Make The Difference Network is a new for-profit charity portal that has been on-line in beta for 6 weeks and is now going into a soft launch via links from several blogs, including Gifthub. I had a chance to spend 45 minutes on the phone with its CEO, Jon Biel, and his COO, Kent McBride. Jon is, as it happens, the father of Jessica Biel, who has lent her celebrity presence to the site.
MDTN seems to have learned from the proven best practices of sites like KIVA and Donors Choose.
- As with Donors Choose, the giver can fund a specific project, called in this case a "Wish" by the nonprofit.
- As with KIVA, the giver gets feedback and a felt bond with particular recipient or group. The donor might purchase five soccer balls and get not only a thank you, but a video uploaded showing the balls being kicked about on a dusty field in Africa.
- The site also has a social networking platform for donors to have profiles, blog about their interests, and "befriend" other donors.
- The site is set up to touch the heart as well as the mind.
The business structure is that of a closely held forprofit. The business model, to be announced officially in 4-6 weeks, is as follows:
- Nonprofits can have 5 wishes posted for free
- Beyond that they have to pay for an upgraded membership.
- Businesses are encouraged to purchase an upgrade for a charity. Included in that package is something like 50 wishes, plus training on social network marketing via the site, and additional bandwith to upload videos and pictures.
- Business thereby get the chance to sponsor local grassroots organizations in the communities in which they do business. A sponsorship costing, say. $1,200 a year might enable the nonprofit to raise ten times that.
I asked about competition and critical mass.
- The site is unique given its celebrity overlay. Jessica Biel and her celebrity friends will attract some visitors and makes for a nice story.
- The emphasis, though, is on execution of proven best practices, rather than doing something totally new.
- The hope is to achieve critical mass through network marketing. Each donor and charity has its own network. The charities may upload videos that go viral. Participants can invite friends. Businesses that participate may also tout their participation to employees and customers.
The underlying concept behind charity portals seems to be that giving like purchasing is a transaction that requires something like "shopping." We go to a mall, browse, see something that moves us, and make an affordable financial decision. Beyond that, though, the third sector is where we go to converse, build connections, create networks, get engaged, have fun, engage in controversy and collaboration and do things collectively that we could not do transactionally as atomized givers, buyers, consumers, voters, or members of an audience. As MTDN and other giving portals evolve, I hope they will connect many with many, to build social solidarity or cohesion, public will, shared ethos, or social capital. The community building tools on MTDN might evolve in that direction.