Meet Our Advisors: Clint O’Brien
Through the end of the year, we’ll be running a “Meet Our Advisors” feature as a way to introduce readers to the members of our Editorial Advisory Board.
This week, meet Clint O’Brien, vice president of business development at Care2, a social-network Web site that aims to help people make the world a better place by connecting them with individuals, organizations and responsible businesses making an impact. In this role, O’Brien works with more than 350 leading nonprofit organizations that choose Care2 as their preferred outlet for publicizing their causes, as well as recruiting new members, donors and advocacy supporters.
Grew up in: Philadelphia
Education: Graduated from Brown University and then earned an MBA from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Professional background: “(I) worked seven years as a news reporter, including two years (1991-1993) as a Moscow correspondent for Newsweek and The Associated Press, covering the breakup of the USSR and its aftermath. Previously won awards for investigative journalism, covering environmental issues from the Washington, D.C., bureau of a chain of daily newspapers in the Midwest. After getting my MBA in 1995, I worked two-plus years in book publishing in New York, for the Bertelsmann-owned book publisher Bantam Doubleday Dell, which later acquired (and now goes by the name of) Random House.
“(I) worked seven years for the nonprofit Public Broadcasting Service, heading business development first for PBS Interactive, then organization-wide. One of my projects was to select online marketing tools for local PBS member stations — a first encounter with the world of online fundraising. (My) final three years at PBS were as leader of a business called the PBS Adult Learning Service, which licensed e-learning courses to universities and colleges nationwide.
“In 2005, joined Care2 as vice president of nonprofit services and manager of Care2’s Washington, D.C., office. With more than 9 million members, Care2 is the largest online social network for civically active people seeking to make a difference.”
Role models/heroes: “Rachel Carson, a marine biologist and nature writer whose works are credited with advancing the global environmental movement; Mahatma Gandhi; Martin Luther King Jr.; Thomas Clarkson; Al Gore; Bill Moyers; Jimmy Carter; Bob Woodward; Carl Bernstein; and my parents.”
Favorite quote: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi.
Best advice you ever received: “From my dad, about the secret to a successful marriage — but I can’t share it, in case my wife is reading this. I’m also partial to what comedian Steve Martin advised, which is to ‘Be so good they can’t ignore you.’”
Care2 is not a nonprofit, but it partners with nonprofits. How does it work?: “Care2 is one of an increasing number of companies proving that for-profit organizations can make a better world, especially if they team up with nonprofit organizations to achieve shared missions. We do this by aligning as closely as possible our own success with that of our nonprofit clients and partners. Our basic model is to promote nonprofits’ causes to Care2’s millions of amazing, civically active members, who thirst for new ways to make a difference every day of their lives.
“In doing this, we help the nonprofits recruit new members, donors and advocacy supporters from among our own large membership — and this in turn benefits our members by mobilizing their passions and personal networks to serve good causes and produce actual, meaningful change in the world.
“This thrills our members, who tell their friends about Care2, further expanding Care2’s membership and the impact our community has by working collectively as a positive social force. So in every way, our effort to serve the interests of our nonprofit partners is enriching to the experience that our members have in being part of the Care2 community. It’s a self-reinforcing model, a virtuous circle, if you will.”
How do you see social networking working for nonprofit organizations and their fundraising efforts?: “Put me down as a skeptic, albeit a hopeful one. So far, online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace that eschew e-mail and rely instead on internal messaging, ‘friending’ and profile pages have proven to be a disappointing platform for nonprofit fundraising. The notable exception is in those rare cases when benefactors — especially the Case Foundation’s very generous Giving Challenge and a modest prior effort by actor Kevin Bacon — artificially stimulate the platform by offering huge cash incentives.
“At Care2 we have our own social-networking area — which we launched six years ago and have continued to build out — so we’ve known for a long time that if your goal is online fundraising, the social networking stuff is not terribly effective. Certainly good, old e-mail campaigns, augmented with landing pages, tell-a-friend tools and (increasingly) video, have proven to be about 100 times more effective than the social-networking features. These tried-and-true methods are how Care2 produces a major impact for our nonprofit partners, who have recruited millions of individual donors from among our membership in recent years.
“So our advice to nonprofits is, by all means, go ahead and establish a presence on Facebook and the other major social networks to build and (to some extent) control your brand and message. But don’t over-invest your time or resources, because the benefits you will receive are limited to branding and buzz-building, which won’t move the needle for your organization, financially speaking. Better to keep your resources focused, for now at least, on the many tried-and-true online fundraising methods that continue to produce great results for most nonprofits.
“Meantime, we are all scouring the case studies for models that might some day turn these social networks into viable fundraising platforms, and when these models are discovered, there will be plenty of opportunities for nonprofits to jump on that bandwagon.”
Best advice you can give fundraisers: “Focus more of your resources on e-mail strategy, even more than you do on your Web site strategy. Cultivate your e-mail list with compelling content and meaningful invitations to interact with you and your cause, as tangibly and often as possible. Remember that as people have gotten so darn busy, they have less and less time to visit Web sites — yours or anyone else’s — but we all mostly still read our e-mail, because if we weren’t interested in your e-mail messages we would have unsubscribed by now since it’s so easy to do.
“So cherish the permission that we have given to you to communicate with us via our private e-mail inbox. It’s not something we do lightly anymore, so it probably means we care a lot about the great work you are doing to make a better world. But while you are telling me about your wonderful cause, remember that you should put me — your individual supporter — at the center of the universe. Do not put your organization and its needs at the center of the world. Only by showing me how supporting your cause and organization will empower me and, ultimately, benefit me, by making a better world for me and my children and our shared, positive value system, only then can you really get my full attention and unleash my full energies to help you and the cause. Then I’ll help you in a big way, and I’ll recruit my friends and family to help you, too. I will become an evangelist for you.”
Favorite charities: “After seven years in public broadcasting, I am a devout supporter of my local PBS station (WETA) and local NPR station (WAMU) because of their commitment to independent, muckraking, public-affairs journalism. At a time of growing corporatization and dumbing down of our media, we must strengthen the few remaining news sources we can trust; the survival of our American experiment in democratic rule depends on it.
“I also donate to my church, my grade school and to the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the most effective environmental groups. I love Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports and a great advocacy group in its own right. I am a huge fan of Oxfam, the anti-poverty group that is such a major force for good in the world. Lately I’ve also given modest contributions to candidates in my home state of Virginia and to some national candidates in the hope of improving the performance of our government, which has been scarily bad in recent years.
“One of my favorite charities is a group called The Highland Support Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit that is empowering poor Mayan women in Guatemalan villages through a combination of smart and sustainable economic, cultural and relief projects. My 14-year-old daughter and I have gone on week-long mission trips with HSP for the past two years, and it was a real honor and privilege to get to know many of these terrific women and their families.”
Describe yourself in three words: “Lucky. Grateful. Daddy.”