Coming from the nonprofit world, I'm keenly aware that raising money, even for a fantastic cause, is hard work. Raising money from individual donors rather than in large chunks from foundations and grants is an even trickier task still. You have to appeal to a much larger group of people to raise significant amounts of money, and that means more resources put into the task of fundraising, rather than towards your mission.
Imagine if there were a tool that let you define micro-goals toward your mission, and then let individual donors support these goals directly. You could break down bigger projects, for example, housing all of the chronic street homeless in midtown Manhattan, into specific steps that need to be taken for each individual. On the site, you can tell the story of each individual as they progress towards housing (with their permission of course), and donors get feedback on how their support is impacting the life of someone who needs help. That's just one clunky example, but you get the idea. By breaking your mission into more tangible goals, you create a nearly infinite number of attractive, fundable tasks. It's a grand idea, and certainly not entirely new, but in the past it's taken mass media campaigns and resource development teams. The internet changed the way we shop, but has yet to really impact the world of individual donations. What we really need is a system that helps facilitate this process of breaking missions into microgoals and provides transparency and reporting to the donor.
Last night, I caught a glimpse of a system that could do just that. It's currently in use for schools across the nation, allowing teachers to outline projects that they'd like to do, but that the school can't afford. Individual donors can search for schools in the areas of highest need, or closest to them, or even a specific topic like math, science, or music. Once they fund a project, they get incredible amounts of feedback from the teacher and students on how their donation impacted the students lives, including thank you notes from the kids, photos of the students using the resource (whether it's a book, a computer, or going on a field trip). They can also view a portfolio of projects they've funded and track their impact on the site. The feedback validates their donation, and encourages them to do more.
DonorsChoose.org is an incredible application with a great cause, and I certainly hope to see it spread. If you want to support their project, they've even got a $25 "gift certificate" that you can put towards any project on the site to get you started. Just email Oliver AT donorschoose.org to get one.
I'd also love to see the application rolled into a package that's available for other nonprofits to use to build their individual donor support. There are so many people who want to do something good, but don't know where to put their money for fear that it will be misused or wasted. The type of direct involvement and feedback that this system provides allows donors to see exactly what their money is doing to support the organization, and there's an opt-in box to send a certain percentage of that money to the operation of the organization. DonorsChoose has found that once people see how well their system works to get support to those that need it, they don't mind checking that box to keep them in business.
That's the best testimonial for them I can imagine.