Will Ed Norton Save Philanthropy? (Does Charlie Daniels Play a Mean Fiddle?)
With all the hoopla of a Hollywood release – but with some of the Gen X slacker style of its founder – actor Edward Norton’s Crowdrise launched this week, a much-hyped blend of social media and star power aiming to be the next big fundraising and volunteering platform. The value prop is familiar: you make a profile, you create a campaign, get your friends to volunteer or give, promote on Twitter or Facebook and move up the leaderboards. And there are prizes galore for high-achieving campaigns, from sweatshirts to iPhones and Macs.
It all feels very familiar, but with even less friction. Click, type, click and you’re done. Even the site’s motto is redolent of slacktivism web-cred: “if you don’t give back, no one will like you.”This almost intentional lack of serious engagement seems part of the design of Crowdrise. Here’s a bit of an interview Norton did with iVillage’s Ali Gray:
Q: Jonah Hill said Crowdrise is the perfect way for lazy people to do something good. Do you agree?
A: Yes! Just two days ago I talked to Seth Rogen and he said, “Okay, how much work am I going to have to do?” I was like, “Dude, just go do it!” And then I saw him last night, and he said, “Dude, that was ridiculous. That was so easy!” He set his page up in literally, like, 7.2 minutes.
Well, if Seth Rogen can set up his Crowdrise profile in less than eight minutes, world poverty clearly doesn’t stand a chance. And yet. Norton takes his own activism pretty seriously. The site comes out of his own involvement, as he told Beliefnet:
Last year, we did a fundraising drive for an African conservation organization I work with [Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust]. We put a team together for the New York Marathon. A couple of friends were really interested in this idea of a fundraising and philanthropy based site and we said “Let’s give it a dry run with the marathon.” So we put together this very dynamic campaign sponsoring our marathon team. We did it on Twitter and on a website and it was very interactive. We raised $1.2 million in eight weeks–it was successful beyond what we expected. A lot of people started calling us–a lot of friends of mine who are actors or musicians saying “I really want to do something like that for this thing I’m working on.” Then organizations were calling us asking, “Could we pick your brain a little about what you guys did on that?” We ended up saying we could easily build out what we did here into a really user friendly template for individuals or organizations to basically do all the same things.
The reaction’s been pretty positive, even though the philanthropy sector – even the wired nonprofit sub-sector – is chock-a-block with startups and giving platforms, some with long track records of success. A typical rave came from Lauren Dugan of SocialTimes, who called Crowdrise “an edgy, no-apologies fundraising network designed to leverage social networks in support of grassroots activism.” You’re tempted to add: “Five Stars! The feel-good hit of the summer season!”
As Marcia Stepanek pointed out in her post on Crowdrise, it’s hardly the first celebrity-driven online giving platform to come along. Kevin Bacon’s sixdegrees leaps to mind. And it’s a for-profit venture. Philanthroblogger Sean Stannard-Stockton says “the site’s quirky humor sets it apart.” And the celebs certainly help with attention. But let’s wait and see whether real money – and real involvement – follow Crowdrise’s appealing attitude and ease of use.