Good2Gether: A Web Widget That Connects Donors to Causes
They say one good deed begets another. Apparently one good charity story also begets another.
The day after Rebecca published her piece last week on Givvy, the Framingham, MA, startup planning to offer online tools to help people track their charitable donations—and the very same day I wrote about Newton, MA, startup Jackpot Rewards, which plans to give away half of its profits to children’s charities—a public relations exec in New York wrote to firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know about yet another Boston-area company planning to use the power of the Web to orchestrate more effective fundraising for charities. This one is called Good2Gether. And it could prove to be the most powerful of the three, in terms of sheer ability to transform people’s charitable instincts into action.
The Cambridge, MA-based startup is constructing what you might call a “hyperlocal giving aggregator”—an advertising-supported, keyword-based widget designed to appear alongside news stories on the websites of major regional media organizations, where it displays information about local non-profit fundraising campaigns or volunteer opportunities related to each article.
Say you’re living in San Francisco and you’re reading a story in SFGate, the San Francisco Chronicle’s regional Web portal, about a string of tornados striking somewhere in the Midwest. Good2Gether’s widget might give links to a local Red Cross chapter organizing a blood drive to help the victims, or to a local Humane Society chapter collecting money to help displaced pets, while at the same time showing an ad for State Farm insurance.
It’s one of those virtuous circles that the Internet is so good at completing: the non-profits get to make their pitch to a lot of readers, the newspaper website gets some ad revenue, and the advertisers get the glow of being associated with a humanitarian cause. The SFGate example is hypothetical—but the real system is scheduled to go live in eight major media markets this year, starting in Boston in April. (Good2Gether says it can’t yet reveal which Boston media outlet will run the widget, but the San Francisco Chronicle and the Houston Chronicle have already announced that they’ll participate.)
Good2Gether is the brainchild of Gregory McHale, the former CEO of electronic-whiteboard maker Virtual Ink and also the founder of cMarket, a 50-employee Cambridge company that’s the main provider of infrastructure services for the online auctions that thousands of non-profit organizations around the country use these days to raise money. McHale told me that the idea for Good2Gether came from his conversations with cMarket’s users about their frustrations getting the word out about their fundraising and volunteer needs, especially to younger crowds.
“I was meeting with non-profits all the time and listening to them about all the money they have to spend on marketing to their current constituencies, and about their terror about the crew of millennials coming at them just over the horizon,” McHale says. “Millennials,” also known as Generation Y, are young people born between 1980 and 1995; raised on the Internet, these folks are proving unresponsive to the communications channels that non-profits have traditionally used to raise awareness, such as print newspapers, local television, direct mail, and telemarketing.
“So on the one hand, you have lots of non-profits that are trying to reach people, including young people,” says McHale. “On the other hand you have these websites run by newspapers, radio stations, TV stations, college papers, and magazines that have millions of viewers but are desperate for content and ad dollars. That’s really what this model is about—we are a big, giant distribution platform connecting Internet users to causes.”
Good2Gether’s widget, in fact, is called Connect2Cause. McHale expects that non-profits will flock to the platform, for several reasons. First of all, it’s free. Actually, it’s better than free: Good2Gether lets non-profits create their own pages or “channels,” reachable from the Connect2Cause widget, where they can publish ads for local businesses and keep 65 percent of the revenues. (Good2Gether splits its 35-percent cut 80/20 with the media websites hosting its widgets. So if Petco pays $100 to have its logo appear on the San Francisco SPCA’s channel, the SFSPCA gets $65, Good2Gether gets $28, and SFGate gets $7.)
Another big benefit is that once a non-profit has created a Good2Gether channel and populated it with contact information, event calendars, volunteer opportunities, instructions on how to donate, and the like, it can also link to that information from its own website via a Good2Gether badge. If this doesn’t sound exciting to you, then you haven’t checked out the average non-profit website lately: very few volunteer organizations have the technical or financial resources to run a comprehensive, frequently-updated site. Good2Gether’s system therefore has the potential to become a kind of substitute Web publishing platform for the non-profit sector.
“It was really astonishing to me how few national organizations have content management systems for their local chapters, and how few of those chapters do a good job of keeping their own stuff up to date,” says McHale. “And why should they? It costs them money, and they don’t get a lot of traffic, so what’s the point? Well, that’s why Good2Gether is so perfect. We make it insanely easy for the non-profits. If they can type into a box, they can have a channel, monitor traffic, manage sponsorships, all of that, and then they can embed the information into their own sites.”
It all sounds like a great plan—with the possible exception of the part about newspaper websites as the main venues for the Connect2Cause widget. As everyone knows, the newspaper industry is struggling with drastically declining readership on the print side and uncertain revenue potential on the Web side. I asked McHale if he had thought about the possibility that Good2Gether is boarding a sinking ship.
He had a pretty good answer. “There’s no doubt it’s a challenging business,” he said. “People a lot smarter than me are trying to figure out how to reinvent the newspaper industry. But the bright spot is that as their paper distribution declines, their online numbers continue to grow. The big regional portals have millions of unique visitors a month, which dwarfs everybody else. And what better place is there for links to non-profits than alongside all these articles about disease and disaster, triumph and tragedy? There isn’t anything else like them. So starting out, newspaper websites are easily the most attractive place for us.”
Social entrepreneurship is undeniably in vogue these days, and the power of the Internet to mediate new connections ought, in theory, to make fundraising a snap. But if recession fears become a reality, we’ll see how much money and time Americans feel they can really spare for charity, and we’ll get to gauge the depth of many companies’ commitment to philanthropic causes. Still, if Good2Gether can help newspapers and non-profits do good together, then they might just do well together, too.