Thursday Mar 08, 2007

Volume to Value, Part N: Networking and Charities

In one of my very first blog entries, I commented on a friend of ours who was using the net to intermediate and connect all of her various circles of friends and associates, building a large base from which to draw support for her fund-raising effort. It worked, as she raised several thousand dollars from people who were one or two degrees of separation away from her household.

In the two and a half years since I first thought about this kind of volume-to-value chain, I've tracked traffic to my blog via search engines, various Sun-directed navigation paths, and regular readership. What I've found is that about one-third of the people who read my ramblings are regular gluttons for word play punishment. Another third get here because they're looking for something Sun-specific, click through an internal Sun page or off of one of our blog aggregators, or they're searching for a Sun branded term. The final third are the people who didn't know they were looking for something I wrote but end up here anyway; mainly they're looking for New Jersey jokes, Veronika Varekova and Petr Nedved gossip, or something snowman related. Google, Yahoo, and MSN rank the pages, and something is interesting enough that the searchers stumble into a Sun branded property.

About a month ago, my son (the hockey player) and I started talking about ways he could raise money for his mitzvah project, the culmination of about 7 months of community service work as a "junior coach" with our NJ Devils Youth special needs teams and 8-and-under beginner's hockey clinics. Mitzvah projects are part of his preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, the rite of passage to Jewish adulthood (pen and pencil sets optional). A common theme in these projects is tikkun olam, or healing the world, one adult at a time. The confluence of ideas was pretty simple: many of our DareDevils players have autism, there are a number of professional athletes (Washington Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig and former NFL quarterback Doug Flutie) whose children have autism, April is National Autism Awareness month and his Bar Mitzvah date, so putting his money where his mouthguard (or hockey stick) is fit rather neatly together.

We did what anybody with a laptop and a few spare hours would do: we built a web site. On top of a lot of exposition we crafted links to eBay auctions, PayPal donation buttons, a "how to give" page with a PO box address on it, and a list of some donated and discovered items that we could auction off. We just needed attention.

If a website falls in a forest of links, and there's nobody there to hear it, does it make the "You've got mail" sound?

So we decided to circulate the URL to a few select groups of people: the coaches and families involved in the DareDevils, a few people who are hockey heads here at Sun, a few rink rat friends. Relying on search engines, cross-posting of links, and a $100 donation to Cure Autism Now's Autism Town, we started getting noticed. And traffic. And donations.

Three weeks later, the simplest push for volume has yielded great value:

  • MaryMary was first to give us the props. And here I thought she was angry at me for giving her kids noise makers the last time she (and the leaf nodes in the MaryMary family tree) watched Bubba play down in her neck of the hockey woods.
  • USA Hockey's Special Hockey web site had us on the splash page, thanks to one of our DareDevils coaches.
  • Frederic Brandwein, who attended the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Olympic ice hockey game in Lake Placid, send us two of his Miracle on Ice posters. Just because. We also got donations from the good folks at Stick Sock.
  • Out of the red, white and blue, email arrived from Chanda Gunn, US Women's Olympic Ice Hockey team goalie, 2006 bronze medalist, and a hockey player with epilepsy. She offered to help. Isn't she the kind of person you want your young athletes to have as an Olympic role model?

    The unofficial Assist From Bubba scoresheet shows about $950 in donations, from checks and PayPal contributions to MissionFish driven donations resulting from eBay auctions of donated items and samples of our private reserve hockey-related stash. We're continually amazed at the generosity of people we've never met. It's a social network of a completely different order.

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    Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management


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