How much giving do online contests and networks really generate?

Who's giving, who's getting.
Feb. 11 2008 7:33 AM

The Facebook Philanthropos

How much giving do online contests and networks really generate?

See our entireSlate 60 special philanthropy issue.

(Continued from Page 1)

Case concedes that the shift she hopes for will take time. She believes that "leveling the playing field" in philanthropy has as much to do with "citizen engagement" as it does expanding the "donor pool." Research in the field also consistently shows a high correlation among three kinds of giving—"time, talent, and treasure," as they're known. Stimulate a lot more of the first and second, and in time you may get more of the third.

And so the Case contests strive to move people beyond "bumper sticker" support for a cause, as Steve Case explained to CNN. The competitions are deliberately called "challenges"—calls to action. And they employ the term giving in its broadest sense—financial donations, along with volunteer work or simply championing a cause within one's social network. In response to the skeptical question about whether a badge is a bumper sticker received over e-mail, Case maintains that by providing detailed information about an issue, demonstrating that others are onboard, and then offering easy one-click giving, this kind of advocacy allows individuals to activate their social networks in a more hands-on, participatory way.

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Viewed in this light, the two Giving Challenges fit right into the Cases' professional and philanthropic history. Alongside her husband, Jean Case held senior executive positions at AOL, helping to build the service—and the network it created. In launching their foundation, the couple hoped to search for solutions to social problems at the "platform level." In the 10 years since, that has mostly translated into community development, often with technology as the central vehicle. The Case Foundation funded a number of the earliest "digital divide" initiatives in the United States, including PowerUp, a network of 1,000 community technology centers for underserved youth. They have sponsored similar efforts internationally, among them a partnership with King Abdulla II to create universal information technology access across Jordan. The precursor to the Giving Challenges, Case's Make It Your Own Awards,called for ideas about how to improve a local community. Last summer, the top 100 entries were reviewed; in February, the final four will be chosen by Internet votes, and receive $35,000 a piece.

Both challenges have been laboratories of giving behavior. Beyond the basic statistics—number of participants, amount of donations, demographics, giving preferences in terms of geography and type of cause—we would love to know whether these social networks brought first-time givers into the fold. The Case Foundation has pledged to share its findings. In the meantime, more notable than the amounts donated is the breadth of causes and organizations championed—many very small and local—from all across the country, if not the globe. The ardor is also palpable, or as close to palpable as video streaming will allow. Some participants have posted clips to YouTube. In one, "Heather Goes Bonkers," a woman dances and screams, wild with excitement, as her organization wins Causes' $1,000 award for daily leader. In this sense, at least, it's a brave new philanthropic world.

Georgia Levenson Keohane is a writer and consultant in the fields of social policy and philanthropy who often works with nonprofit organizations. She lives in New York City.

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