UPDATE: Yesterday I was reading the latest edition of Wired UK. Within it was a short piece by Tricia Wang about the use of Weibo to distibute lunches to school children who can’t afford them. It is closer to what I am trying to describe than anything else. Read about it here.
The Wired article is now online. Read it here.

UPDATE 2: Today, 17 August, I saw Brickstarter.org, which is a Finnish site determined to get people doing the stuff they can’t wait for their local governments to do. Civic projects, mainly. But this could be used just as easily for charities. 

So, last night, after a flurry of Tweets, I had an idea. And it seemed a little insane, the idea that is. But then, as I was roaming the internet this morning, I spotted that a lot of insane ideas actually work. Or can work. From the Apple employee who’s project was cancelled but he kept at even though he was trespassing, through to the idea that the future belongs to those who can think beyond what’s happening now. I’m not suggesting that mine is one of those workable yet insane ideas. I’m just hopeful.

Let me explain.

When I was growing up, a new TV event began: the ITV Telethon. Styled on continuous fundraising TV from the US, it was similar to the radio event from Capital FM called Help A London Child or the BBC’s annual Children In Need appeal. To me, this style of fundraising was novel, exciting and, most importantly, visual and visible. It put the fun into fundraising (sorry). It also brought tension to something as mundane as raising money for charity.

And it’s that kind of tension that is so important in today’s supposed ‘one-second attention span’ world. More on this later.

Give It A Kick

There are many reasons why the internet has fundamentally changed how we live and work. Too many to go into here, so I’ll focus on one: crowds.

By using the hive mind, we are able to solve things that would take one person years. Recently, we have also been able to use crowds to raise money. More often, this is used to fund projects that mainstream organisations would baulk at, because they are outside of accepted norms. Usually creative projects, they are sophisticated versions of vanity publishing (if that’s not too simplistic a viewpoint).

Of course, as they get even more sophisticated, they are expanding their horizons – and more and more of these services pop up. From Kickstarter to IndieGoGo to New Jelly to Sponsume to Crowdfunder, the list is seemingly endless. All looking for people to help fund creative projects. Very few, if any, focus on charity: Guess2Give being a relatively new one, but with a slight variation on a theme.

So, seems to me that this area of crowdfunding needs a bit of a kick-start itself.

The Challenge

Another UK television show that used charitable aims as its foundation was Challenge Anneka. Remember that? There was also a US version fronted by Erin Brockovich. Again, it was an innovative approach to providing charitable assistance, wrapped up in a format that allowed for entertainment and tension.

There’s that word again: tension.

Tension just isn’t there with collection tins, Chuggers and their clipboards, or through traditional advertising campaigns. They all rely on our ability as humans to feel empathy; do we feel sufficiently guilty or saddened or moved, by the story we’re told (or, it’s simpler to say yes to some passive-aggressive clipboard-wielding jockstrap just so we can get on with buying lunch)? Add a bit of tension and suddenly something ordinary (or annoying, depending on your viewpoint) becomes extraordinary and entertaining (that is, less annoying).

So, charity and tension together. A promising start and a concept that has been proved.

I Want It Now

Another thing that the internet has taught us is that we need not wait around for things. Now, almost everything we could want – from news, to products – is available at the click of a trackpad or a touch of a screen. And it’s a two-way street: we can also see the effect of our clicks and touches instantaneously.

The charity sector has real-time (mostly focused around social media) on its radar, evident here with a presentation given at the Social Media & Charities conference 2011, or considering how employee donations can be delivered quicker, or how real-time interactions can increase charitable donations [PDF].

Yet what I can find is just one example of tension meets charity meets real-time donations: a cross between Challenge Anneka, Kickstarter and a platform on which to watch the action unfold, if you like. Let me give you an example:

I want to raise funds for a project building schools in impoverished areas.

I have limited budgets for marketing and collecting donations.

I want to use the internet to raise funds.

I want to keep those who give money updated on what’s happening with their funds.

I don’t want to spend all my time writing blog posts and taking photos.

I want to do all this in real-time.

How do I do it?

Greenpeace’s crowdfunding of the Rainbow Warrior is the closest thing to what I envisaged last night that I know of. It’s the single example I can think of (or find).

I believe that it would be possible to develop a platform on similar lines; that we could find a way to take donations and have them make an immediate impact on a project that you could see, in real-time. So instead of raising a large amount of money to complete a big project, we could fund smaller projects that add up to a bigger ideal. In real-time.

And that’s my idea. A cross between Kiva, Kickstarter and uStream. And all for charities or charitable concerns.

It’s nothing special, yet is feels achievable. And necessary, perhaps? I don’t know: I’m no expert on the charity sector.

The next question is: am I insane for the right reasons or does my lack of sector knowledge expose my idea as fanciful or stupid?

Here’s hoping I can find out.