First, Get a Worthwhile Cause; Then Get Wired
What Lend4Health and Social Actions have in common is simple — neither has tax status as a stand-alone charity. Their founders didn't have the time or inclination to wait for government approval to attack the ambitions they set for themselves.
And they understand that causes don't spread just because they are good; they spread because people spread them. This seems simple and rather obvious, but it's the basic secret sauce behind the rise of all the online social networks. In short, people like being asked nicely to do things by other people they know — that request validates the relationship.
Nonprofit groups should be paying attention because this is not just about raising money online, but about raising the next generation of donors. The young men and women now entering the work force for the first time have lived much of their lives online, and they bring with them in their introduction to the national economy — and our society — great expectations for lightning-fast communications, openness, and the ability to change the landscape quickly.
Since Netscape popularized the Web browser in the mid-1990s, nonprofit groups have looked to an online donor pool as a source of increased revenue, yet the growth of Internet philanthropy has been nothing like the explosive power of the commercial Web itself. The greatest growth for philanthropy has accompanied disastrous news stories: the 2001 terrorist attacks and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunamis. And those surges have often been about convenience and immediacy — donors' instincts tell them a fast online contribution may be the only way to "help now."
But as the Web experience grows ever more personal and less and less about big sites and well-known brands, so too does the giving experience, especially for young people who have grown up online. Will online social activism unleash a golden age for philanthropy, for activism, for citizen engagement? Perhaps. Some of it is still gimmickry and fast marketing. Yet the cause-wired movement is also changing lives and inspiring a generation of wired social entrepreneurs to reach for something better.