As the second of our series profiling the best engaged not-for-profits, I recently had a chance to sit down with Laura Kimball (@lamiki), director of communications and digital media for relative newcomer, but strongly  buzzed about, foundation Seattle-based Jolkona (@jolkona)  and talk about how they’ve  rooted donor and fan digital engagement, particularly among young professionals, into their DNA. This is the first of two posts.

1) I love it when I run across younger foundations halfway across the country that I might not normally hear about, but based on the enthusiasm of your fans and advocates, it lands on my radar screen, why is Jolkona outpunching its weight in terms of getting noticed and talked about?

Well, thank you.  I’m glad you noticed our enthusiastic fans. A bit of background – Jolkona is a Bengali word meaning a “drop of water”. We launched in June 2009 (after 2 years in beta-testing) and we simply believe small drops can add up and have a ripple effect of change. And so we’re a foundation that works with other charities  that support global development.  We’re almost completely virtual – I’m part of a small team with a  27 year old CEO and a group of twenty-something volunteers and interns who passionately believe young people want to be engaged in giving but can’t or don’t want to for two key reasons:

  • they don’t have money
  • they don’t know where their money is going

With Jolkona, we love small scale donations $5, $10, $20, $40, $150 donations which is in keeping with the ability for young people to give, 100% of that donation goes to that project or person and then we close the loop by providing feedback and sometimes even video on where that donation is going.

2) What is the scope of your work? Any special examples of Jolkona’s good work?

I love the global perspective that we seem to all share. We do have five types of global focus: arts & culture, education, empowerment, environment, and public health and have donated to 100 projects in 40 countries.

One of my faves $40 to educate girls in Afghanistan.  It’s so personal. So I go on the site, donate to that partner, and those funds go to an individual girl, and eventually our partner uploads a photo, report card, story or video on the girl and where those funds have been spent.

3) Now your focus is the Net Generation – most of your activity is designed for people under 30 – any wrinkles here?

I’m not really sure if they are wired differently than 20 years ago.  And we don’t have any research to back this up but we sat down and most of our twenty-something closest friends and their relations do work with cause organizations or some company that is pursuing greater good  – whether that is a traditional not-for-profit or a company that has some arm beyond profit margins. It’s in our blood and who we are.

Also, when I was in school, reciprocal change programs, were quite well-known. Where people would travel to Russia or Spain and realize “wow, these people aren’t that different than me.” So you end up creating a generation of people with a world view.  Hopefully we play a role with our Next Gen philanthropists as they continue with their culture of giving and become tomorrow’s philanthropists. And since our smallest donation is $5, we’re very accessible to this audience.  It’s like that old motto – get them in early and create a customer for life.

4) Feedback is pretty important for your audience, how do you track the results of your projects where many other not-for-profits fail?

For us, one of our co-founders is a tech guy and he had an interesting story and a-ha moment – he wanted to raise money for prosthetics in Bangladesh and as opposed to collecting cheques from his interested friends, he said why don’t I build a website, maybe there is something here. That was the start of our story.

We also only work with other non-profit partners that can support what we do. We are quite finicky about who’ll we’ll partner with for two reasons – 1) so our donors and members realize we have done the background checks that says this charity is good and 2) they are small and intimate enough to be able track and report back where the money is going.

We don’t want to have exclusive rights to direct different their volunteer efforts, but we want to be able to carve off small enough projects that fits into our $5, $20, $40 and $150 Jolkona model, that they can tangibly track through the backend technology we’ve built. Many times, it’s when there is an existing project, like building a school, our funds allow them to build extra capacity that can be more easily tracked.

5) What are people’s incentives for knocking it out of the ballpark for Jolkona ?

Given our early stages (we didn’t have an office space until January’11), many of the people associated with Jolkona have a personal connection with our employees and/or board.

It’s very grassroots. Like anything nowadays, people want to know the person behind the brand. So most of our focus is Seattle and the North West currently, but we’d love to build a formalized brand ambassador program that extends our reach.

We always say around here “Anyone can be a philanthropist today” and what stokes people is getting people excited about making a difference, no matter how small the donation.  My biggest a-ha is that people really do want to participate but don’t because of a variety of different reasons that we try to overcome. One key other thing we like to do is to emphasize the positive, the bad stuff can be overwhelming and we try to highlight progress and it’s not as bad as the daily news or crisis awareness causes might suggest.

Read more:

2nd post in the series

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