I recently came across the My Colorado Project when Jason Manke connected with me, asking for feedback and ideas about community building and online community engagement tools. I’m really interested in the work Community Shares is doing and the direction they are headed with this project as it seems very aligned with many of my own feelings: technology should be used to help, facilitate, and empower the change communities already want to be making.  Jason is the Media Director and My Colorado Project Manger for Community Shares of Colorado. He’s been on the staff of Community Shares for three years now and drives the traditional and new media outreach to inspire philanthropy in Colorado. 

Check out the interview below to learn more about how My Colorado Project is empowering local change!

How did My Colorado Project come about, how did it get started?

My Colorado Project is a website that highlights the attributes and interests of a new generation of givers. Rather than try to get younger donors to fit into our existing programs, we’ve built a site that encourages young people to do what they’re best at – connect online, build networks of like-minded people, and make philanthropy fun. Based on the “giving circle” concept, we’re giving donors a new way to personalize their giving and support their favorite causes.

My Colorado Project started out as a project of our current CEO Alyssa Kopf who was frustrated with the popular perception that young people don’t give.

“Working as a professional fundraiser, I knew that I was giving and my friends were giving but our common donor tracking systems weren’t capturing how the diversity of our interests and frequent smaller donations added up to a sizeable amount over the course of a year. My Colorado is our attempt to build a new fundraising model for peer-driven giving and create new tools for planning and tracking your philanthropic footprint.”

Alyssa and I talk about the creation of My Colorado Project often and my perception was that she took it kind of personally as a young person and as a nonprofit professional that she and her peers weren’t on the radar screens of their favorite organizations. I don’t think that anything really great gets done without having a serious personal interest and now we’re ready to give a significant asset to young people all over Colorado.

How do you define e-philanthropy and how does MCP align with that vision?

We hope that MCP will better illustrate the difference between transactional and transformational e-philanthropy.  We believe that the latter offers a more sustainable giving experience and that MCP can help young donors along the road to becoming thoughtful, strategic, and happy philanthropists.  The bulk of the online giving tools currently available focus on the transaction.  Hey, we need that, no doubt, but when you focus only on the transaction and on making donations more efficient you miss something even greater! We want young donors and nonprofits alike to know that there is a richer, more fulfilling, and more financially rewarding experience that they can have.  Not only can you provide financial support, but you can tie your cause to your self-identity and transform not only your community, but yourself.

If you do your generational research you’ll find an awful lot of evidence to suggest that this is how younger donors want to get involved. My Colorado Project builds on that interest and offers a very personal and meaningful way to be introduced to giving and develop as a philanthropist.

What was the process, costs, and development of MCP like?

The greatest obstacle for me as the manager of the project is to create a website which meets the user-experience standards of the average Millennial. Do you know how hard that is?! We Millennials (I stand accused with a b-day of 1980) are a fickle bunch and our expectations are high. We’re used to cruising around multi-million dollar websites that have teams of designers, copy editors, and testers.

My Colorado Project has had to make the most of every dollar invested in the project. Every Nonprofit Pro reading this is going to laugh at my feeble attempt at pity!

But we have one thing working in our corner. We have 7 skilled and wicked smart nonprofit Pros who know our community, know our sector, and know philanthropy. We’ve been doing it for 25 years and have proven that our accessible, inclusive, and incremental model adds value.

We’re fortunate to have been able to present this idea to funders who have given us a great start and we recently struck up a relationship that we’re very proud of with one of Denver’s most innovative nonprofits, the Open Media Foundation. They are helping us build the next phase of development  and we hope that our relationship will extend above and beyond that relationship and into entertaining and valuable content development.

My Colorado is completely replicable and we hope that we can share it with other communities.

Can you share some examples of how groups have used the platform so far?

It has been super enjoyable to see both our nonprofit members and passionate individuals use My Colorado Project in its Beta stages.

First are those I call the Ambassadors. About a year or so ago Community Shares started using different terminology to describe our volunteers.  We wanted to refresh how our most committed supporters think of themselves.  Not only are ambassadors treasured donors and drivers of a mission, but in this age of social media they have also become the most important spokespeople and storytellers a nonprofit can have.

Fundraising 101 tells us that the most impassioned and successful messages are the stories that come right from the mouths of people who have shared a significant life experience with that organization. Many giving circles are started by a single individual with an extraordinary attachment to a cause or organization in particular.  They tell their stories, recruit their friends, and use use mainstream social media tools to expand their cause. The cause becomes part of their personal brand and they wear it with pride.

If they are really savvy, they ask for help from the organizations to build trust, and keep the giving circle growing.

One of the giving circles I like is the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network Denver.  They’ve used their giving circle to bring in current and past board members to establish a foundation of donor support that they can count on year in and year out. This is a great first step for an organization which is largely staffed by the board of directors themselves.

Annie’s Amazing Animals” is another inspiring effort.  Annie, who is 8 years old, posted a video asking for donations to her favorite nonprofits instead of gifts! She far exceeded her giving goals and posted a video thank you to her supporters.

My Colorado allows donors to start giving circles and support up to four different nonprofits with as little as $5 a month. The purpose of this is to give donors flexibility to be themselves and support multiple causes. I like to think of some of them as “nonprofit mutual funds.”

One of my favorite moments was when Robert Egger, the founder of DC Central Kitchen and V3, came to visit us a while back and his advice to me was to “keep it local and make sure it translates offline.” I have my notes from that meeting on the bulletin board above my desk.

There are very few things that are as empowering as the internet. I’ve noticed my own personal tendency to want to take projects that were originally small in scale and offer them to the entire world!  But, I think that social media will see a slight correction after its astronomical rise and more and more people will try to fill in the local gaps that really big national websites have missed.  I think My Colorado Project will be attractive because it is small and community based.

What were you most surprised about with the process and adoption – what were you least surprised about?

After this next phase of development is over in February – monthly contests – we’ll take a break from development for a second to focus more on the promotion of the project. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am by the adoption of the program with so little marketing on our part. We’ve really only just begun the extended roll-out phase and already we have thousands of new dollars circulating through the community. We’re a long way from our potential but it is a rewarding start.

What was the role of community in building this platform and now in the further improvements and development?

We’re very conscious of building a Colorado asset with the input and needs of the Colorado community in mind.  Community Shares is first and foremost an organization committed to the 100+ member nonprofits we serve.  Our role in the community is unique in that we interact regularly with local funders and associations, thousands of individual donors and employees, more than 150 businesses, and our 100+ nonprofits and those they serve.

In addition to our staff’s ability to be in 20 places at once, we also did our homework before embarking on such an ambitious goal. As a part of Community Shares’ capacity building program we sponsored a study and subsequent toolkit for Colorado nonprofits titled, Engaging Tomorrow’s Donors Today, which surveyed over 700 donors on generational differences in giving and analyzed the role of social media and e-philanthropy in a rapidly changing sector.

We’re entering the fun part now where we get to more widely market My Colorado Project, but our My Colorado 25 – our first group of giving leaders – and more than 100 nonprofits stand at the ready to tell us what they think and what they want. The time to stand aside and let the comments roll in is near!

What’s on the list for next developments?

The Personal Philanthropy Plan is next. The first phase of that robust effort will be a monthly contest which will use creative and thought-provoking questions to help Coloradans have fun and think more about the values and interests they are most interested in pursuing from a philanthropic perspective.  After that we’ll begin building a more robust plan that each participant can fill out to set goals and put a plan into place to become more strategic and focused in their approach.  Wow – that doesn’t sound like fun! But it will be! It will be, I promise that it will be super fun!

The neat part about My Colorado is that there is always another cause and another organization to hear from and learn about. Always another donor perspective and content to view. The showcase for our community’s nonprofits is going to be more vibrant than ever before.

How can people join or follow your work?

Community Shares and My Colorado Project are both really easy to follow and learn about. If you want to know more about My Colorado Project, please visit the website and take a test drive by forming a giving circle. Whether you’re from this great state, have relatives or friends here, visit occasionally for recreation, or have just been here to catch a connecting flight we hope you’ll support our grassroots initiative. If you’d like to form a giving circle but don’t see your desired beneficiary, you can suggest any 501 c3 as a beneficiary of your giving personal circle.

My Colorado Project empowers local change: Interview with Jason Manke
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