Review: 8 Web sites that help you make a change

As quick the pace of new technology, it seems the pace at which we adapt all this new technology in innovative and unforeseen ways is even quicker.  

Last week, the Boston Globe ran a story about how individuals and small organizations with limited resources are creating online social networking sites to share “ideals and causes” with like-minded people, rally for change via traditional Web social networking tools, and even raise money to fund that change. (The Statesman ran this story yesterday in their “Tech Monday” section.)

Pretty cool stuff, but these stories sometimes gloss over the pitfalls of using these sites. I thought I’d check out some of the sites the story mentioned to find out exactly what they’re all about. Here’s a list of those sites and a little summary of what I found.

MakeMeSustainable.com: Tagline, “Your guide to a sustainable tomorrow.” The biggest promise seems to be “a stronger sense of doing (your) part” to reduce your carbon footprint and save the environment. You complete an online form about your home and energy habits and share it with the community. Then peer pressure and your competitive spirit kick in, compelling you to try to beat other members by using their ideas for reducing your footprint and achieving a smaller footprint than the next guy. I didn’t sign up but, from the tour, the graphics look useful. It’s cool to enter all your information then see your energy use in colorful and complicated charts. The Globe story reported that one network within the site was able to reduce their collective carbon footprint by 42 tons per year – “the equivalent of taking 100 cars off the road each month.”

GoLoco.org: “The Ride Revolution” Created by more folks trying to reduce the carbon footprint, GoLoco is a Facebook application that asks you to post where you’re going and where you want to go. It also offers built-in calculators and tools to help you and your car companions calculate carbon emissions and costs of each ride – gas, parking, tolls, etc – then lets you calculate each rider’s share and transfer payment to the driver. This is one of those tools – like the telephone or email – that’s only useful if someone else you know gets one, but seeing as it’s a Facebook app, it touts itself as a good way to meet people and make new friends.

ChangAgents.com: This site aims to “create rock starts of social and environmental change, connected with the superfans that want to get behind them.” Great idea, but I could only get so far on this site. My impression was that I’d be able to read about people and their causes, get inspired to help, and then be offered an easy, one-click way to find out how to help. I read some great stories and important efforts, but I couldn’t figure out how to take the next step. The site does invite you to register, but it’s unclear what my registration gets me. Shouldn’t every story end with a clickable link called, “Here’s how to help.”? Maybe after registering, that link will be offered. Right now all I see are “Recommend an Action Pack” and “See Related Action Packs,” but those links don’t give me further instruction other than to register. “Action Pack” is a clever term, but this site may have fallen into the trap of being too clever for the outside world.

cMarket.com: “Bidding for Good.” An online service that helps nonprofits run online auction fundraisers. By taking your auctions online, the service says, you can expand the number of people who can bid on the items (by sending emails to potential bidders who may not attend the event, and allowing these bidders to pass the link to friends), reduce the grunt work that goes into setting up a silent auction,  and arrange payment and delivery. When you agree to list your charity on the BiddingforGood site, your auction becomes part of what is essentially an eBay for charity. Visitors can even search for items, browse auctions from around the country, and … well, buy whatever they want. I’ll be heading back to this site.

good2gether: “Transforming cause into effect.” Created by the man who started cMarket (see above) this site’s a little more ambitious… and complicated. It describes itself as, “A new search and social Web service that connects people to causes – and it’s about to reinvent philanthropy.” This site promises visibility for your nonprofit, and focuses on helping you enlist volunteers. It’s good to hold out on judgement with this one as it hasn’t officially launched yet, but I’m curious as to what makes this one different from VolunteerMatch.com or other local volunteer resources, like our own HandsOnCentralTexas.org.

Change.org: If it’s not crude to describe the site this way, first thing I thought of was, “Fun!” This site lets you browse causes – like “End Homelessness,” “Save Darfur,” and “Recycle” – and gives you the opportunity to join the group, donate to a nonprofit affecting the change, or take an action. When you join a group, like the “Stop Global Warming” group, you register for the site, which then kicks in a whole slew of features like tracking your changes and impact. Under “take an action,” for example, you can click a button indicating that you commit to change the light bulbs in your house to fluorescent bulbs. you can also invite friends to join or – as a built-in feature for Gmail users – the site will email your contacts automatically. See? Fun!

Kiva.org: “Kiva lets you lend to a specific entrepreneur in the developing world – empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.” Think of this as similar to the “sponsor a child” nonprofits, except this time the overhead is way lower because it’s all online. After browsing thousands of entrepreneurs from all seven continents, you choose an entrepreneur and give them a loan via your credit card. It’s all through PayPal and you can loan as little as $25. Loan officers keep in touch to let you know how the business is doing, and how repayments are being made. When you’re repaid, you’re given a chance to make a loan to someone else. These aren’t donations… you do get repaid. And the killer app here is being able to impact a person directly rather than a faceless organization.

There are lots more Web sites out there that help you make an impact on the causes you care about most, but what makes these different is that they go beyond traditional “click here to donate” functionalities. At the same time, these sites apply what functionalities are already proven and out there – like Facebook, for example – and enlists them for the greater good. It’s worth checking them out to find the one with which you’ll connect.

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