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I’m happy to report that the 2015 RJMetrics Charity Drive was a huge success. We had significant growth over last year in terms of both donations and participation, and I’m incredibly proud of our team.

As background, last year we wanted to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves in a way that was true to our data-driven culture. We held our first fundraising drive at RJMetrics. Instead of the company choosing a cause, we asked members of our team to choose a cause of their own. We then created an internal document for highlighting the causes and providing evidence to show colleagues why their charity is worthwhile, and to persuade others to support it. We then created tools for each person to submit info on their charitable giving.

This was the second year of the charity drive, and it ran from December 2nd (Giving Tuesday) through New Year’s Eve. I think the data speaks for itself:

  • We made 93 donations, of which 47 were anonymous.
  • We donated $38,763.80 in cash, an increase of 111% over last year.
  • We donated 309 hours of our time, an increase of 203% over last year
  • Our teddy bear donations stayed flat at 5
  • We encountered a divide by zero error when attempting to calculate the percentage increase in the donation of old clothes, furniture, computer monitors, and cars. We estimate that these donations were worth approximately $8,000 in aggregate.

At 45% of our total cash donations, GiveDirectly was our largest recipient of financial contributions for the second year in a row. It tied with Wikimedia for the highest number of individual donors. Additionally, GiveDirectly will receive the company’s $729 potluck lunch donation, where we donate our budget for lunch on a day where the team cooks meals for each other.

If you’re not already familiar with GiveDirectly, it is an amazing organization. They provide cash to poor families in Kenya and Uganda. GiveDirectly is extremely data driven about its impact, and there are numerous peer reviewed randomized controlled trials that show that they produce long lasting positive impacts in terms of health, education, and income. According to the charity evaluator GiveWell, GiveDirectly is a standout compared to other charities with respect to transparency, communication, and commitment to self-evaluation. They recently posted real-time performance statistics on their website with links to download CSVs of the raw data so that anyone can audit them. Instead of showcasing a few cherry-picked success stories, they randomly select a recipient each week and publish that recipient’s story on the GiveDirectly facebook page.

At 58% of our total hours, Spark Philadelphia was our top charity in terms of time for the second year in a row. Spark’s goal is to increase high school graduation rates. In the poor urban communities where Spark operates, on-time high school graduation rates are often below 50%, which is significantly lower than the national average of 80%. 92% of students who participate in Spark go on to graduate on time. Spark reached out to us when they first came to Philadelphia a few years ago, and we’ve participated in each semester since then.

Spark’s strategy is to get to kids while they are still in middle school. It works with teachers to identify students who seem at risk for dropping out because of problems at home or in the classroom. Spark then matches the kids with volunteer mentors from companies in the city, and the kids come to the mentors’ offices for two hours each week. The goal is to show them the paths that will be available if they get an education.

The kids work on projects with the mentors’ assistance, and the group that I was able to work with this semester created an addictively challenging video game. They came up with the premise, wrote the code, designed the art, and created the music. After writing the code that allowed the in-game character to jump, one of the kids looked around at the mentors and asked if he could work here. We assured him that we’ll save a spot for him when he graduates high school and college.

If you’d like to support our top charities, you can contribute at the links below:

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Ice In A Bucket

This time last month, you’d probably never heard of the ice bucket challenge. Since then, it has grown into one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns of all time, and we’ve all been…well…doused.

The phenomenon has sparked a series of hilarious fails, inspired a new genre of bucket challenges, and garnered a fair share of criticism. It has also raised over $100 million since July 29 for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), an astonishing 3,504% increase over donations during this same period last year.

With the barrage of videos slowly working their way out of our Facebook feeds, we decided it was finally time to take a look back at the data behind the ice bucket challenge. We downloaded and profiled a 1,500 randomly-selected #icebucketchallenge videos using the YouTube API, and then uploaded the raw data to RJMetrics for analysis. (If you’d like to try RJMetrics for your own business, click here for a 14 day free trial.)

Our complete findings, which also provide some insights into the allegations of “slacktivism,” are included below. Here are some highlights:

  • 20% of participants took the challenge indoors
  • Participants were 2x more likely to be male than female
  • 1 in 4 participants didn’t even mention ALS in their video
  • Only 1 in 5 participants mentioned a donation
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Taking a look at the basics

Dumping a bucket of ice and water on one’s head is an activity best suited for the outdoors. Yet almost 10% chose an indoor, non-bathtub environment.

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During the course of our research we noticed another unmistakable trend: the majority of those getting iced were males. Women made up about 30% of participants in the challenge.

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Surprising gender breakdown of the #icebucketchallenge http://ow.ly/B2aFB pic.twitter.com/TuGkO2RI8C

Ice bucket fails have already become a genre of their own, with many of the best involving a “helper” who accidentally drops the bucket on the person’s head. Oops! We were curious how many people did the dumping themselves vs. recruited some help. It was a close split with only a small majority (53%) electing to have someone dump the bucket for them.

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Slacktivisim or Successive Approximations?

With our basic curiosities appeased, we set out to address some tougher questions.

One of the harshest criticisms leveraged against the campaign is that it’s just another example of “slacktivism”. This relatively new term is associated with philanthropic half-measures in which contributors feel satisfied to donate with their tweets and shares rather than their wallets. More extreme versions of the argument claim that these slacktivists are more focused on bringing attention to themselves than to a charitable cause.

There is certainly some data to uphold this claim: a whopping 26% of participants didn’t even mention ALS in their videos. And a paltry 20% of participants mentioned donating money.

A whopping 26% didn’t mention ALS in their #icebucketchallenge videos. http://ow.ly/B2aFB pic.twitter.com/Zc0b521DAw

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Only 20% of participants mentioned making a donation in their #icebucketchallenge videos. http://ow.ly/B2aFB pic.twitter.com/5VoXDGMew9

So was this whole thing just a big waste of time? Hardly. Don’t forget about that $100 Million! With a 20% conversion rate from dumper to donor, this campaign was still able to generate some serious cash thanks to the size of its reach.

Even with the slacktivists slacking away, the campaign worked because, for enough people, it “hooked” something deep in their psychology. By getting our attention with an entertaining video and a simple message, the campaign moved millions of people one step closer to donating than they would have been otherwise.

This phenomenon is known as “successive approximations”, or more commonly as the-foot-in-the-door technique. The gist is that, by getting people to make a small commitment, they become emotionally invested and more likely to make a bigger commitment.

Instead of heading straight to a call to donate, the ice bucket challenge asks people to take a series of small steps:

  • Step 1: Participate in the ice bucket challenge
  • Step 2: Mention ALS
  • Step 3: Donate money
  • Step 4: Publicly call out your friends to do the same

This technique escalates commitment, and the data shows it:

Participants who mentioned ALS were 5x more likely to donate, doing so 25% of the time vs. just 5% for those who didn’t mention the cause.

People who mention ALS in #icebucketchallenge videos 5x more likely to donate. http://ow.ly/B2aFB

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Participants who donated were 12% more likely to nominate their friends, doing so at 89% vs. 79% for non-donators. They also nominated 29% more people on average: donators nominated 3.98 people where non-donators nominated 3.09 people.

The data couldn’t be more clear: the strategy of escalating commitment works. At every stage in the ice bucket challenge process, people who participated in the prior stage are more likely to continue participating.

Secret to #icebucketchallenge success?: “escalating commitment” strategy http://ow.ly/B2aFB

Was it Worth It?

So, were there slacktivists participating in the ice bucket challenge? Absolutely, but passive consumers are the byproduct of any conversion funnel. The slacktivists are “exhaust” that is generated by creating new donors and raising awareness. Not a bad tradeoff in my opinion.

The ice bucket challenge has raised $100 million for ALSA while growing our collective awareness for a rare, painful disease. In addition, the very nature of successive approximations suggests that those who completed each of these small steps will continue to feel an emotional investment in the future success of ALS research. We’ll raise a bucket to that.

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It’s not news that businesses that use data get better results. But while we know this works in business, it’s still rare to see analytical rigor applied in an area like charity. This seems short-sighted. If businesses that use data see 33% more revenue and 12x profit growth, what kind of impact could data have in the work of helping humanity?

If you’re a certain kind of data nerd with aspirations of making the world of better place, you create a charity like GiveDirectly. Two friends pursuing advanced degrees in economic development at Harvard and MIT founded the organization in 2008 when they were looking for the best ROI for their own donated money.

GiveDirectly does something pretty radical for a charity: it raises money, and then gives it away to poor people in Kenya and Uganda. No strings. No requirements. Very little overhead.

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This holiday season we wanted to do something as a company to contribute to those less fortunate than us. A few members of our team previously worked at companies that organize canned food drives, but I’m not a big fan. While I think that any effort to help others is worthwhile, the data indicates that canned food drives are not particularly effective. If your goal is to feed the hungry, you can help 20 times as many people by giving cash to hunger relief organizations rather than using cash to buy cans of food.

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While we are proud of each of our clients, I think it’s important to spotlight one in particular that is doing a great service to humanity. LendforPeace.org is a non-profit microlending site founded by that allows individuals to make loans to specific entrepreneurs in the West Bank. The idea is that bottom-up economic development and cross-cultural collaboration can play a role in bringing about a more peaceful Middle East. The site was in private beta until their public launch yesterday evening. Over the course of their pilot they had a 100% loan repayment rate.

Some very interesting institutions are involved with Lendforpeace.org, including the Clinton Global Initiative, Ashoka (the world’s largest association of social entrepreneurs), and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s International Consulting Organization.

We’re proud to be involved with Lendforpeace.org in two ways. First of all, they are running all of their analytics on RJMetrics in order to track metrics on lenders, borrowers, loans, and donations. This data set will only get more interesting as lender activity increases. Secondly, RJMetrics is helping to fund an entrepreneur named Rabiha Al-Matahenah who needs an additional $600 to meet her $1,000 goal to expand her sewing business. Please join us and make a loan at Lendforpeace.org today.