Caught Between Two Movements

I’m sitting inside on this gray rainy Oakland, CA day flipping between Firefox browser tabs. One tab is Mozilla’s HR web portal where I am filing a “Qualifying Life Event” form to add my domestic partner, Nina, to my benefits plan. The other is a news feed about our new CEO, Brendan Eich. Another tab holds Facebook, where I’m putting up a defense against a load of vitriol aimed at Mozilla in my own news feed. I find myself in the bizarre position of defending a company led by a man who donated to support a campaign that hurt me and my family.

In 2004, 13 states (including my home state of Ohio) voted “yes” to define marriage as between one man and one woman. A heavy sense of hopelessness settled in the hearts of many LGBT Americans who felt their neighbors had banished their families to second class status. We grieved, got angry, and then we got organized. In 2005 I co-founded Equality Ohio and for several years toiled next to some of the most hard-working LGBT activists in the world. On the day DOMA and Proposition 8 were nullified in 2013, I was lucky to be in a room with organizer friends. We hugged and cried tears of joy. It’s a very rare thing to experience any real victories in a lifetime of movement building.

There is no stopping the train. Right now over 38% of the U.S. population lives in a state that either has the freedom to marry or honors out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples. Anti-equality donors are unnecessarily prolonging the suffering of some LGBT people, but there is no doubt that the arc of history is bending toward equality. The firestorm raging right now over Eich’s appointment is a testament to how scorned his position on marriage is. Personal beliefs against equal rights for LGBT people and families will be ground to dust under the weight of goodness and love sooner rather than later.

Today, there is another nascent movement that I think is so important that I decided to roll up my sleeves and help get it off the ground.

The fundamental human rights to privacy and freedom are threatened by massive corporate and government investments in tracking and mining our data while we use the web. This web that we rely on so much — that is in our pockets and inside our homes and in front of our kids — is becoming less trustworthy. If we don’t turn things around, the future of our global, connected world is at risk.

Mozilla’s mission and manifesto are explicitly apolitical. We don’t take sides on any political issues in any country, except to stand up for the open web. Thanks to Snowden’s release of NSA documents, people are angry, and now it’s time to get organized. Mozilla is the right organization to lead this movement because we are a nonprofit with a mission to build the web the world needs, not the web that will make Mozilla the most money. Our products give users choices and protect privacy. We are different by design and “doing good is part of our code” is not an empty platitude. Mozilla does do real good. We know how to protect and save the web; the world’s largest global resource. We’ve been doing it for 15 years under the leadership of early volunteers and founders Mitchell Baker and Brendan Eich.

I work at a place that requires a commitment to openness, privacy, and equality, but not an allegiance to a particular political goal. That is how Mozilla has been able to build a huge, diverse, global community focused on one important mission.

Unfortunately to much of the world, our mission is poorly understood. The world doesn’t yet realize that it needs Mozilla more than ever. That’s because we’ve been pretty terrible at telling our story. We have done a poor job of helping the world understand there are very real threats to our web and that we overcome those threats through openness, corporate and government accountability, and user choice — all things Mozilla stands for. That is why it’s painful to watch Brendan Eich’s actions against same-sex marriage define who Mozilla is. That void is now being filled by this and this and this.

I am both an LGBT activist and a Mozillian. Brendan’s actions against marriage equality make me sad and angry, but ultimately they have had no real bearing on the good work happening at Mozilla. I believe in what Mozilla is doing so strongly, that I am excited to be collaborating with people who don’t necessarily share my beliefs, including Brendan. I have been a part of many organizations who have tried and failed to set aside differing and diverse beliefs in order to come together around an important and common cause. Mozilla comes closest, by far. It’s what makes Mozilla incredibly special.

That is our story. Mozilla is about coming together and getting organized to save the open web, not about Brendan Eich’s (losing) political battles. That’s what the world needs to know.

Appmaker: Bringing Fundraising Apps to the People

My colleague Bobby Richter opened up a universe of possibilities in his post Thinking About Payments in Appmaker:

“As a powerful, disruptive tool in the hands of citizens and small NGOs, Appmaker has the potential to be truly meaningful. A kid raising money for school grounds improvements can go door-to-door with an app she’s put together in minutes on her home computer and track her progress. A small disaster relief organization can create a fundraising and awareness app that its constituents can use to collect funds with short notice. A Haitian farmers’ co-op can give its members the ability to use their new $25 smartphone for record-keeping and transaction processing when selling to customers and optimizing workflow.”

The vision is exciting. I am most fascinated with the potential Appmaker holds for nonprofits (that’s my area of expertise and interest) and even individuals who care about a cause. Here’s where my brain goes:

What if building an app for raising money was made so simple, any individual or nonprofit could do it?

Fundraising evolves with technology. In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a decent chunk of the history of small-dollar fundraising. Telephone, direct mail, street solicitation (people with clipboards), email appeals, text-to-donate, crowdfunding, online advertising (e.g. Google Grants), cause marketing; it’s enough to overwhelm. And for smaller nonprofits or individuals with a cause, it usually does overwhelm. And now, we are witnessing the rise of mobile. Raising money in an increasingly tiny-screen-obsessed world is still somewhat out of reach, particularly those that don’t have the deep pockets of, say, an American Red Cross (more on this in a minute).

From a donor perspective, the user experience has also drastically changed. If I am in the frame of mind to donate, there are infinite low-friction ways to lighten my wallet. I’m not hunting down my checkbook, a pen, and stamps. I have a PayPal account, Amazon Prime, or Google Wallet so I can donate in most cases in just three or four clicks. I have an Indiegogo account, so when a friend shared this heart-wrenching campaign in my Facebook feed, I donated and received a confirmation email in less than 30 seconds. And I can instantly share the fact that I just donated on all my social networks, promoting the cause to hundreds of potential donors — donors a fundraiser probably could never have reached on their own without my network.

With Appmaker (theoretically) the creation of a fundraising app might become as easy as picking out a rug on Wayfair.com or buying a coffee using Square.

What does all this mean for nonprofit and personal DIY fundraising? Honestly, I don’t think we’ve figured it out quite yet because the cost to play is too high for most. How to effectively augment fundraising strategy with Twitter or Facebook is still difficult, even for many professionals. Staff resources and capital are precious and most nonprofits are generally risk-averse (h/t  Dan Pallotta). Hiring a developer to build a mobile app or investing in any new technology with uncertain ROI takes drive, time, and deep pockets. And by the time an organization figures out one piece of technology (say, how to run a decent campaign on Indiegogo), a new technology is emerging.

But one thing is certain: mobile is rising and isn’t going away anytime soon. I see Appmaker as a chance to put advanced app development technology into the hands of just about any DIY fundraiser or nonprofit for nearly $0. This is a very low risk bet. A front-end investment of energy plus a healthy dose of “maker spirit” might bump any person, or even the smallest nonprofit, to the frontline of the latest mobile fundraising trend. That’s why I hope lots of nonprofits and DIYers jump in with us to play with Appmaker.

Just Riffing

No two nonprofits are alike. Each faces unique challenges to get the resources they need for mission-driven work. How could something like Appmaker be a force-multiplier in that kind of fundraising? We’re only going to find out through trial and error, experimentation, and thinking big about what’s possible.

I can’t wait to roll up my sleeves to build some Appmaker components. Until I get to do that, I’ve thought about how custom apps might work in the real world. Here are a few off-the-top-of-my-head Appmaker ideas for a two small nonprofits I know well:

Appmaker Ideas: GunbyGun (https://www.gunbygun.org/) currently uses Crowdtilt to crowdfund gun buy-backs within cities that struggle with gun violence.

GunbyGun could build a template app for each gun buyback event and give it to anyone in the community to remix, hyperlocalize, and share.  One of the app’s components could be a crime-map. Individuals might run personal fundraising campaigns at their schools, workplaces, churches; etc by sharing the real-time crime map on their own tablet or smartphone. Sharing crime data about gun violence as a segue to GunbyGun’s upcoming event is a great pitch just about anyone could do on the spot. The donor can input their email address into the app, and the app can send an automated email with a link to donate.

Or, a GunbyGun app could show a list of donors with a photo of the weapon each donor took off the street with their donation.

Another example: Maker Parties. Maker Parties by Mozilla Webmaker organize thousands of people at events all around the world to encourage people to build the web. Attendees are very highly invested in the core mission of Mozilla. What if we could built an app that could very simply facilitate in-person donations during the event via smartphones? People could designate if they want their donation to go to Maker Parties in their own city, country, or if they’re OK if Mozilla decides where best to spend the funds. A map component could visualize all the parties happening around the globe and the # of people building the web, and how much is being donated, in real time. Maybe giving amounts could tie directly to actual costs – for instance, “help buy lunch for 2 makers – $5”. Another component in the app might ask people to signup to volunteer at the next Maker Party event.

For individuals, Appmaker could power fundraising for their own personal cause. Here’s a great example: The fate of Torresminho the kitten was forever changed through the power of personal fundraising. Upon discovering a kitten hit by a car, a guy built a fundraising app to raise money for the little kitty’s medical bills. Kitten face + mobile fundraising app = warm fuzzies for everyone.

The possibilities are pretty much endless. We’re going to need lots of enterprising nonprofits and individuals who are excited about Appmaker to help us put form to its potential.

Next: We Leap

We play, we try, we fail, we build cool MVPs. We need people to jump in, even if (maybe especially if) they don’t think they have the technology chops to build an app. There are lots of questions we’ll need to answer as we experiment:

  • How do we build components that make use of best practices in fundraising today? For instance, how do we make the post-donate “share” function outrageously good in a fundraising app?
  • How does an app augment nonprofit fundraising strategy?
  • What are a few initial DIY app templates that might appeal to individuals?
  • Are there nonprofits who could justify investing more in mobile fundraising?
  • How can Appmaker serve emergency response or disaster relief fundraising?
  • How will payment processing components function in Appmaker for nonprofits? For individuals?
  • Can Appmaker make donation appeals more personal, for instance, by using geolocation?

If you’re excited about the possibilities of Appmaker and want to try building an app or components with us, please get in touch through comments or find me at Mozilla.

This is an exciting time to be a fundraiser.

What is “fundraising open”?

One thing that has taken me some time to grasp after joining Mozilla is the concept of “working open”. My colleague Matt Thompson defines working open like this:

Sharing signposts, drafts, prototypes and roadmaps on our blogs, etc. The primary goal is surfacing what’s needed to enable smart co-building. If we don’t, not only will our communities have no idea how to get involved — our immediate peers and colleagues won’t be able to help as effectively, either.

Like a lot of Mozillians, in the past I’ve worked within organizations that claimed “transparency” or “openness” as a core value — sprinkled throughout company principles and in CEO speeches. Not until I joined Mozilla did I comprehend what “open” really means, in practice. I’ve been thinking lately, now that I’m a Mozillian, how can I can apply “open” to my own work? What i’m finding is that true open work takes special effort. It is both exhilarating and scary.  Image: Clothing optional at beach ahead

It’s a brand of radical honesty that’s particularly intimidating for me because a) I’m not accustomed to it (but I’m falling for the idea); and b) failure is part of good online fundraising. Grabbing and holding the attention of a human looking at a screen full of competing shiny things is hard. I have to figure out what to do in those fleeting few seconds of attention that will inspire that human to give money. There’s a lot of trial and error, plus the technology and tactics are constantly changing. Putting out an open invitation for all to witness my (inevitable) failures is taking some nerve.

Fundraising on the web can seem deceptively simple. Everybody writes emails and tweets every day, no biggie. But like anything else done well, online fundraising is a careful craft best led by obsessed practitioners. Some folks nerd out on grokking code or shaving a few milliseconds off page load time, we nerd out on subject lines and how to design great fundraising pages for mobile. A good strategy takes months of planning, exceptionally talented writers and creatives, rock-solid engineering and UX design, and thousands of hours in the make-test-iterate cycle.

So, how could open or “view source fundraising” work? I am feeling the warmth of the sunlight here at Mozilla. I’ve seen the magic of working open, because it’s almost all on a forum or a public wiki or otherwise a click away. It’s what makes the Mozilla community continue to churn out kick-ass stuff (like Firefox OS, AppMaker). You can visit the Mozilla Wiki right now and see project status updates, meeting notes, product roadmaps; even policy and business affairs. Thousands of people all sharing process, warts and all. True, some things are not in the sun, particularly things that touch user privacy and corporate partnerships. But by and large, Mozilla is an open book by design.

It took 40,000 volunteer coders to write about 40% of the Firefox Browser code. Without working open, this kind of tribal innovation wouldn’t be possible. My little corner of the Mozilla operation is not that different, except perhaps scale. Executing a successful year-end fundraising strategy requires a close working partnership with dozens of my colleagues within Mozilla. Our co-built strategy will culminate in a 6-week fundraising campaign that will put our mission — Mozilla’s story — in front of millions of people this December when we ask them to support our work with a donation.

What does fundraising open look like? For starters, I’ll be posting ideas, tests, and results data about Mozilla’s email program on a new “View Source Fundraising” page (not yet ready for prime time). Our master year-end campaign timeline is detailed here and here.

Mostly, I’m making it up as I go. My hope is that throwing sunlight on our fundraising strategy can make it stronger, too.

Mozilla online survey results

I’m soaking up lots of new information about what it means to be part of the Mozilla community since joining the foundation’s development team two short weeks ago (development as in fundraising, not engineering). It’s like drinking from a firehose. This organization accomplishes a lot and I’m a bit overwhelmed learning about it all. I’ve met quite a few amazing people including new colleagues, makers, engineers and other supporters. Conclusion: I am in the company of greatness.

I’m also really lucky to be among the first to review results from a recent online survey. These data are giving me a tidy crash course in what it means to be a Mozillian – what the community wants and thinks is important.

Roughly six thousand Mozilla supporters took time from their busy lives to send us their thoughts about Mozilla’s work. It has been fascinating and also heartwarming to hear about why Mozilla is such an important community for so many people.

I’ve dropped a few snazzy charts below to sum up the results of the survey. I’ll conclude with my thoughts on how the big themes that emerged can inform our online outreach strategy in the coming months.

So, why do folks support the work of the Mozilla Foundation? A large majority of respondents said keeping the Web free, open, and transparent was by far their #1 reason for supporting Mozilla. This is no surprise when you consider what’s happening in the news lately and the growing skepticism about what corporations are storing and selling about our Internet habits. Following in a distant second place were issues of Web literacy, creativity, and building a better Web.

“I have been a Mozilla user for more than 7 years now, and the main reason is that I feel I can trust Mozilla.” – survey comment

Concern about the security and freedom of the Web continued thematically in responses to this question about recent campaigns:

* Note: Each respondent scored prompts on a scale of 1 – 5 (5 = “very important”). This chart ranks responses based on the total score for each.

Serious threats to the Internet as we know it are top-of-mind for Mozilla’s supporters.

On a different topic, we also asked people who have not donated to tell us why they haven’t gotten around to it yet.

The top response (51%) was “I don’t have the disposable income” to donate right now. This is not unusual for these types of surveys and economic times are still tough for many people. The beauty of Mozilla is that there are so many ways for anyone to get involved, and donating is but one of them. In fact, fully 10% of respondents said “I prefer to volunteer.” This is truly astounding when you consider that there are nonprofits who would kill to have 10% of their email list volunteer. The participatory culture at Mozilla is a big reason it is a special organization.

Another notable finding: 8% said they “didn’t know Mozilla was a non-profit” and 5% said they haven’t donated because they were “unsure how my donation will be used”. Clearly we can do a better job of telling the story of Mozilla so our nonprofit roots are better understood. Individuals invest in all sorts of ways in Mozilla – in Webmaker, Popcorn, Collusion, Stopwatching.us, and more. No matter how small, every donation of time or dollars matters to Mozilla and its mission.

“I contribute my time to Mozilla. That counts, too.” – survey comment

Finally, one very clear finding: Mozilla’s supporters love and covet Mozilla gear.

Would you be interested in supporting Mozilla’s mission through the purchase of high-quality Mozilla-branded gear (such as t-shirts, travel mugs, jackets and other unique offerings)?

To sum up, here are my big takeaways (hopefully I’ve listened well):

  • Mozilla supporters believe strongly that the Web is under threat, and it’s worth fighting for. People want to help protect freedom and transparency on the Internet. This is pivotal moment in history for this global issue, and Mozilla is a trusted source of information and leadership in the fight. Threats to the Web should weigh heavily in our online organizing strategy so we can give supporters opportunities to join in the fight.
  • Mozilla supporters believe Web literacy and making stuff on the Web is the future of the web (and a free and open web is a prerequisite). The Internet doesn’t have to be passively consumed, anyone can help build something awesome. We want to continue sharing how Mozilla provides opportunities to play, create, join, and learn all over the globe.
  • We need to do a better job of telling the (clear, transparent) story of Mozilla. Our nonprofit-iness is sort of fuzzy for many people. We need to take opportunities to be authentic about the kind of organization we are. Mozilla’s story is a compelling story. I want to help every Mozilla supporter know it by heart.
  • Donating is one more way to support Mozilla’s work, but we need to articulate where the money goes. What donations pay for should be a point of pride, not a mystery. We’ll work on being clear about how donation funds are allocated (more directly than just linking to the Annual Report). And just because we ask for a donation sometimes by no means suggests volunteerism is not appreciated or important. Let’s be honest: It’s all supporting Mozilla’s mission. We need and love volunteers and event participants. We need donations. Mozilla wouldn’t last long without either.
  • Gear = Love. Building a big, loyal community means a lot of people are excited about showing off their allegiance. We don’t want to get between the fans and their #foxschwag. We are working on getting a great gear store up and running with proceeds benefitting the foundation’s work. It’s no easy task (at least if you want to do it right). But a new store is coming. Stay tuned.
  • I’m so lucky to have joined this big, amazing community. I’m here to listen, to learn and I intend to build on the good work of my predecessor, Mr. Ben Simon. I hope to develop a great online program that serves Mozilla’s mission.

I want to hear from you — please comment on my posts, message me, ask questions, challenge my assumptions. I look forward to our work together.