Changing the World, $5 at a Time
Anna McDonnell had always felt that the odds were tipped in favor of men in this world and had wanted the "challenge" of raising a daughter to overcome these odds.
She had three sons instead. So, years later, after she left the television business and returned to school for her master's degree in social work, the 51-year-old California woman decided to take up the cause again.
"I just believe that gender inequity is probably the greatest single cause of the imbalances on our planet," McDonnell says. "When women and men are not valued equally, there's less education and more violence."
In 2009, she started a social networking site, 5 for Fairness, to raise funds and awareness for causes that benefit at-risk girls around the world. She asks donors to contribute $5 via a PayPal button on the site. McDonnell's motto: "If you want to catch a lot of rain, put out a lot of teacups."
Why It's Different
After springing for the $5 donation, network members get a say in how the charity's money is spent. They join teams to support different causes and vote on how to spend the funds once the 5-for-Fairness pot hits $5,000.
In this forum, members talk about the causes they champion, engage in Q&A sessions with charity officials and flag recent media coverage on their areas of interest--all before any checks are ever written.
"I think what distinguishes this and gives it juice is its giving in community with others," says Phil Cubeta, who holds the Sallie B. and William B. Wallace Chair in Philanthropy at The American College. "It's got a real human dimension to it...like a women's giving circle brought online."
The site's charity candidates include a girls' school in Afghanistan; a Bangladesh basketball camp for female refugees; and a mentoring program for underserved teen girls in Los Angeles.
The charity costs nothing to run--it has no office, no postage costs and its NING-hosted site is free. Volunteers nominate and man the online teams. Only PayPal deducts a small service fee from each donation.
McDonnell's 150-member online group gave its first $5,000 pot to the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo--a facility that trains local doctors to treat women who have been raped and mutilated in the conflict there.
"I want to serve as a funnel to bring people into the cause so they can educate themselves and each other and help find solutions that we feel are going to make a difference," McDonnell says.
The Ripple Effect
Because the barrier to entry is so low, McDonnell hopes her micro-philanthropy effort will inspire members to support the charities offline, too. The site's social network format, she says, is designed to make members feel more connected to their causes.
"What I hope to get is their attention and interest," she says. "I want a lot of attention to be paid to [gender equity] issues for a long time."