In Honor of Election Day
Engaging Nonprofits in the Tech

The Bridge--Web 2.0 Fundraising and Marketing in Action

Get this video and more at  MySpace.com

Last night I was playing with StumbleUpon when I found  The Bridge. The Bridge is a project of The Glue Network , which bills itself as"a cooperative, transparent online community of passionate purpose-driven people" whose tagline is "love requires action."

"The Glue Network connects nonprofit organizations, brands, bands, musicians, fans, athletes, artists and young people all over the world who want to and can make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. The Glue Network changes the way people give of themselves, their talents and their resources."

The Bridge is The Glue Network's  plan to build a virtual bridge around the world that connects 24,092 people (the number of miles around the world) who care about helping others. When you add a mile, one of several Bay Area companies will donate $1 on your behalf to the cause you've selected from the 12 Bridge-sponsored charities. The nonprofits represent a range of issues, from providing education to women to cleaning up the environment.

What's interesting to me about the project is their extensive use of new media and social networking and their clear understanding of how Web 2.0 changes the charitable giving landscape. Some key features:

  • The Bridge project tells a simple, compelling story--we want to build a metaphorical bridge around the world and you can help. People get the idea of adding a mile and of personalizing that mile. They love the oddity of 24,092 miles (notice how many sites are using random numbers, like 43Folders and  9 Rules?) . These are the kinds of quirky details that attract attention and appeal to the Web 2.0 generation.
  • Companies give on your behalf. I add a mile, but it's Adobe or one of several other companies that actually gives the money. My role is to spread the word to as many people as possible.
  • The entire concept is about social collaboration and personal expression--two important aspects of the Web 2.0 culture. When I add my mile, I get a chance to say who I am and what I believe in by identifying my causes, telling my story and uploading photos and video that talk about how I intend to make a difference in the world. I can also e-mail my friends to get them to join, as well as find other people who are supporting the cause.
  • They are giving away tons of free stuff. You can download Bridge wallpaper, mp3 files,  videos (see the one above), MySpace wallpaper and IM icons. These serve the dual purpose of providing free marketing, as well as making people feel like they received something cool for their effort and that they belong to a movement with a special community identity. You can also see The Bridge has a good understanding of their target donor market--young people. Not only do they help participants decorate their own MySpace page, they also have one of their own. And the videos they've created (such as the one above) are built specifically for integration with MySpace.
  • The focus is on issues people want to resolve, rather than on particular charities. This is critical, because I think that most people have a particular cause or idea they want to support and if your nonprofit happens to do that, great. In many cases they are less interested in the particular organization and more interested in having a particular outcome.
  • Choice rules here--Part of what attracts users to the site is the opportunity to select the charity to which they want to give. In one location they can access 12 different nonprofits that represent 12 different areas of concern. This is a major tenet of the new era--give donors the opportunity to express themselves by giving them a choice in who they support.
  • The images, colors and overall design of the site are clean and well-done. If choice and personal expression is King, then it is good design that is Queen in this new world. Tired, stodgy and "institutional" won't cut it anymore. We expect the Target "design for all" approach.

So what are the implications for your nonprofit? Clearly collaboration and social connection must be at the core of your strategic thinking. Your goal must be to create a community of people who want to support your cause and you do this by providing them with tools and resources that give them a common identity and an easy way to spread the word.

You'll be in an even stronger position if you collaborate with complementary nonprofits to give people choices about who they want to support. Choice is critical and if you make it easy for donors to choose, they'll reward you handsomely. Furthermore, in your marketing messages, you need to focus on the issues your organization resolves, rather than on your specific nonprofit.  People respond to wanting to solve particular world problems with your organization as a conduit for doing that.

You should also look at how you can develop creative, compelling ideas that communicate a particular story and that are expressed simply and using well-designed visual images. This is where you really need to begin developing and drawing on a network of creative volunteers who can help. Retiring baby boomers want to give back and this is exactly the kind of work they enjoy doing. Stuffing envelopes and answering phones is fine, but engage them in a juicy creative project like this and you'll get something amazing in return.

You may also want to start considering how to "think small," taking the "latte approach" to giving. People and companies are willing to have smaller more frequent bites taken out of their wallet--the idea of little luxuries is a major marketing concept these days. But this requires you to come up with creative ideas at more frequent intervals. Rather than running one or two major fundraisers a year, it may be better to consider ways to run several smaller opportunities, such as this one.

To me, The Bridge represents an exciting new way of creating a community of giving and caring that has a lot of wonderful potential. It requires new approaches and new thinking, but it also represents new opportunities that I think are the future for many nonprofits.

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