Internet tools to shake up a broken political system

We need a Groupon for volunteering

I tweeted about an idea I've been thinking about for awhile last night and got a lot of interest, so I'm going to outline how a Groupon for volunteering could work.  The four key pieces are a really great organizer, a metro area to focus your efforts around, an email/twitter/facebook list, and a local charity.  

As the organizer, you find a local charity and work with them to develop a "deal," which is a project that could be completed in a weekend if they just had enough volunteers to help out.  Like renovating a community center, or making a newly disabled person's house handicap accessible. Be really creative, the more interesting and compelling the story and project, the better the "deal."

An email goes out on Tuesday laying out the deal, and if enough people sign up, the project is on for Saturday (or Sunday).  The email could include a link for folks to donate to cover food or other incidental costs associated with the event in case they can't actually come themselves.

A second email goes out on Thursday with more specific details on logistics, tells everyone about all the people coming (we're on!), and encourages more people to signup (don't miss out!), tell their friends, and/or donate to defray expenses.  You can even be a little fun with it and gently poke at people that helping someone else might be a great thing to do before they cash in their latest 50% off spa treatment deal from Groupon.

The project happens on Saturday. People are taking pictures, tweeting about it, meeting new people, having fun, and doing something awesome and amazing too.  All the people seeing that activity will want to get in on the action next week.  You send out an email on Monday with pictures and highlights from Saturday.  Then when the next deal hits on Tuesday, people will be less afraid to go.  So three emails a week. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday.

Once you get some traction, people will start bringing their ideas for deals directly to you. They wouldn't even necessarily have to be based around local charities, it might end up just being a family who needs help. Obviously, you can tweak this flow and make it your own.  The days are somewhat arbitrary, etc. 

Here's why I think this will be successful. 

  1. Volunteering is all about making friends with people who share your values.  But it can be scary going to volunteer without knowing anyone or feeling like it might be boring.  This is exciting, something is happening, there will be a lot of people there, I don't want to miss out.  I can see people doing this frequently just because they want to see all their new friends.
  2. It exposes people to the work of local charities in a very personal and emotional way. Some of those people will stick around and become long-term supporters of that charity.
  3. It builds an email list of active volunteers, everyone loves building email lists.
  4. In success, it will inspire copy cats all over the world, just like Groupon has.

The good news is that whoever wants to get this started can just start it in their local community. Even if you don't already have an email list, a fair amount of outreach and old fashioned organizing can get you enough attention for your first deal and start building that list.

At 3dna, we are crazy busy with NationBuilder, a toolset that helps organizers do this sort of thing, but this idea is really about being a great organizer and not any specific technology you might use. Please take this idea and run with it!

Do you like this post?

Showing 25 reactions


commented 2011-07-24 09:32:11 -0700
Hi Love your work and great post. Can we help you build open source not for profit solutions to problems building on Nationbuilder EG a volunteering version of Groupon? Can we also enhance Nationbuilder with simple techniques like auto video embedding EG http://www.WEBiversity.org and the free http://www.TRAIdmark.org business model. Please contact us at http://www.whymandesign.posterous.com
commented 2011-03-05 01:09:07 -0800
Awesome idea! City Year would be a great organization to run the idea by to see how it could work.
commented 2011-02-09 10:48:29 -0800
I found this post by googling “groupon for volunteering”. I think this is a fantastic opportunity. I am going to look into establishing something like this in Toronto and would love any help from anyone in the area!
@atlasann tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-07 07:25:09 -0800
We need a groupon for volunteering: 4 pieces = great organizer, a metro area, a digital list, a local charity/project. http://ow.ly/3Qd4R
@djperri tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-06 05:11:38 -0800
RT @americaspeaks: A GroupOn for volunteering? http://ow.ly/3Q1QZ
@artbrodsky tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-04 11:42:56 -0800
RT @catherinventura: Great idea from @jgilliam: We need a @groupon for volunteering: http://3dna.us/groupon_for_volunteering
@McCormick_Fdn tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-04 11:25:47 -0800
Using @groupon for good! Check it out: http://ow.ly/3QxgT
@AlbertoNardelli tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-04 09:02:17 -0800
How a "Groupon for volunteering" could work http://t.co/5dXsfs3 #bigsociety
@yamiadawson tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-03 23:31:15 -0800
RT @americaspeaks: A GroupOn for volunteering? http://ow.ly/3Q1QZ
@strongdemocracy tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-03 18:58:30 -0800
A GroupOn for volunteering? http://ow.ly/3Q1Rh
@americaspeaks tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-03 18:58:29 -0800
A GroupOn for volunteering? http://ow.ly/3Q1QZ
@joegoldman tweeted link to this page. 2011-02-03 18:58:29 -0800
A GroupOn for volunteering? http://ow.ly/3Q1Rg
@CatherinVentura mentioned @ link to this page. 2011-02-03 16:28:43 -0800
Great idea from @jgilliam: We need a @groupon for volunteering: http://3dna.us/groupon_for_volunteering
commented 2011-02-03 15:29:21 -0800
Hey Jim –
You could get this going pretty easily on Sparked.com (for online volunteer tasks, like graphic design, web coding, and research). If you’re interested in taking the initiative, let me know – and I’d be happy to help get it going.

-ben rigby
CTO & Cofounder
www.sparked.com
@lizbuchanan tweeted link to this page. 2011-01-23 15:38:35 -0800
RT @davidjeade: Harnessing the good will of the community even after the #qldfloods: Groupon for volunteering: http://bit.ly/eFfSaC. Cou ...
@davidjeade tweeted link to this page. 2011-01-23 15:32:42 -0800
Harnessing the good will of the community even after the #qldfloods: Groupon for volunteering: http://bit.ly/eFfSaC. Could we do this QLD?
@ggrims tweeted link to this page. 2011-01-21 19:38:05 -0800
RT @jgilliam: here's how a groupon for volunteering could work. steal this idea! http://t.co/R5LgTjk
@WhitakerDNC tweeted link to this page. 2011-01-21 13:17:35 -0800
#FF check out groupon-for-volunteering originator @jgilliam and more on his legit idea at http://goo.gl/XA6Hk #gotv20
@ mentioned @ link to this page. 2011-01-21 11:06:51 -0800
Love this idea! RT @jgilliam Here's how a groupon for volunteering could work. Steal this idea! http://3dna.us/groupon_for_volunteering
commented 2011-01-21 10:00:14 -0800
How would you compare this to One Brick’s model? http://chicago.onebrick.org/faq/
1  2  Next →
Make the Future
Subscribe with RSS.
Follow @jgilliam

Loading Jim's tweets

Follow @slowdive

Loading Jesse's tweets

Sign up
Get notified about our latest creations via email.
3dna logos
Download the 3dna logo for use on your web site or in print.
NationBuilder
NationBuilder is the essential toolkit for a new generation of leaders and creators.
act.ly
act.ly is our simple, powerful, and much loved free Twitter petition tool used by everyone from moms to senators to rappers.