by Bob Walsh
Over on the Business of Software forum this morning, Portman Wills asked very good question: if giant companies like American Express, Apple and Motorola can have “red” versions of their products where a portion of each sale is used to purchase anti-AIDS drugs in Africa, why not micro-ISV’s? While I think this is an excellent cause, and an excellent question, I also think there’s a huge market potential for micro-ISVs lurking in this question in several ways.
First, because micro-ISV’s are far more personal than nameless corporations, and far more flexible, they can easily build into their sales and marketing plans donating some portion of their revenue or profits to any number of worthy causes. Speaking strictly from a marketing point of view, it would make sense that the worthy cause is highly respected, relevant to the market segment the micro-ISV’s product or website serves, and that these donations be done in a highly transparent and auditable way.
It’s this last part — transparent and auditable — that brings me to the second potential micro-ISV market. I personally would love to see it a micro-ISV product that acts as a “charitable information dashboard”: show me on one screen how much money I’m budgeting to donate to various charities, the current rating of those charities (effectiveness, percentage overhead), an RSS feed with the latest news about what each charity is up to, and perhaps a dialog box where charities could “audition” for my money and you would have a killer micro-ISV app.
An obvious variation of this idea would be an app for micro-ISVs to let them track in a highly transparent way their charitable giving. In the same way that various organized stations certify that you do business in an ethical way (the BBB), or that your website isn’t some scam being run out of Nigeria, we could have a service that for micro-ISVs and other online businesses which monitors and verifies that charitable revenue deductions actually happen.
There’s a third, higher level micro-ISV app lurking in the background of Portman’s question: empowering consumers to spend their money on companies which promote their values. For example, I believe that global warming is both a real and immediate threat to civilization as we know it, that testing products on animals is in nearly all cases of obscene and wrong, and that people should be paid a living wage regardless of where in the world they work. (Note: these are my values, your’s are most certainly are different, and good for you.)
A micro-ISV site or product that gave me a single reliable scoring system of various companies as to how they align with my values would definitely influence my buying habits. If we can do this with stocks and mutual funds, why not companies and their values?
The bottom line here is that the Internet makes possible the delivery of all sorts of information about the companies we spend our money with, and that spending money is not simply a matter of economics: it’s a matter of information and values. Micro-ISV’s can run with this idea and create new types of software where larger business entities are afraid to go.

3 Comments

  1. It also seems like a great opportunity for guys like Share-it, RegNow etc, or even some of the smaller payment processors/gateways. A charitable contributions and promotions service would probably share a lot of code with their affiliate systems/coupon codes. Add in the transparency by showing donations to various charities, and add a version of their webstores spotlighting the companies with the charitable offers (browse by charity, donation % etc)… and it’s about there, everybody wins.
    I like the Micro ISV ideas too though, I’m sure someone could pull it together (even starting using existing affiliate systems etc). Credibility & security issues might make it hard work for a smaller company to pull off though.

  2. Two great suggestions from the original JoS thread:
    1. Contribute to OLPC. They even have a wiki with software ideas.
    http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Category:Software_ideas
    (Courtesy Nick Hebb.)
    2. If you sell software, give it away for free to those who have donated to a cause that you support.
    http://www.winability.com/home/donate.htm
    (Courtesey Andrew Belogortseff.)
    Bob’s idea for “an app like Charity Navigator + MS Money” fills a very important need. Unfortunately, I’m at a point in my life where I simply don’t have any more time. (Sigh.) If some (probably younger) person wants to run with that idea, I would love to ‘sponsor’ their coding. Email me [ideas(at)willsllc(dot)com] if you feel inspired by Bob’s post and want to write this awesome and much needed app.

  3. Agree. As is, I personally donate to various charities… if and when I decide to start my microisv idea, I will have a ‘charitys’ section of the website which will say that a fixed portion of each sale will go to the following charities… That’s actually (as a complete aside) why I decided to go with the real estate agent I did, because he clearly said and advertized that 3% of his costs would go to a charity of my choosing in my name.

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