Be a Changemaker – Digitally

Not long ago, doing social good meant taking to the streets…literally. Whether the issue was the environment, politics or social justice, any plan had to include meetings, marches and public demonstrations…in fact the Senior Planet Exploration Center had a panel discussion about it (learn more here).

Today, we have new tools that make it possible to effect change on issues, worldwide, without leaving your home…or even your seat. Some of these tools focus on fundraising, but not all. After all, social networking gets its name from bringing people, not money, together.

Non-governmental organizations have made innovative use of the web to support global issues. A well-known example is Free Rice, which sends three grains of rice to a hungry area of the world for each correct answer to their online quizzes. Working through the World Food Programme, Free Rice has donated more than 98 billion grains of rice over to date.

You Don’t Have to March to Make a Difference

While many online activism sites will eventually ask for your financial help sustaining their work, many are most interested in building numbers or “clicks” through to their petitions.

MoveOn is where it all started. The social networking site developed in 1998 in response to impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton. The site gathered half a million signatures by word of mouth – or rather, word of web. This didn’t prevent Congress from initiating impeachment hearings, but the site has gone on to raise millions for mostly Democratic candidates.

Global Zero is a good example of how web-based activism has evolved. Organized to eliminate nuclear weapons, Global Zero resembles many political organizing sites by providing ways for users to contact officials, start their own local chapters and host informational events.

Some critics deride this technique as mere “clicktivism,” or lazy online activism. The best counterarguments for this critique are the results. Some years ago, while visiting the Philippines, Jay Jaboneta observed school children swimming from their island villages to school with backpacks up on their heads. They arrived soaking wet, of course, and more often than not, their books and homework were ruined. He launched the Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation to raise awareness and funds for more than 150 yellow “school boats” to bring children to school.

Come Up With Your Own Solution

Some sites are organized around a specific issue, but others offer tools to help people raise awareness or come up with their own solutions.

A number of sites, including Change.org, offer tools for people to start their own petitions. Lest you think that this type of work does no good, consider these examples: Change.org helped activists collect 1.8 million signatures to help force the Boy Scouts of America to lift their ban on gay members.

Open IDEO poses challenges based on “big questions” and invites users to engage. You can learn about their work and most recent case histories here.  It maintains a list of open challenges with an initial description and a set of guiding principles for submissions; the ideas are winnowed down into finalists and the best solutions are eligible or partnership with a sponsor.

The Money Question

The biggest single event in online fundraising for charity is still the American Red Cross’s overwhelming success raising funds following the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Red Cross launched a donate-by-text program that raised $32 million and redefined the notion of web-based donations.

It’s called crowdfunding: When the crowd pitches in from their laptops or mobile devices, the sky seems to be the limit, or almost. The real power behind this model is all the little successes.

Global Giving was developed by two former World Bank employees. It uses real-time feedback from prospective donors (that’s you and me) to guide which projects are chosen for fundraising. Everything is public: funding progress and project updates. Ongoing efforts feature video interviews and context information to explain the power of even a small donation.

Catapult works on a similar model. It provides a platform for small organizations assisting girls and women around the world to connect with prospective donors and supporters.

If you prefer to do something a bit closer to home, try Giving Tuesday, a global effort to kick off the holiday season the Tuesday after Thanksgiving – Senior Planet participated and plans to do so again this year, so mark your (digital) calendars.

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