An Interview of Heather Cronk, PledgeBank: Advice On Raising Money on Your Blog

BlogHer Original Post


Heather Cronk

1.   Tell me about you .. how and why did you get involved with PledgeBank?  What's your background?

My background is in campus organizing, and in helping college students connect with others working to create social change across perspective, issue, approach, and geography.  I'm most passionate about bringing folks together to work toward justice, regardless of whether "conventional wisdom" would put those people in the same room together.  I really like the idea of using online organizing tools to bridge the gap that many in politics and media tell us are unable to be bridged, and to provide a way for folks to "meet" one another virtually in a way that reduces anxiety and amplifies commonality.  Online organizing tools give us a way to connect with others in meaningful and effective ways, and to take responsibility for the communities that we know best.

PledgeBank is a platform that gives folks a way to connect with others in ways that integrate with their everyday lives and capitalize on their wisdom, experience, and resources -- whatever those might be.
It's a project of a nonprofit organization called mySociety, based in the UK.  I got involved with PledgeBank in April 2007, after a chance meeting with Tom Steinberg, mySociety's founder/director, at a conference on e-campaigning in Oxford, England during the winter of 2006. 

2.   How can PledgeBank help me and other bloggers change the world? 

At its most basic, PledgeBank is a positive peer pressure tool.  It is built on the premise that everyone is an expert on what needs to happen in their community to make it better and safer.  Most people have some idea of how to better their community, but are unlikely to act on those ideas if they feel that they're alone.  We think that, if folks had some kind of assurance that they wouldn't be the only ones to show up at a playground-build or a rally or a fundraiser or a river clean-up, they would likely be more willing to show up themselves.

It allows anyone to create a pledge to action that follows a simple formula: "I will do X action, but only if Y number of people will do Z action."  For example, a pledge might read, "I'll organize a street party in my neighborhood, but only if 5 other people will help organize it" or it might read, "I'll organize a street party in my neighborhood, but only if 50 other people will attend."  You can use the site to find others to help you get something done -- folks have used the site for a wide variety of projects, all needing broad support to actually work.

There are loads of uses for the site – everything from "I'll stop eating chocolate" to "I'll stop consuming any brands owned by tobacco companies."  Really, the applications are pretty limitless.  Individuals can use it for a neighborhood project, nonprofits can use it for fundraising or event planning or rallies or petitions, bands can use it to rally support for a local gig, small groups of people can use it to draft someone into a political race (which has been done successfully), staff of a company can use it to lobby for their employer to switch to serving fair-trade coffee (which has also been done successfully)…the possibilities are pretty endless!

Fundraising has traditionally been a lonely and frustrating process -- asking loads of people to donate to a cause or project with no assurance that there will be a return on that investment.  Fundraising with PledgeBank, however, creates a type of social contract -- the people pledging their money are doing so on the condition that a certain goal is met.  This conditional aspect means that there is a higher chance of folks actually following through when the target is met; in fact, we have seen a 75% return rate on money-related pledges, with pledge signers eventually donating anywhere from 50%-150% of what they originally pledged.

 3.   What are some inspiring examples about how people have used pledgebank to raise money or make change?

There are many good examples of people using PledgeBank to pull off remarkable work, including these:

First, there was a great pledge called "Draft Dana", in which New Jersey residents successfully drafted a woman into the race for New Jersey State Assembly in District 25.  The pledge was successful, and Dana Wefer is on the ballot for the 2007 election.  I think it's a great example of a group of people showing that there is widespread support for a candidate -- along the same lines as the "She Should Run" campaign that the Women's Campaign Forum is running.  People, especially women, are generally more likely to act if they know that there are others supporting them, and PledgeBank really has incredible potential for encouraging smart people without "conventional" political experience (especially women) to run for local office.

Second, a pledge called "Employers Coffee" is an "anyone can do this" kind of pledge that, honestly, gives me chills (the good kind).  Taking small steps in a workplace or school or faith community can, ultimately, have a large impact.  This pledge was initiated in Edinburgh, and created a really interesting side conversation in the comments section.  To create a pledge like this you don't need any special training or knowledge -- just a sense that a small change could be a helpful thing in making the world a better place.

Third, a pledge called "Bakul-Library" is definitely one of my favorite stories.  It's awesome that they used PledgeBank, that they got over 1000 people to act (and to interact), and that they built a new library in India this past April because of it.  It's a great example of loads of people pitching in what they have to create something useful to an entire community.  If you read the comments section, you'll get a good idea of how people contributed to that project, from books to construction to money to contacts.  And the Bakul Foundation, the creators of the pledge, set up a blog to document their work that has great pictures of the library.

4.   What are your secrets to success using PledgeBank?

1) Be as concrete and specific as possible .  You want folks to know that you've thought about this sufficiently and have a plan for action.  PledgeBank lets you describe your ideas during the pledge creation process -- take advantage of that opportunity by including some history, some context, and your ideas for how to fix it.

2) Tell a story.  Pledges always work best when potential pledge signers can identify with the story behind the pledge.  Tell the story of how you got involved with the problem you're addressing and how fixing that problem will benefit your community.

3) Integrate other organizing tools.  PledgeBank plays well with others -- you can share your pledge via Facebook, on your blog, on your MySpace page, and with sites like Digg and del.icio.us.  Another fantastic feature of the site is that, with the click of a button, you can turn your pledge into downloadable flyers.  Those are great for reaching out to those who may not have regular Internet access, or for whom you do not have an email address (neighbors, parents at your child's school, store patrons, etc.).  And there is also an email-a-friend feature, which lets you reach out to folks for whom you do have an address.

All in all, PledgeBank can help you find a community of support for your ideas.  Whether you want to lose weight with others, build a playground in your neighborhood, organize your child's school play, plan a holiday fundraiser, or draft a friend into a political race.  Through positive peer pressure ("I will if you will") and some simple organizing tools that anyone can use, PledgeBank offers a way to utilize collective wisdom to solve community problems.  What could be simpler, or better, than that?

BlogHer CE Beth Kanter writes about Nonprofits and Social Media at Beth's Blog

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