Is charity the new greed?

Anyone looking for a test case in how Twitter can be used to pull a community together — apart from little things like the Obama campaign, of course 🙂 — might want to consider a recent Toronto phenomenon called HoHoTo. A holiday party for Hogtown geeks and friends started as the germ of an idea about 10 days ago, after Twitterers in Montreal mentioned that they were having one. Not to be outdone, my friend (and fellow mesh organizer) Rob Hyndman started talking up the idea of a Toronto holiday party, and soon a group of make-it-happen types like Ryan Taylor as well as Michael O’Connor Clarke, organizational genius Sheri Moore from MCC Planners (another member of the mesh team), Modernmod and Ryan Coleman and others joined the conversation.

Someone suggested that all the revenue from tickets ($10) could go to the Daily Bread Food Bank, then another person said they knew someone at a local venue called The Mod Club (which has donated the space), another offered to put together a website, someone offered to DJ, and sponsors started crawling out of the woodwork. By the end of the week, almost $10,000 had been raised for Daily Bread, powered almost entirely by Twitter — a sign that the “flash crowd” phenomenon (which I’ve written about before) can be used for positive things as well as for negative things. There are now over 60 pages of Twitter messages about #hohoto.

In a similar vein, my friend Rachel Sklar — who until recently was the editor of Eat The Press section of The Huffington Post — has created a charitable site called Charitini.com. Using the occasion of her 36th birthday as an opportunity, Rachel decided to let people buy her drinks — but instead of buying them, donate an equivalent amount to a charity of their choice. One of the inspirations for this approach was a Toronto-based startup called EchoAge.com, which allows families throwing birthday parties to accept charitable donations (half the money raised goes toward a single present, and the other half goes to charity).

How do social networks like Twitter allow communities to form? Give people a cause they think is worthy, and then get out of the way 🙂

Update:

Tamera Kramer of Wildfire Strategic Marketing has a great post along the same lines about #hohoto, and lessons for companies looking at social media strategies.

31 thoughts on “Is charity the new greed?

  1. Also worth noting that not all of the charity causes being pushed on networks like Twitter are dependent on monetary donations: a lot of people have been talking about ways to give back to the community through time and resources on the hashtag #givelist on Twitter and at http://givelist.wordpress.com/ for example.

    I've always known that social tools on the web could be used for good. It's nice to have a few examples of that in action to share with others.

    And I'll see you at HoHoTo, right?

  2. Great article, thanks MI. Another way that social media can assist in the area of giving is in the establishment of trust and credibility. Microfinance and peer-to-peer lending have done this to date using social media tools and the wisdom of the crowd.

    I know I am much more likely to get behind an effort or event if people I respect and trust have pointed me towards it. The next level would be in developing networks and methodologies that leveraged that informal approach and formalized it (network accreditation or approval…etc.).

  3. Given that charities are one of the hardest hit when economic times are tough, it's great to see causes like the one's you mention. It shows us that social media can be used to ignite a conversation, and also encourage action.

    I also came across this blog post today that outlines another idea for harnessing the power of social networks to raise funds for charities: http://dannybrown.me/2008/12/08/the-12-for-1200….
    Hopefully people will get involved and do whatever they can to make a difference.

  4. I'll also be at #HoHoTO and was impressed, but not surprised, by how quickly it came together. I credit Twitter.

    Twitter is like that “swarm intelligence” effect you observe in ant colonies. Twitterers leave short little messages behind them that say “party this way” and “charity”, the tag #hohoto allows everyone to find each other and self-organize without a central control centre. It's a beautiful thing, that Twitter and it's quickly becoming my favourite tool.

    And I think we've seem with BarCamps, TransitCamps and all sorts of other cool events in the web community that the geeks using these tools are: a) a lot more social than we ever thought b) want to meet each other face-to-face whenever possible and c) share some strong social values about making the world a better place.

    The future is a very hopeful place. 🙂

    • Mark, I think you hit the mark when you said that these tools actually facilitate face-to-face interactions rather than replace them. Too much emphasis has been put on how “social networking” is killing human interaction. This just proves that instead of killing it, it's actually enhancing it.

  5. I've been fascinated by #hohoto too and the way that it was peer produced – not just people making contributions – but people picking up pieces and running with it. That notion is something I'm playing with now – trying to bring peer-production to social ventures in particular. And using twitter as a platform has potential that I don't think we've really begun to understand yet. Stocktwits.com is getting great traction and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    And as for your title – people want to make contributions. It's at the core of who they are and who they want to be. Financial contributions are easy contributions to make – and the power of spontaneous organization and creation are making it easier to make more constructive contributions as well. Fun times.

    • I agree, Michael — I was just saying at an event this morning that
      social networks are a great way to build a grassroots community on the
      fly, and I think things like #hohoto are a great example of that at
      work. And you are right — a big part of that is because they lower
      the barriers to participation.

  6. I think the #hohoto success is as much about the people that were involved, as it was about the tools they used to organize it. A different, less influential group of people would not have been as successful, in my opinion.

    Tamera Kramer wrote a good blog post articulating this further: http://bit.ly/JLr5

  7. Thanks for this Mathew.

    Once again, I find my head spinning at the way this “World of Ends” online works. All the bright ends individually connected into the thrumming hivemind of Twitter and its ilk seem able to forge faster, closer connections than any offline, real-time experience could possibly have prepared us to expect.

    Of the 10 other people involved in pulling this together, I've met four previously – and all of them fairly briefly. I wouldn't say I really know any of them, in the usual sense. And yet here we are, firm friends a few days into this thing, and working seamlessly together in our off hours and spare moments to create something that is amazing and delighting us. It feels like a triumph of unorganization.

    I think we're proving Reed's Law here too, as it's the compounding effect of adding our various individual networks together that's helping to drive so much goodness, so fast. It's not that any one of us is necessarily all that influential on our own – but between us, we know a whole lot of people who can, and have plenty of ideas and connections to contribute to the cause of getting things done.

    The key question you haven't addressed, though: are you coming?

  8. Social media strategies have been in boom these days, but a social network like the twitter gives it a new dimension about pulling communities together and getting in new contacts may it be for a social cause or just to be fair at your business.
    The things get viral in a sense of manner and makes communities be in touch without any hindrances. HoHoTo is an wide spectrum for that.

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  10. I'm struggling to understand how you got to the end of this post without mentioning Rannie's cookies. How do you think we kept DJ Duarte and Ryan on their feet all night long?

  11. I'm struggling to understand how you got to the end of this post without mentioning Rannie's cookies. How do you think we kept DJ Duarte and Ryan on their feet all night long?

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