Introducing the ‘Charity Startup’ – new ways to use the Web for Social Change

‘We should not be ashamed of wealth creation. We should be making creating wealth respectable again. We should be using it to further social objectives’ – a quote from Rushanara Ali MP’s UpRising event

I’ve always found it important to give back. For the last 10 years this has meant me teaching/mentoring in some form. In the last year I’ve looked to more effective ways to give more back. Donations are one thing – time is another. And time spent in the third sector is always rewarding in more ways than one. Board Governance & Trustee Training late last year courtesy of the wonderful folks at Arts & Business has set me up for charity board positions this year. A major feature of the programme has been several hours spent in fundraising workshops. The most memorable one will always be one on ‘Legacy Fundraising’ (look it up). More recently I attended a ‘Growing not Going‘ Fundraising Symposium – which I live tweeted using the event hashtag #ArtsBusiness12.

At one point in the programme there was a lively debate which touched on Crowdfunding – and it got me thinking. It also crystallised some ideas I’ve been mulling over for a while – with regards to how business should really help society. As someone who has banded the ‘social enterprise’ term about for a while, likes to ‘work on projects’ and give back – but also has a commercial/corporate mind – the introduction to the third sector has been a bit of a culture shock.

Charitable organisations should have a startup mentality

It’s not often you hear the words startup and charity in the same breath. It’s funny, because the low cost, stretched budget and creative use of favours is something that is common to the beginnings of both. Also, recent talk of triple bottom lines and ensuring that seed investment is not the sole focus from day one (but the key to sustainability) means that there are more similarities than one might initially appreciate.

The examples of cross over abound: the Government Digital Service’s blog chronicles their attempts to bring a startup mentality to the government’s web offering and TOMS shoes has been giving pairs to children in need since day one. A recent wave of crowdfunding sites for charities and non profit (AngelShares, WeFund, Sponsume and PeopleFund to name but a few) has meant that charities need to utilise astute marketing techniques that the average startup also wishes it could leverage. In startup land, KickStarter has recently hit significant milestones – notably 1.6M USD in 24 hours – with the exceptional ‘Double Fine Adventure’ project demonstrating what is possible when crowdfunding is done well.

Technology has opened the door and levelled the playing field so that charities, who still rely on ‘chuggers’ and legacy donations from those in the streets near them, are now able to play on a global stage – and seeking funding from mere mortals around the world all for free. This Wales Community regeneration project is even leveraging Twitter.

Like this shaving advert for Dollar Shave Club the ‘Charity Startup’ needs to get creative. 
It’s not just for raising the initial round of funding (or charitable donation for a campaigns) that the startup charity need to worry about. To ensure they can stay afloat and be sustainable – thus meeting their need for a larger audience – their activities also need to be easily scalable. I often wonder why charities that possess the ‘Oliver Twist begging mentality’ feel the need to do (and execute) everything themselves. In business we see this a single point of failure. If you make what you do replicable, and empower others to do it, you’ll be meeting more than just your objectives. Take a look at agoodweek, the Livestrong armbands and Alex’s Lemonade Stand. If you’re providing a service, there’s a chance that someone somewhere will pay for it – even if it’s not the person receiving the service.

Lastly, making money isn’t a bad thing. Neither is working with other charities (or organisations). Yes, there is an element of ‘competition’ but when it comes down to it, charity Joint Ventures are a win-win-win situation. Your income source benefits, you benefit and so does your audience. Keeping this all in perspective, your charity ‘losing” out on funding to a partner means more people are helped, and a relationship is built. Also the sum of two parts is less than that of the whole. JVs can take many forms; at the Fundraising Symposium Johnny Langridge of the English Touring Opera spoke about their ‘Support for free’ campaign for younger donors – he’s partnering with amazon.co.uk and theTrainline to help raise revenue.

These are my two pence – I’m just someone looking into the third sector from the second…with a view on how technology should be changing charities, the way it’s changed economies. The experts seem to be people like Sarah Gee from AngelShares.com and all round charity tech guy Patrick Hussey. I reckon they should be crowned ‘Charity Startup’ tsars and start consulting for the third sector.

For what it’s worth, here are my top 3 suggestions for your ‘Charity Startup’:

  1. Explore affiliate marketing – the English Touring Opera is using it, and so should you. What does your audience currently buy online? Is there a chance they’ll buy it via your website? Are there any products complementary to the work you’re already doing, that you can collect a small commission off? This is a captive audience.
  2. Crowdfund creatively – if the ex-mining town of Glyncoch can use Stephen Fry’s twitter popularity to build a Community centre their donors will probably never see, you can create a decent video and ask the world to share in the vision you have for your charity. For bookworms, The Dragonfly Effect by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith is a great place to start working out a strategy.
  3. Use twitter for JVs – there’s nothing like connecting with others over Twitter. Retweet information you find useful and tweet about the events you have. Also, make sure you use hashtags to link what you’re saying to the conversations that are going on already. Before you know it, new potential partners will have surfaced and will convert into real, mutually beneficial partners.

Peace, aimafidon

2 responses to “Introducing the ‘Charity Startup’ – new ways to use the Web for Social Change

  1. Thanks for including Dragonfly among your suggestions. We love to see business attached to things that are meaningful and meaning built into things that are profitable and sustainable – ideas that you’ve captured well here.

    • Thanks kabbenbock. It’s a useful read that I think should be touted more in these circles. Social media is a free resource that business has used to great effect, which charities (in the UK) seem to be lagging behind on.

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