SXSW Do-gooding, Inspirations and Nonprofit Takeaways

Melanie Mathos - 03.19.2010

As companies are increasing their focus on doing good, it only makes sense that everywhere you looked at SXSW Interactive this year, people were talking about do-gooding. Twitter’s Evan Williams was expected to talk about a new ad platform during his keynote interview, but instead talked about his company’s values, with #1 being “Be a force for good.”

Social media rock star Gary Vaynerchuk crushed it for a cause when he championed Mark Horvath & Invisible People as part of the SXSW Pepsi Fresh Challenge resulting in a $50,000 donation to the organization.

Although it wasn’t as heavily promoted, many of us contributed to another campaign without even knowing it with our incessant and addictive “checking in” to sessions, lines, restaurants, you name it! Through the “Check in for Charity” campaign, PayPal and Microsoft donated $15,000 total, or 25 cents/piece for Austin Foursquare check-ins and #sxswHaiti tweets.

Outside of all of the sponsored philanthropic efforts, there were some really meaningful — and dare I say — “interactive” discussions going on throughout the event. One that I thought was particularly innovative was the Causelab – a 30-day campaign to create new ideas for ending hunger in America using technology and media. There’s still time to lend your idea at (Open until April 15.)

In addition, there were some great nonprofit-focused panels including Crowdsourcing for Innovative Social Change, and Debunking the Myth of Social Media Fundraising, among others.

Although there seemed to be a lot of do-gooding and networking going on, Chris Brogan made a good point – we could do so much more.

So, that brings me to my takeaway from SXSW Interactive: never before have we been so well positioned to use technology for social good. As social media and interactive technology continue to expand beyond the digerati and become more mainstream, there is an immense opportunity to harness its power to unite uncommon people with a common goal to create change.

I asked some fellow attendees to share their thoughts on SXSWi too:

Amy Sample Ward, Netsquared, @amyrsward
My ah-ha moment came not in one sudden flash but culminating after many discussions. It seems people are really embracing the message many of us have been advocating for a long time: it isn't about the tools but about how you use them. There seemed to be many more conversations this year that focused on the why and how instead of just the tools that were cool and popular (read: shiny). It was really inspiring and I'm excited for how much more innovation and impact organizations can make when they approach social media from a strategic direction.

Noland Hoshino, [B]cause Media, @nolandhoshino; @HeiferPortland
Crowdsourcing is the key to a nonprofit’s survival. Donors and volunteers want end-to-end feedback from the nonprofit organizations they support – transparency, trust, impact. Donors and volunteers want to know, “How am I making a difference?” “Where is the money going?” “What’s the impact of my service?” Nonprofits bear the responsibility of providing that feedback or else they will struggle to survive in a translucent world.

Holly Ross, NTEN: The Nonprofit Technology Network, @ntenhross
Every session I attended had some sort of "open" aspect to it. Open data, transparency, collaboration. It was all about sharing freely. Now we just have to start living that value more!

Chad Norman, Blackbaud, @chadnorman
Inspiration is everywhere! Whether it’s sitting in the most amazing session you’ve ever been too, talking to Pete Cashmore and @Ev within an hour, getting a peak from a random dude about his Canon 5D Mark II, or walking around the exhibit hall with your mouth on the floor, there is no better place to get inspired than SXSW. I mean, I probably wrote 25 blog posts in my head, came up with 5 book ideas, and thought of 10 things I needed to do as soon as I got back to work – all on the first day. It’s almost too much! My advice: Go to SXSW, get inspired, get active, repeat.

Beth Kanter, Beth’s Blog and Zoetica, @kanter
Crowdsourcing for innovative social change is in the early stages - we're experimenting, we're getting clearer with frameworks.

Allison Van Diest, Blackbaud, @allisonvandiest
When Scott Rosenberg gave me the freedom to use blog posts as a way to decide what I think (versus having to have every thought pre-baked before I write) – wow, what a rush!!! The moment I was able to truly understand why crowdsourcing is so much more than opinion gathering, survey taking, and voting. Eureka!

Donna Wilkins, Charity Dynamics, @charitydynamics
So often we’re at conferences that are purely focused on non-profit organizations. It was great to be at a conference with a broader audience and see so many people interest in non-profit and social entrepreneurship issues.

Did you attend SXSW? Add your comments (and Twitter handles) below.

What is the one “a-ha” moment or profound thought/trend that stood out from SXSWi that you would like to share with the nonprofit community?

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