Lost in Translation: Solving the Platform Puzzle

Bob: What did you study?
Charlotte: Philosophy.
Bob: There's a lot of money in that racket. You just have to work out all the angles.

The above is actual dialogue from the movie Lost in Translation, and we’ve taken to heart the sentiment Bill Murray’s character is trying to convey. For awhile now, we at Totem have studied the philosophical and psychological drivers behind philanthropy in order to untap some of the dormant giving potential we know is out there. We’ve run the gambit on experiments to try to drive engagement by embedding incentives, competitions, gamification, and social steering into our user-facing products. Our goal has always been simple and consistent (if not our approach): increase the incentives, and decrease the barriers to entry, for engagement at scale. The best way to scale, we knew, was by building technology. The easiest way to incentivize, we thought, was embedding incentives into the tech. So we launched a series of experiments to test that thesis. Initially our experiments were hit and miss, but as we worked, we stumbled upon much more critical challenges in the nonprofit space than how to successfully implement a crowdfunding campaign. The problem was that, largely as a result of the “nonprofit double standard”, there is a dearth in the market of tools that are built primarily for nonprofits, and with nonprofit staffers in mind.

As we began to realize that we couldn’t codify a “one-size-fits-all fundraising optimizer” for the diffuse organizations that we partnered with, we also began to learn from those same organizations that there are other problems that technology might be able to solve for them, with solutions we had the capacity to build. Looming large was the following issue: much of the work conducted by the development officers was spread across a series of platforms that performed different functions. From Bloomerang to Volunteer Hub to Eventbrite (and the list goes on), many of our partners were hopping from platform to platform to achieve specific goals, a process for which there is an obvious cost: time. We’ll skip a comparison between us and our competitors for now, and just make the observation that in any case where an organization is operating across different platforms, translating work from one space to another in a cohesive manner, at minimum, takes valuable time away from its employees that could be better spent engaging its supporters.

So, we know translating work product from one space to another costs some time, and if time is money, organizations could stand to save both by switching to a platform that “does it all”. Based on our discovery of the platform problem, we set out to build exactly that (disclaimer: we’re still building!). But of course, the next challenge was buried in the solution we had just unearthed. After all, if our theory is that a series of micro switching costs overburden the nonprofits we work with, then how do we justify the macro switching cost of moving all of their activity on to our platform? Frankly, we figure an organization will ultimately save a lot of time in the long run if they work with a system that does it’s best to coordinate all of its online activity in one place (a place, I might add, that’s clean, comely, and uncluttered). Think of it this way, which is more costly: a couple of days dedicated to platform migration/consolidation, or a couple of hours a week, every week, collating info across different tools? We’re betting it’s the latter, and we’re willing to do most of the heavy-lifting for nonprofit orgs up-front to keep doing what we’ve always tried to do: help foster philanthropic engagement. Because we believe the best way to do that is by freeing up our partners’ time to do that work better than we ever could, we developed our platform to (1) be easy-to-use and (2) capture as much of a nonprofit’s software needs as possible to make life a little easier. So if you work for an organization whose philosophy is rooted in doing good, come talk to us; we’re working on all the angles.

Lost in Translation: Solving the Platform Puzzle
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