2 Business Plans for the Nonprofit Sector

I just attended another excellent Craigslist Foundation Nonprofit Bootcamp and walked away predictably inspired. The discussion focused on social change and online social networking, and I saw two big gaps. They are probably already being filled by someone else, and if they aren’t it’s unlikely that life’s fortunes will give me the opportunity to pursue both of them. I’m putting them out to the world because I’m a lot more invested in seeing these things happen than in profiting from them. The condition is this: if you use these ideas or are inspired by them you have to drop me a line so I can help.

Grassroots advertising for social impact

Problem: Nonprofits and social ventures realize the power of online social networks, but don’t know how to harness it. The current best practice is to find a 23 year old on the street and lure them into a senior marketing meeting with free Skittles.

Solution: A one-stop shop for a rapidly implemented, widespread social networking campaign. A nonprofit called PuppyDance identifies an action that they want people to complete (making a donation, signing a petition, etc) and uploads any material (text, video, images, etc) that they want to use for the campaign and puts in $500, which is matched by a foundation.

A college student named Shirley who is home for the summer who cares about puppies (or maybe dancing?) decides to help PuppyDance out. She downloads the material and gets a customized link. She spends three hours setting up a Facebook cause and a twitter campaign and commenting on blogs. For every person who clicks in through her campaign and winds up donating, she gets a two dollars. This is only true for the first 250 donors, so Shirley has to get her campaign going quickly! Of course, once 250 people have logged in and donated her campaign will still have viral momentum and will keep generating income for the organization, and they’ll have identified an active constituent who they can engage and possibly hire.

Revenue model:

Take a chunk of the money that changes hands (say 5%). Also, invest the money that is waiting to be distributed in socially responsible funds with a reasonable rate of return.

Harness the power of conversation

Problem: Both nonprofits and their constituents feel an emptiness in the current social networking world. Constituents can click in, sign petitions and even donate without feeling engaged. How do you turn 10,000 fans on a facebook page into an active mobilized constituency?

Solution: Live, on-demand chat about your issue. Instead of getting a call to action, constituents get a call to conversation. When they click in they wind up in a chat room with 8 other people like them and a facilitator. The link to donate is there, as is a scrolling feed with information about the issue. They get to ask questions, connect with other people and figure out how to plug in. There is a clear channel of communication back to the parent org.

If someone seems particularly interested and knowledgeable, the facilitator can click to make that person another facilitator. Once the room of 8 overflows, that facilitator will spin off and create her own room, where she can explain the issue to new people and discuss it. 15 minutes after clicking in she is not only engaged in a conversation, she has accepted a responsibility from the movement.

Revenue Model:

The service will be available in two forms, a free version without calls to action and a paid version with calls to action. Revenue will come from the paid version. Nonprofits using the tool for fundraising will also give a small percentage (3%) of their donations. Large movements taking place on the free version will receive offers to be underwritten by corporate CSR campaigns. These movements will receive funds for their efforts in exchange for advertising in their chat windows. Additional revenue can be extracted from these funds.

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1 Comment

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One response to “2 Business Plans for the Nonprofit Sector

  1. elazarus

    Very cool…didn’t realize you were traveling in Africa as well. I’m excited but somewhat nervous. I’ll be following along and let’s try to stay in touch.

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