Social Actions – open source microphilanthropy in action


Social Actions is a fantastic online initiative that aims to make it easier for people to make a real difference in the world, by essentially aggregating thousands of online microphilanthropic opportunities from over 50 different non-profits and other sources (at the last count) through one site with powerful search functionality.

However, what is really clever about the way that Social Actions works is that it is not just reliant on people visiting the site to search for opportunities to take actions they might be interested in. It can also ‘push’ action opportunities out to any other website through widgets that will present selected opportunities based on the specific content of the website in question. For example, there is one widget that can plug-in to any blog, identify the keywords of each blog post, and display related opportunities to take action. Now that is really smart thinking.

And that’s not the end of it. They are also harnessing the power of open source development through the provision of an open API that enables anyone to build an application utilising Social Actions’ aggregated data on microphilanthropic opportunities.

As I mentioned in my recent post about the new Kiva open API, the incredible power of this approach is that it offers the potential to massively increase the number of ways that people can engage with the opportunities on offer, and thereby the audience reach achieved, far faster than a single organisation could realistically achieve – by harnessing the creativity and technical abilities of enthusiastic developers right around the world.

To get the open source development ball rolling,  Social Actions launched a ‘Change the web challenge’ during March to get people to come-up with new tools to share the microphilanthropic actions on offer – with $10,000 in prizes up for grabs for the best ideas. The deadline for submissions is today and so far an incredible range of creative applications have been submitted. The top 20 finalists will be announced on April 13th and the winners announced at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference on April 28th.

There are several things that I especially like about the whole Social Actions initiative.

Firstly, the way in which it recognises and specifically works to meet the growing desire for people to be able to personally choose how they get involved with specific causes that interest them – in both financial and non-financial ways.

Secondly, because it goes out of its way to make making a difference easy for everyone. Not only through its aggregation of actions from a host of different sources, clever search functionality, and use of widgets to present specific, context-sensitive opportunities on other sites. But also by emphasising the massive impact that even the smallest action can have, if sufficient people are motivated to take it. Social Actions’ founder, Peter Deitz, defines Microphilanthropy as any small scale activity or gesture, facilitated by technology, that carries with it some intent to do good and has the effect of transforming communities for the better – which is a significant, and potentially very powerful, expansion on traditional thinking around online community fundraising.

Thirdly, the way in which they have so wholeheartedly embraced the whole open source philosophy – engaging the wider online community to help develop the tools with which they will subsequently take microphilanthropy action opportunities to countless more people.

If you haven’t visited their site before – then go and take a look, and have a think about what you might be able to learn from the way in which they are engaging with people online.

3 thoughts on “Social Actions – open source microphilanthropy in action

  1. Bryan, thank you for writing such a kind and comprehensive introduction to the Social Actions’ initiative. Heartwarming, humbling, and inspiring me to click a quick “submit” on this comment and get right back to work🙂

    Christine Egger
    Social Actions

  2. I really like this. What I think it’s really exposing is the long-tail of charitable actions through being an agregator of niche activity from the web.

    However, there’s some stuff that I think they can do to improve this even further.

    I’ve put some ideas down on my blog post about this.

  3. Andrew, thanks for the kind words and suggestions. I’ve left a brief reply there, and am copying it below for a quick link especially to the Developer Google Group resource ~


    Andrew, thanks for drawing attention to Social Actions. The improvements you mention (which we’d like to see, too) can be accomplished by combining the Social Actions aggregation (with is open) with other sources of information. We’re seriously committed to encouraging those kinds of meta-aggregations. The Social Actions Developer Google Group, where all kinds of where-can-we-go-next ideas are being pursued, is up to +80 members and growing:

    And we’ve just wrapped the project-submission-period for our first Change the Web Challenge Project Gallery: 40+ apps that distribute the Social Actions aggregation across the web, often while mashing it up with more info and filtering it in a way that makes it more relevant to a particular audience.

    Project Gallery:

    The winners of the Change the Web Challenge will be announced at this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, April 28, in San Francisco:

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