeal inspired a virtual army of supporters, the overwhelming success of the Obama campaign on the Web also tends to eclipse how the nature of online communications is changing philanthropy.
In truth, Mr. Obama's online blockbuster didn't so much reinvent the nature of online fund raising as it did take advantage of long-standing trends in demographics and technology — trends that will ultimately change how nonprofit groups present their causes to a younger, wired public.
The Obama campaign's success should be viewed as both proof of the vast organizational possibilities of a mature wired network, and an impetus for further investment by nonprofit groups and social entrepreneurs in connecting people via the Internet. Even now, as the economy continues to falter, low-cost online campaigns can spur real results for organizations during hard times — and create a new pipeline to the donors of the future.
Imagine hundreds of thousands, or even millions of small groups. Some of those groups are two people. Some are many millions themselves. Some raise money. Some distribute video. Some build lists of activists and supporters. Some knock on doors, virtual and otherwise. All are connected, wired, and driven by the causes they are organized to support. That is not some imagined vision of a futuristic digital nirvana. That is now.