Facebook, Myspace, Six Degrees have both launched ways for non-profits to utilize the social networks that exist on those sites.
Causes (started by Project Agape) premiered on Facebook in May 2007. Users or non-profits can form a page for their 501(c)(3) Facebook members can urge others to support political candidates join charities or advocate causes. Causes is up to 4 million users and has raised over $300,000 for nonprofits and politicians. (Causes is planning additional improvements, but for the moment does not enable the non-profit organizations to post video, send out a message through Facebook to all the users affiliated with the cause urging their action on an important topic.) At least initially, causes were generating more members than non-profits, even though non-profits have the advantage of being able to send out mass market invitations.
As of a month ago, the biggest causes was *Support Breast Cancer Research* which had close to 1.5 million members and had raised over $30,000. Stop Global Warming had garnered 650,000 and Save Darfur had close to 500,000 members.
MySpace’s more linmited site, called Impact, premiered in late 2006 and enables users to vote on non-profit causes with the winners getting $10,000.
Some sites enable ‘viral fundraising.’ Network for Good’s SixDegrees.org enables users to create a “charity badge” for their favorite non-profit. The badge can be sent to friends who can contribute and forward on the badge to their friends The badge keeping a running record of how much has been raised. In the first 8 months of 2007, SixDegrees members created 6,000 charity badges and generated $740,000 in donations.
These sites often appeal more to “newer” trendier causes that older ones. For example, the Save Darfur campaign has generated tens of thousands of members on Facebook, whereas Red Kettle (the Salvation Army’s page) generated only 29 MySpace friends.
We’ve been involved with conversations with another Internet company that is aiming to create more powerful ways for groups to collaborate/affiliate/federate. We’ll let you know more about this when it becomes public but it is much more about civic action than merely affinity or fundraising.
For the moment, while Facebook’s Causes and Myspace’s Impact seem a welcome change in allowing some use of these networks for more civic purposes, it seems as though they’ve hobbled their tools enough and created a weak-enough attachment that we’re skeptical that a lot of civic good (beyond some fundraising) will take place. We’ll hope that the next generation of tools is significantly more powerful. For an interesting take on some of the elements missing in Facebook’s Causes see Facebook Causes 2.0 – A non-profit wishlist. Missing from this wishlist is the ability to form chapters of groups from localized Facebook groups. So it would be great if employees at a company, or students at a university who all shared an interest in Darfur, or wanted to work on loose nukes or helping Katrina victims could either have a way through the software to easily get together or be connected with local groups that were taking action on this issue in more meaningful ways than simply contributing money.