Tuesday, June 10, 2014

NPOEx Description

NPOEx is an idea for developing a stock exchange for non-profit organizations. I gave a TEDx talk on the topic, which can be seen at http://tinyurl.com/npoexvid, and I am re-visiting the site to start developing regular posts, to build up content, and to work on developing requirements for an active prototype. This blog will probably end up being a source of content that will be refined and posted on www.npoex.com.

Basic Description

NPOEx is a proposed platform for developing a simulated stock exchange, for non-profit organizations. The idea is that a user can invest virtual or real currency in a non-profit, obtain virtual shares in the organization, and receive "social return on investment". The shares have the potential to become an ongoing connection between the investor and their chosen organizations.

Overall Concept

Leverage market dynamics to provide users with a stock exchange experience, and tools for managing a "portfolio" of giving. The user experience could include profiles on non-profits, and various data and information, as well as "impact ratings", to help a potential donor understand the impact a non-profit is having. Aside from providing information to potential investors, impact ratings are also intended to have an influence on the value of "shares", to help provide a feedback loop that can give users a sense of the amount of impact that the specific amount of their investment is having.

Business Model

The structure could be non-profit, for-profit, or a hybrid of both, and could end up being an ecosystem, where the main platform has an API, an Application Programming Interface that would allow other companies and organizations to write "apps" to interact with the basic platform, which like the current for-profit stock exchange connects with things like eTrade, or other Web-based stock trading software. (simplify) So the initial goal is to start simple, and grow organically.

The revenue model could be to charge a transaction fee to process donations, much like other "donation platforms".  Or the platform could provide a free exchange, if it was sponsored by a company, foundation, or consortium of some kind.

Corporate Social Responsibility: Another aspect of NPOEx could certainly be to provide opportunities for corporations to either donate directly, help promote, or provide their customers with points to invest in a charity of choice, using the underlying platform.

Instead of a company telling a customer how the company donated money to a charity, the power of choice could be given to the customer. And some members of traditional loyalty programs would prefer to have the opportunity to donate those points to charity.

These approaches could be a meaningful way to deepen the relationship between corporations, non-profits and customers.

Why is a non-profit stock exchange Needed?

Significant progress been made towards improving the world, by non-profit organizations and foundations, especially with the increasing sophistication of measuring outcomes. Yet philanthropists who are committing billions, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, freely admit that a lot more effort and resources are needed.

From an ethical standpoint, exploration of using market dynamics to help meet the scale of global needs seems absolutely necessary, if there's any chance whatsoever it can work -- and precedents support the real possibility that it can work. Already, non-profits and crowdfunding sites are starting to harvest "the wisdom of the crowds". But the ecosystem at present could be compared to the state of global business 100 years ago -- a patchwork of entities stretching across the globe, with a variety of methods of raising capital, yet without a seamless system that could support *all* efforts at raising capital for non-profits.

The Black Hole of Donations

Often, an individual donor has little idea of the impact their donation is having, aside from monthly email newsletters -- if they even read them. They take a step of faith, and hope for the best. But charitable investment through a non-profit stock exchange has the potential to demonstrate to a donor that they have a clear ongoing stake in the organizations they support, when they are awarded shares in those organizations.

Currently, individual donors may choose to make a donation based on a well-crafted appeal, based on their own moral and ethical viewpoints. But investment-based giving not only has the potential to increase engagement; it can also serve as an stepping stone towards incremental, increased giving. 

A market-based system can take even a small spontaneous intention of kindness or mercy, and award a share in a non-profit organization, and thereby establish a unique link. This can serve as a basis to develop a relationship -- without overwhelming the donor.

One premise of the intended approach of NPOEx is to strive for a comfortable, non-overwhelming environment, to help motivate further participation in philanthropy; to present challenges, invitations - but through the paradigm of investment. And the proposed user experience of gaming could help to draw in people who otherwise might not be interested.

The Motivation Gap: Making it Fun

While some people might be motivated to use such a platform purely on the merits of wanting to support non-profits, others may be motivated by a "gamified" experience. Research has shown that people will spend significant amounts of time and money to play a compelling, enjoyable social game, situated on a social network such as Facebook, purely for enjoyment. Similarly, there has been a proven pattern where people will spend time playing a virtual game to win virtual currency based on the psychological value of the currency, even when there is no monetary value.

This evidence supports the potential for a "game layer" for NPOEx, where the traditional non-profit "appeal" is transformed into an appealing experience, where the initial motivation is to have fun. The user experience could range from adding light gamification to a traditional investment experience, with ranking, connection to social networks, and awards -- or it could be a game experience that is like Monopoly, but instead is Philanthropy.

Starting with a social game or at least a virtual simulation also has the advantage of being able to test/improve the user experience, features and expectations, prior to integrating the additional complication of facilitating donations.


Thank you for reading this description. If you have any feedback, questions, suggestions on how it could be improved, or if you're scratching your head about something, I'd love to hear from you! tekelsey@gmail.com

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