CharityFocus In Focus 

The document below is based on talk by Nipun Mehta titled Ancient Wisdom, Modern Application: CharityFocus in Focus at Santa Fe Institute in May 2002.

CharityFocus Roots: CharityFocus started as an experiment. We asked -- can we build an instrument of service:

  • for people who're not just interested in "doing good" but also want to "be the change they wish to see in the world"
  • that is organic and efficient; without paper or mental bureacracy, open to new ideas, adheres to a grassroots mindset
  • which can self-dissolve when its purpose has been served?

We came up with a simple idea. In fact, it was so simple, it was radical. In April 1999, CharityFocus started with a couple of folks as a fully volunteer-run organization, organized virtually. Our intent was to build an organization that didn't see volunteers as an asset to promote some larger ideal but whose sole mission was to become that ideal. The idea was that if you make the change in one heart, the ripple effect of that change will continue in this world forever.

We picked our instrument: World Wide Web. CharityFocus soon became a bridge between the Internet and the inner-net. More than an organization, it was a mindset that stood for SERVICE.

S elflessness: napster of compassionate action

  • Let go of the "fruits"; Tim Berners Lee couldn't have built the web, if he wants to profit out of all the Amazons and Ebays of the web.
  • Metaphor realized: world wide web. With billions of web pages, only top 50 are commercial; so many others exist because people want to share.
  • CharityFocus infrastructure: fully virtual and as a result very decentralized and can be an incubator of new ideas.

E xperience: outer change through inner change

  • Disciple of your own experience; how else do we learn?
  • Tao of action: no theories, no talk, just action.
  • All volunteers: forced to be-the-change! Can't boss around volunteers. :)
  • Volunteer experience is always the CF focus. We go to great lengths to facilitate that; for instance, we don't try to make perfect fits of NPO needs and volunteers skills; we let volunteer pick what really resonates with them and have a SWAT team to deal with the imperfect fits.

R ipple Effect: your life is your message

  • What if everyone decided to 'Pay It Forward'?
  • CharityFocus work spans many nonprofits and volunteers have access to a lot of inspiring stories (e.g. Out of the Dump)
  • Makes you realize that what starts as a small seed often blossoms as a flower. Each of your actions is a seed.
  • Can't bring peace with angry ways; can't burn a bridge to build five others.

V ersatile: be like water

  • Like Bruce Lee says, "Be like water -- take the shape of the container you're in"; yet water can move mountains.
  • Ability to harness unexpected changes and soak in new ideas - that is the essence of a good organization.
  • Incubating new ideas -- CharityFocus decided to include high schoolers as reviewers and that later opened the doors to giving an opportunity for handicapped volunteers to give!

I nter-connected: in-visible matrix of inspiration

  • Can you see the cloud in a piece of paper? Paper comes from a tree, which is there because of water, which comes from the cloud. Understanding that we are dependent on so many, removes arrogance and brings compassion.
  • No one beam in a house holds up the roof; similarly, at CharityFocus, it's a group effort.
  • What a pleasure it is to see a carpenter, lawyer, engineer, teacher, doctor, student ... all work together in the spirit of service. CF is not your typical nonprofit.

C ontent in the moment: journey is the joy

  • When do we feel like "I have arrived?" There's no satisfaction in constant chasing.
  • Service doesn't start when you have something to give but blossoms naturally when there's nothing left to take.
  • CharityFocus only picks projects where the journey, in itself, is the purpose (iJourney). The outcomes are icing on the cake.

E ffortless: compassion is contagious

  • Walking on the ground vs. on a 100 foot high ledge; a relaxed mindset yields the best performance.
  • Light doesn't need to fight darkness; rose doesn't discriminate in giving its perfume.
  • CF's marketing plan: none required.

Peter Drucker notes that 90% of value doesn't get counted. In the 10% that can be counted, CharityFocus can say that it has given away millions of dollars in service without any overhead! Making a bit of Silicon Valley history with its unprecedented acquisition of PledgePage is a further testimonial to the strength of the organization. But most certainly, that's only 10% that the world can count. The rest is in the heart of the volunteers and manifests in each of their actions.