Social Networking Activism

original.gif Though a member of "Generation Y" myself, I still feel quite overwhelmed by the seemingly complete conquest of the country by social networking sites. One can get a job, find a life partner, and socialize with friends without leaving the comfort of their favorite easy-chair. While I still grapple daily with how these websites are changing our society, it seems that one social networking site is using their popularity for positive change. The Facebook application, "Causes," was launched one year ago by Project Agape, led by internet gurus Sean Parker and Joseph Green, and has since made a positive influence in the growth of many non-profits.

The mission statement of “Causes” is to spread “equal opportunity activism,” in an attempt to allow individuals of all ages and means to spread information, engage in dialogue, and contribute funds to non-profits through a grass-roots methodology. Any member (membership involves a simple mouse click, and all Facebook users are eligible) can be as big a part of their organization as they desire, and can build a page focusing on an organization or charity that they particularly want to support. This page will then be immediately available to the entire Facebook community, reaching 80 million active users.

As of May 29, 2008, as reported by the Washington Post, “the company says they've registered 12 million users who are now supporting more than 80,000 non-profit causes worldwide. $2.5 million has been raised for 19,445 different 501(c)(3) charitable organizations.” These statistics are inspiring, and redefine my interpretation of what a real social network can do for this country. To connect people, to forge relationships that would otherwise be made impossible by age gaps, geographical distance, and limited resources: this is the true advantage of the internet. The ease with which Causes was built and the voice and support it has given to so many non-profits leads me to ask why we don’t have more of these sites in our bursting internet toolbox. I think it is Generation Y’s responsibility to build, grow, and innovate more of these tools, in order to become a full-fledged member of the philanthropic community.

Dana Variano

Posted at 1:00 AM, Jul 01, 2008 in Technology | Permalink | Comments (2)


Why are these stats encouraging to you? There are 80,000 charities signed up for Causes, but only a handful (literally, the number you can count on one hand) have raised a substantial amount of money. The average amount of money raised by most charities is in the neighborhood of $125 - total.

To me, Causes is the latest (and possibly worst) example of what I call "shiny object syndrome' - where the media, nonprofit community, technology evangelists, etc. highlight some new functionality and claim it will solve the fundraising challenge for organizations. The groups buy into the rhetoric, sign up, and believe that the fundraising will follow. When it doesn't, they (largely) abandon the tool and look for the next shiny object to come along.

The folks who created Causes are smart - they have put together good functionality. But they don't seem to understand what drives fundraising, and they certainly haven't taught nonprofits how to take advantage of their platform. So there are a lot of holes to be filled and successes to be demonstrated before I find the stats encouraging.

(NOTE: I am not trying to be negative - I love the concept of causes. Instead, I would like to challenge the Causes folks to spend the time understanding what nonprofit organizations need, and teaching them to have an impact, not just providing a tool.)

Posted by: Brian

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you that conspicuous consumption has reached an all-time high lately. We all have to stop thinking that buying a tote bag will allow us to sit back and not take any real action. Causes is a lot about flash, but I think as it grows and more people get their hands on it, it has the ability to turn into a real positive tool for social change. There are always going to be people who pose as supporters, but there are also so many donors who truly believe in what they're doing. And I think any tool created for them to use can be a good one.

Posted by: Dana Variano