November 3, 2014
Affecting articles about poverty, climate change, and epidemics come rolling down our news feeds every day. Some inspire powerful reactions, including a desire to act. But social media tends to limit how we engage with even the most devastating news—we can “Like”, ‘Share’, or ‘RT’. Needless to say, the options don’t quite channel that will into action.
Two tech-savvy Chicagoans want to make the experience of reading—and then acting—more intuitive, with what they’ve termed the Do Public Good Button. It’s a social widget that connects news stories to a marketplace of charities; it’s meant to let readers click, donate, and take action at a potential moment of inspiration. It’s part of a suite of services that Public Good Software, a public benefit corporationstarted by Obama campaign vets Dan Ratner and Jason Kunesh, plan to introduce over the next year with the goal of helping non-profits.
“We come from politics, where there’s a rising tide of disengagement because people feel their individual voice can’t make a difference,” says Ratner. “We wanted to build a system where an individual contribution can make a difference.”
Beginning this week, the Do Public Good Button starts an exclusive test run with the Chicago Reader, the city’s four-decade-old alt-weekly, and the Chicago Sun-Times, the major daily in an increasingly rare two-newspaper town. Funded in part by a $35,000 Prototype Grant from the Knight Foundation, the button will make its first appearance in a series highlighting the Reader’s past public interest journalism pieces. It’s a public beta phase meant to test out the right combination of prompts and placement needed to inspire people to engage with the expanding network of 100-plus charities, a lineup initially focused on violence prevention, children’s literacy, and environmental issues. So the button may not say ‘Do Public Good’ but ‘Take Action’ or ‘Help Out’—the beta test aims to hit on the right combo of actionable terms.
Easily embeddable with a single line of code, the Do Public Good Button was designed to be as easy to use as a Facebook ‘Like’, and to serve as a resource for any interested publishers or bloggers. Once you click, you’ll be presented with a list of 501(c)(3) organizations related to the story you just read, selected based on your location and natural language analysis of the article. Readers can then register with Public Good Software, donate $3 or more to an organization and tweet about their donation.
Each transaction will include a 2.9 percent credit card fee, and Public Good Software will eventually charge a 2 percent transaction fee, which they’re waiving this year (for comparison, another online donation-accepting service, Blackbaud, charges a 4.9% transaction fee). Later, actions like signing petitions and volunteering will be folded into the system. The goal is to make repeat donations even easier; according to Ratner, using the button a second time requires four clicks from story to donation, even on a mobile device.
“The usual suspects, donate and volunteer, are what we’ve been telling people for decades,” says Grant Garrison, the Director of Strategy at GOOD/Corps, the strategy and consulting arm of the media company. “More important than a new verb, you need a new experience.“
According to Sarah Collins, the new Director of Digital Growth for the Reader, the publication’s reason for using the button isn’t traffic; not first and foremost anyway.
“If it helps people engage and read these stories with a more positive attitude, and feel like they can do something about the city, that’s huge for us,” she says. “We report on real issues, and offering readers a chance to act on that content was really important for us.”
The project was inspired when Ratner and Kunesh noticed that the sea change in small-money contributions and engagement they saw in the Obama campaignhadn’t quite hit in the non-profit sector. But they believe it’s primed to accelerate rapidly.
“The lesson we learned from the campaign was to get technology out of people’s way,” says Kunesh. “We want to reduce friction and make it simple for people to take action in the moment.”