No, rather: An act of Solidarity
It used to be that the only way to raise money for a good cause was to go door-to-door, call people at home, or solicit outside of a sympathetic storefront. More often than not, this resulted in an eye roll and an apology rather than a smile and a check. No one wants to give time, effort, or – more importantly – money to someone or something that doesn’t allow the donation to be on the giver’s terms. How do we get around this seemingly impassable conflict? How do we connect the givers with the appropriate causes? How do we network without doing so much legwork? Web 2.0 has become the answer to these and many more questions, and everyone from the largest not for profits in the world to the solitary person with a vision is benefiting from the ever-decreasing distance between philanthropists and their beneficiaries.
Every day, I log into five or more different websites whose main purpose is bringing like-minded individuals together. Far from being simple communication tools, the profiles we create become a means of expression, a way to show the world who we are, and a way for others with similar likes, dislikes, goals, ideals, and values to find us. The prime example of how Web 2.0 is shaping the way we do things is www.MySpace.com. It’s free, it’s fully customizable, and it’s available to anyone with access to an internet-enabled computer. You start by connecting to people you already know, be they local friends, family members, old high school buddies, then you branch out – who do they know? Who’s in their network? And then who’s in theirs? Your network of “friends” grows with each addition, and before you know it, you’re connected to two hundred people all over the world, then three hundred. Now that they’re your friends, you can reach all of them with a single bulletin – and it’s this ease of grand scale personal contact that has brought new visibility to fundraising efforts of every kind.
MySpace is only one of the sites Americans turn to in order to keep in touch and stay in the social know – LiveJournal, Tribe.net, and Facebook are among the more addictive Web 2.0 locations, giving individuals and organizations alike the opportunity to seek out new correspondents and forums for discussions on any topic imaginable. Perhaps the most powerful tool on any one of these sites is the search field – with just a few keystrokes, you can start browsing a list of hundreds of individuals and communities who share your passion for microbrews, electronica, or synchronized swimming. This is the golden ticket for entrepreneurs, activists, politicians, and anyone else with a message to get out into the world at large. This is the way into our minds, our hearts, and our wallets.
The template for each person’s “space” on the web has included favorites, relationship status, heroes, and more. Each of these categories allows for us to be found when an organization or individual who needs someone just like us comes looking. Every once in a while, I’ll get a friends request from a band of which I’ve never heard, but they’re absolutely fantastic. A little research shows that their influences include two of my favorite artists, who are already in my network on that particular site. This little band is still playing coffee shops in their hometown, but I can buy their first album through www.CDBaby.com, and I do. They did their homework, utilized the golden search feature, and found me, a willing contributor to their cause. I helped support an independent musician, and got a great CD to boot. Everyone’s happy, and we’ve got the web to thank for it.
Let’s think bigger, now. Really big. How about UNICEF? Back in the old days, the entirety of their website might have been a series of pictures and a few testimonials alongside a mailing address for donations. Now, you go to www.unicef.org and you can watch videos, play games, and join in discussions about the various sorts of aid needed around the world. On every page, there’s a link that allows you to choose from three or more different methods of contributing to UNICEF, but that’s not all you see. You see others who are doing their part, you see familiar names and faces from celebrity efforts, you see the results of what people have done so far and thus you learn what your contribution can help to bring about.
We make our decisions based on our core values, and if the organizations and individuals responsible for raising funds for their various causes are paying attention, they know what those values are and they know to show us that they share them. They say hello, they add us to their network, they give us the chance to discover more about them, and then they let us know how we can help if we’d like to do so. We’re able to interact with the organization, on our terms, in our own time, and without pressure of a person on the other end of a phone line or the other side of the front door. Thanks to the new face of the web, the communities we’ve created for ourselves, and the websites that continue to bring people together based on real compatibility, everyone has the opportunity to make their dream a reality, provided they know where, and how, to find their friends.