First, Get a Worthwhile Cause; Then Get Wired
It is no accident that two of the poster children for changing how society engages in philanthropy are social-network friendly, highly viral organizations that operate primarily online: the microfinance site Kiva and DonorsChoose.org, the organization that mobilizes people to provide money teachers can use to buy equipment for their classrooms.
The ability to tap vast databases and provide a personal donor or lender experience is at the forefront of online social activism. Together they form what Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, calls "the megapublic," a vast and interconnected army of people who, at least in part, want to change the world.
One of the newest of these social-change start-ups is the tiny Lend4Health, which raises money to provide small loans to families of children with autism spectrum disorders to pay for alternative biomedical treatment. Inspired by Kiva, Lend4Health was created from scratch using blogging software by Tori Tuncan, a consultant in the Washington metropolitan area and the mother of a toddler with sensory issues. The site has facilitated about $15,000 in loans so far and remains small in scale. Yet the stories of the children and their families are compelling.
On a much larger scale is the innovative Social Actions, brainchild of the microphilanthropy consultant Peter Deitz and one of the hottest online social-activism start-ups. Social Actions aggregates, well, social actions — "actionable opportunities" to give, volunteer, organize, or pledge through more than 40 online networks, including Kiva, DonorsChoose.org, Change.org, Care2, ChangingthePresent, Razoo, GlobalGiving, Idealist.org, The Point, VolunteerMatch, Zazengo, and others. You can search for ways to get involved — on efforts related to, say, "poverty" or "ecology" — and get a wide range of results to choose from.
But Social Actions doesn't rely on its Web site; its team is developing a range of applications and widgets that allow those opportunities to take action to pop up all over the Internet, so they turn up near any closely related content on Web pages. Social Actions has an open model that also allows other developers to create their own online tools using the project's database of 20,000 continuously updated actions. The basic idea is to help more people find and share opportunities to make a difference. And Social Actions has just announced Change the Web 2009, a large-scale contest to reward innovative uses of its database for doing good.