First, Get a Worthwhile Cause; Then Get Wired
This is what I call the cause-wired phenomenon, and it includes online social activism, nonprofit fund raising, wired social entrepreneurship, and political organizing. It overlaps the larger worlds of organized charity and nonprofit groups, of politics and policy organizing, of consumer brands and marketing — even as it changes them. It rides the demographic trends of a younger, super-wired group of active citizens. So far millions of people and groups, big and small, have used social networks to raise money, to push for votes, or to bring attention to some cause that will make the world a better place.
Those new types of organizations and activists encourage an abandonment of the kind of top-down paternalism that has institutionalized much of mainstream philanthropy. They rely on full access to information, on the public's expectations of openness in transactions, and on the new activists' insistence on expansive public disclosures in political campaigns and government. Donors at even the smallest level of commitment are gaining access to information about the successes or failures of the projects they support, and, on occasion, direct access to the people they seek to help. This doesn't simply lower boundary walls, it destroys them. Groups that understand the new world of connected activism thrive on experimentation and risk; they encourage the flow of capital to projects that may carry the promise of world-changing success, as well as the possibility of failure.
In just the last few years, we've moved to a far more connected Internet. On any given day, I stay in touch with hundreds of people — real friends and Facebook "friends" — and they keep track of me through Facebook, via Twitter, by subscribing to blog feeds or Flickr feeds, or YouTube accounts.
That infrastructure of personal interaction allows for a kind of charitable involvement that is both personal and open to the world, what the microfinance pioneer Susan Davis terms "the philanthropy of you."