What good could possibly come from one person giving one dollar at time? Not much. But once you get thousands of people giving a buck, then you may be onto something. That's the idea behind Philanthroper.com, a start-up founded in 2011 that allows individuals to donate $1 to vetted non-profits with a click. Money is debited from users' accounts directly to the charities, which, says founder Mark Wilson, makes the process of donating much simpler than previous methods of giving. "I wanted to modernize the world of donation to appeal to today's Internet culture," he says.
Lesson: Think small and simple when it comes to transmitting payments.
Freerice is a novel concept: visitors to the site are prompted with simple, multiple-choice questions—"What does the word 'terrible' mean?" for instance. When a correct answer is submitted, 10 grains of rice are automatically donated to a needy country. The rice is paid for by banner ads that appear below the quiz, and then are distributed by the UN World Food Program. Since launching in October 2007, the site has given away over 93 billion grains of rice—which has helped feed about five million people.
Lesson: Make your site fun, and think about using gamification to boost customer interaction.
Charles Best, a social studies teacher who taught at Wings Academy in the Bronx, founded DonorsChoose.org as a way for teachers to fund their classroom projects. Think of it as Kickstarter for educators in needy communities. Using a self-produced video, teachers explain why the need the money, and how they plan to use it. Since launching a decade ago, DonorsChoose.org has funded more than 200,000 classroom projects through more than 500,000 donors.
Lesson: Crowd-sourcing funding can be an effective way to pay for a project.
The mission of Khan Academy is simple, yet lofty: it seeks to provide world-class education to anyone, anywhere, anytime. How? The site offers an extensive video library with more than 2,400 video resources available through any Internet connection. Subjects range from physics to photosynthesis and more than 75 million videos have been viewed around the world. Although the site doesn't generate revenue, it has received backing from some prestigious groups, including The Gates Foundation and Google.
Lesson: Video may very well be the future of the Web. Learn how to produce it, and you’ll be able to reach more people—more effectively.
Bright Simons wanted to confront a massive problem in Ghana: each year, hundreds of thousands of people die because they ingest counterfeit drugs that are actually just placebos. Simons formed mPedigree in 2007, an organization that partners with telecommunication companies and pharmacies so that whenever a new drug is released, its packaging includes a scratch-off ID code. Using their mobile phones, recipients' can text in the ID number, which then pings back whether or not its real. The non-profit supports itself through partnerships with a variety of organizations, including the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneers Program, Ashoka, and Nokia.
Lesson: Texting isn't just a way to chat with a friend—they can be used in a variety of ways within your organization.
GiveWell was founded in 2006 by Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, two friends who worked at a hedge fund together and who wanted a better way to scrutinize the charities they and their peers donated to. With $300,000 in start-up funds from former co-workers and friends, the two launched GiveWell, a non-profit that studies the effects of charities on the people they serve. With GiveWell, philanthropists can pick and choose whom they give money to, based on the charity's effectiveness.
Lesson: Know where your money goes—and how it is spent.
Scott Harrison was a 28-year-old New York City club promoter living a life of excess when he realized, in his words, "what a selfish scumbag" he was being. In 2006, Harrison launched Charity: Water, a non-profit that works to bring potable water to developing nations. In five years, five million people in 19 countries now have access to clean water because of projects paid for by Charity: Water. The company's success is due in large part to its high-profile supporters: Adrian Grenier, Adam Lambert, and Jessica Biel are all vocal Charity: Water advocates.
Lesson: When your firm's offering isn't all that different from your competitors, attracting top-tier influencers to leverage your brand image can make all the difference.