Causes.com, founded in 2007 by Napster creator and Facebook co-founder Sean Parker and advisor Joe Green, has raised more than $40 million for over 500,000 causes in the last four years.
The concept is simple and social: individuals create grassroots communities called “causes,” focused on specific issues or non-profit organizations. By leveraging Facebook, Causes maximizes the potential of collective action, and has become the world’s largest online platform for activism and philanthropy.
One high-profile example of what Causes.com can do to boost brands' corporate citizenship efforts is how AT&T last month launched Connect For Good with Causes to spur action around three issues: texting and driving, recycling cell phones and the dramatic decline of high school graduation rates.
Connect For Good so far has more than 20,000 members, 70,00 actions, and has raised $120,000. AT&T has committed to contribute up to $200,000 to non-profit organizations including the National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and The Nature Conservancy.
Causes’ members can generate two dollars for NOYS by taking a pledge not to text while driving, then generate an additional two dollars by sharing the pledge with their friends on Facebook.
“Causes.com has over 170 million users who want to take collective action to change the world. Through the Connect For Good site, AT&T is enabling them to do just that,” said James Windon, VP, Business Development at Causes. “The Causes platform will provide AT&T with the tools to directly engage with millions of stakeholders with meaningful opportunities to take action and make a difference.”
Backed by venture capitalists NEA and Founders Fund to the tune of $16 million, Green’s goal is to transform the non-profit world into a robust marketplace where organizations compete for participation and money.
“Charity—worth $300 billion annually in the U.S., compared to $12 billion for the music industry—is the “last industry not revolutionized by the Internet,” said Green, who shared a room with Facebook founders at Harvard.
Mirroring the evolution of social gaming, online activism relies on immanent virality – users inviting their personal networks to participate.
Zynga, for example, raised over $3 million to help Japan's recovery from its devastating earthquake and tsunami, combining virtual goods purchased by players and a physical bracelet bought by Lady Gaga fans. To date, the gaming giant has raised $10 million plus for charity since 2009.
Causes raised $800,000 in March last year for the same relief effort. “But it’s a bit unfair to just compare dollars to dollars. Causes enables users to connect to more than 25,000 different non-profits and participate by doing things like signing petitions rather than just donating money. It’s a richer experience than buying a virtual doodad,” Green added to AllThingsD. “We’re not trying to become a gaming company, but there’s some interesting similarities there.”
“The future of corporate citizenship is engagement with stakeholders,” Causes.com biz dev manager Aaron Schiller commented to NetImpact.com. “You’re not just telling consumers about the issues that are important to the brand, but empowering them to take action, and support nonprofits that are really making a difference.”