The Human Equation: Giving Back Internet Style at SES Chicago

Last Monday, I moderated a session at Search Engine Strategies Chicago entitled, “The Human Equation: Giving Back Internet Style.” I wasn’t able to live blog and moderate the session at the same time, so I’d like to give you a belated report from SES Chicago on the latest developments in community and technology for nonprofit organizations.

The World Wide Web has changed how we do everything, including (potentially) the way we give back to our community. But, what do nonprofit organizations look like in the Web 2.0 world?

According to Darian Rodriguez Heyman, Executive Director, Craigslist Foundation, there are great opportunities and challenges facing nonprofit organizations today.

While there are many resources available to support today’s social entrepreneur – whether they are dedicated fighters who stand up for civil rights, women’s rights, the environment, education, child protection, gay rights, public health, or other socially responsible causes – there is a need for more practical wisdom to help nonprofit leaders succeed in their mission and manage their organizations more effectively.

The mission of the Craigslist Foundation is to leverage the power of the Craigslist brand to create a rising tide that lifts all boats and creates a true movement in more than one nonprofit sector or interest area. Darian envisions a single point of entry to the nonprofit sector for emerging leaders and is helping to make this a reality through free and low cost events and online resources, connecting thousands of emerging and established leaders with vital support organizations, ideas and peers. Ultimately, his hope is that this focal point will bring an overarching sense of unity and community to the entire nonprofit sector, inspiring increased collaboration and effectiveness throughout civil society.

According to Ben Rattray, Founder & CEO,, the dawn of the internet brought expectations that online giving would transform philanthropy, making it more transparent, personal, and efficient. But, with the exception of the success of disaster giving, the internet has largely fallen short of these expectations and currently comprises only about 3% of total giving annually.

Ben proposed that the reason for this shortcoming is that the first stage of the internet didn’t fundamentally change the relationship between nonprofits and donors, but instead caused organizations to transfer decreasingly effective practices from offline fundraising to an online format. Websites replaced brochures and email replaced direct mail, but the means of communication has remained largely impersonal and one-way.

Web 2.0 tools represent the potential to transform philanthropy in a way that the first wave of the internet wasn’t able to, through the following four means:
1. enabling nonprofits to personalize their communication with donors,
2. empowering donors to more richly participate in the organizations they care about and magnify their impact by working with others to fundraise and take collective action,
3. leveraging existing social connections to spread an organization’s message and forge a sense of solidarity around its cause, and
4. facilitating the creation of broad issue-based online communities that help donors more effectively target their giving.

Nan Dawkins, Partner, Serengeti Communications, completely agreed with Ben about the shortcomings. Her comments focused on how NPO’s continue to try to fit Web 2.0 into their old thinking, i.e., using social media as funnel sites (essentially campaign sites) into the donation or action process. This is fine, but there is so much MORE going on at the individual level in a Web 2.0 world.

According to Nan, NPO’s are experiencing a version of what companies are going through in Web 2.0: Companies are agonizing over the loss of control over defining their own brands; nonprofits are actually losing control of the issues, as individuals decide what they will work on, how they will work on it, when they will work on it, etc.

Individuals no longer have to go through an NPO to make change, and they often don’t. Still, NPO’s are trying to control the message and “herd cats” to get individuals to create/speak in ways that benefit the organization as opposed to facilitating existing work at the individual level on issues/causes that are important to the organization.

Dave Bascom of filled in for Katie Winterbottom, Director of Development & Outreach,, who got stranded in New York due to weather delays and couldn’t get to Chicago for the panel on Monday.

Dave didn’t have a lot of prep time, but he has a very close relationship with and Katie had a good PowerPoint presentation and notes. So he was happy to jump in and speak on the “Giving Back” panel.

He/she/they basically had two calls to action:
1. If you are a nonprofit and need help with online marketing and SEO, sign up for the services offered by Also, be sure to check out their Nonprofit SEO Guide for tips on getting started with SEO for your nonprofit.
2. If you’re an SEO and you want to volunteer some of your time to offer your expertise to help a non-profit improve their search engine visibility, contact Dave through this form. Dave said it’s a great way to give something back and start putting out some of that good karma.

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