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When Do-Gooders Go Viral

SeeYourImpact.org rewards acts of micro-charity with photographs and stories of the impact donors make. Here's how the non-profit took the simple idea of storytelling to improve operations—and stand out in the crowd.

woman doing laundry outside

Storytelling is at the heart of most non-profits—nothing sells a mission better than a good, heart-wrenching tale. And SeeYourImpact.org, a young organization cofounded by Microsoft's Scott Oki, makes storytelling integral to its daily operations.

The model is simple—a donor logs onto the SeeYourImpact website, chooses what type of gift to send—be it a water pump, malaria bed net, wheelchair, or bicycle—and within two weeks the donor receives a brief writeup and photograph capturing the moment the recipient received the gift. And it's the simplicity, the reward, and the cost—gifts on average range from $10 to $30—that is helping word spread about the non-profit. Even New York Times columnist Nick Kristof thinks the idea is catchy. "Here's a nifty Kiva-like website that lets donors see the impact of their dollars: http://seeyourimpact.org," said Kristof in a recent tweet

"Cofounders Scott Oki and Digvijay Chauhan knew that if they used technology to show people the impact of their giving, it could revolutionize the charitable experience for millions of people," the company's Director of Communications, Shari Goetsch, tells Fast Company. "The more that individual donors see the role their donations play—and the impact they're having—the more funding will be available for life-saving programs."

Kiva and SeeYourImpact differ in one crucial way—SeeYourImpact facilitates the donation of things and Kiva facilitates investment in opportunity. The very direct and tangible aspect of SeeYourImpact is what makes the idea catchy—and is what will most likely help word spread amid a sea of other web-based non-profits. (Kiva CEO and co-founder Matt Flannery is also on the Board of Advisors.)

"Giving a tangible solution, like a well, or a home garden, helps you understand the effect your donation has on a community's development," says Goetsch. "For example, as an individual, I know I can't end malaria. But I know that I can help end it for one person through an insecticide-treated bed net."

And word is already spreading—primarily through social media. "Each Impact Story becomes a powerful piece of content that donors can share online. As a result, Facebook and Twitter are the primary sources of new donor recruitment," says Goetsch.

The lessons here are many, not the least of which what helps non-profits go viral.

"Non-profits have found that breaking development down into tangible concepts engages people. But they haven't harnessed the power of connecting every donor to their specific impact. The feedback on impact, the personal connection—these are missing in philanthropy today," says Goetsch.

The organization is also highly flexible and adaptable, two vital attributes in the realm of social media.

"We're nimble in adjusting to the feedback of our community," Goetsch says. "For example, one couple wanted to dedicate their children's birthdays to making a difference. So we made them a pilot giving campaign. Now they've inspired other families to do the same. As a result, we're rapidly building out this feature."

And what does the future hold for SeeYourImpact?

"We aim to make this technology freely available to other non-profits so they can access the online giving community," Goetsch tells us. "Our aspiration is to open up a new avenue of funding for effective aid that saves lives, and the best way to do that is to get as many people as possible engaged with effective non-profits."

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