Yesterday I woke up and turned 29, and had what I think might be a really good idea.
I’m in a good place in my life, I don’t really need anything in terms of gifts and while I love seeing people wish me happy birthday on Facebook or call or email me, it always strikes me as goodwill poorly directed. And I think this is my fault for not giving the people who care about me a way to show that they care in a meaningful way, so they just default to what’s available to them, like a message on Facebook.
I’ve seen Tim Ferriss (one day I’ll find someone else to idolise I promise) do something neat for his birthday the last couple of years. In lieu of gifts, he asks his community to make a donation to a charity to build a school in Vietnam. He then promises to match their donations, dollar for dollar to a maximum of $20,000. And he also throws in a few incentives to make sure the message gets spread far and wide.
I’m not Tim. But yesterday I thought about getting my friends to donate to something for my birthday, and maybe I could of squeezed them for $500, an amount I would of been happy to match. I even priced a well, thinking maybe we could get enough to have a specific, tangible outcome from our donations, but I was disappointed to find well’s are expensive.
The other problem is that my birthday is only 1 day. And if you don’t check Facebook every 30 seconds, then you might miss my post. Or maybe a friend wants to help but is too busy with something or just doesn’t have the cash this week. How can you extend the window of giving? Your birthday is the 1 day of the year were people are predisposed to give you stuff, so how can you take maximum advantage of this for a good purpose?
So there’s a bunch of problems here:
- Lots of goodwill, with no where to do
- A call to action to give to charity needs to be meaningful
- Your birthday is only 1 day – a flash in the pan. It’s very easy for your message to get lost or ignored. Or people see your message, but don’t have the ability to take action in the moment. They need to be told a couple of times.
Let’s explore points 2 and 3…
What does meaningful charity look like?
In my experience charity is most meaningful when it is personal, tangible, builds community and creates permanent change.
Personal means that you know the person whom is asking you for help – if your friend asks you to support a cause, you are way more likely to help than if it’s a random person wearing a Red Cross hat. If you don’t help your friend, you might even feel like you’re letting them down. No such negative feeling when it’s a stranger.
Tangible means you get to see how you helped. Some charities are getting better at this – for Xmas the last few years my Mum has asked for a goat. Which ‘costs’ $50. But this is just a card with a picture of a goat on it. The $50 just goes into the charities ‘pool’ and is allocated as they see fit. There’s no goat in Africa with my mum’s name on it.
There are 2 instances where I’ve seen charities really make the donations they receive tangible, 1 is the sponsor a child people. You get regular updates from the child with photos and news – they create a feedback loop so you see how you’re effecting change. And the other is when you do something BIG, like building a school.
The problem with the sponsor the child is that many people don’t want to commit themselves to a recurring donation (read: never ending guilt trap) and the problem with a school is that it’s expensive and very few people can donate $20k in a hit.
Building community, this is fundamental. We humans love feeling part of a group or team and shared experience is a great way to create this. This is one of the reasons why Movember is so effective – instant camaraderie between participants. I’ve high-fived complete strangers on the street, just because they have a dodgy moustache and it’s November.
Permanent change is vital because it means that the person you’re giving to isn’t going to turn around and ask you for more money next month. If the change is permanent, you get a much stronger sense of achievement; you’ve ticked the box, marked it off, can move on the next challenge. You’ve won a small battle. Winning feels good.
Window of opportunity
Now, as for the small 24 hour window of opportunity, that is your birthday.
We know from marketing 101 that the more times you can get your message in front of someone, the more likely they are to notice and subsequently take action. But in the case of your birthday, you have a very limited scope for repeating your message without annoying everyone around you.
Maybe you could announce to your friends, as week before the actual day that you’d like to donate your birthday to charity, and then give a reminder on the day before, and then really push on your actual birthday. But you seriously risk creating resentment by being too pushy – everyone else only gets 1 day of magic… why do you need 7?
Finally, there’s the chance that your timing is bad. Some news event breaks or your birthday is on the same day as Melbourne cup day. You’re screwed.
How can this problem be solved? What would a success model look like?
Given all that, how can I leverage all that good will and direct it to something that meets all those criteria. Right now I don’t think I can. Which is why I didn’t ask everyone for money yesterday.
But a little bit later in the morning I realised that if I make it a team effort, it might actually be possible. What if I was to get a few other people who have a birthday around the same time, and combine our networks and goodwill?
We all donate our birthdays, each putting up a little bit of seed money and then tell all our friends. We cross post for each other so that the message is seen multiple times.
It extends the campaign timeframe from 1 day out to several weeks. If you have 3 or 4 people, working to gather with birthdays spread across a month, all working together with the same call to action, you have a much bigger chance of getting attention as you can show multiple calls to action without them becoming inappropriate.
It also has great social proof, as each person’s effort builds for the team. If someone see’s a call to action, and 20 people have already signed on, they are much more likely to join the fray than if it’s just 1 or 2.
Finally, it removes the risk of a single point of failure. Even if a big news story breaks and 1 person’s message gets lost, there are others in the team to help support the effort.
In terms of the charity criteria, because it’s drawn out over a longer time period, you have more chance of creating community, first amongst those to donate their birthday, then amongst the supporters.
And because you’re tapping a larger number of people, you should be able to raise enough money to get a tangible outcome that creates permanent change – like building a well which you can then take a photo of and the people who participated can claim it as ‘their well’. You can hang a plaque off it with everyone’s name… that kinda stuff that creates the winning feeling.
Points to think about
I’m going to explore this idea early next year for my 30th birthday, and here’s some things I’m going to do:
- Identify all my friends and family who have a birthday in March, ask if they’d be interested in donating their birthday.
- For the ones that say yes, ask them to identify their friends and family who also have a birthday in March and ask them as well, and so on…
- Get a calendar full of peoples birthdays.
- Identify a charity and agree on a project to work towards. I think it would be best if everyone supported the 1 charity, rather than trying to do their own thing.
- Make sure the charity has low overheads and isn’t going to suck your money into administration
- Come up with an achievable project, based on how many people have pledged their support. Might need to liaise directly with the charity.
- Create a simple website that explains what the cause is, it should tell a compelling story.
- Create a few simple messages for participants to distribute to their family and friends explained that they’d like a donation for their birthday.
- Make sure everything is trackable so that people who donate are seen – anonymous donations don’t create personal connections or build community. (but if people really want to be anonymous that’s cool too)
- Consider creating Kickstarter style incentives to give a positive feedback to donators in the short term. Big projects like building schools / wells have a long lead time. Internet people have an attention span of minutes. If someone gives money that will ‘someday’ go to a well, its hard to feel good about it now. But if you donate and you get some acknowledgement immediately from the person you’re donating to (e.g. high-5, coffee date, phone call) AND you get your name on a well later, it feels really good.
- Consider creating incentives to assist with promotion. Run a competition like “whomever can get this message retweeted by the biggest celebrity figure gets blah blah blah”
- When the first participants birthday arrives, the whole team retweets / fbs / likes etc to drive the message. This happens for each person in turn so that the message is spread to as many people as possible, and is seen as many time as possible. But it’s spread naturally in the network so a no point does it become too agressive.
- Make sure that when the campaign finishes, the results are shared and there is much patting on the back.
- Make sure that when the project is build, everyone who participated is informed and treated like a champ. Need to capture emails / contact details to be able to get this message out.
So there you have it, a model that might turn birthday goodwill into cool shit that helps people.
If anyone wants to do this, I’d love to hear how it goes and I’ll even chip in. Otherwise, I’m going to try my best to make something like this happen next year.
Finally, if there’s anything I’ve missed which might mean this isn’t such a good idea, please let me know – feedback definitely welcome.