Window's Live Messenger and Multiple Charities

Tech Companies: Steal This Idea from Mr. Softy!

I’M intrigued by the new cause-related marketing campaign Microsoft is promoting right now called the “i’m Initiative.” Sign up with the i’m Initiative in the United States and every time you use Window’s Live Messenger Microsoft will make a donation to one of nine designated charities.

The money for the donation comes from splitting ad revenue, which echoes the way Seth Godin’s Squidoo.com makes charitable donations.

As currently constituted the nine charities are: American Red Cross; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; The National Aids Fund; National Multiple Sclerosis Society; ninemillion.org; The Sierra Club; StopGlobalWarming.org; Susan G. Komen; and UNICEF.

The most recent survey of IM users that I’m familiar with comes from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, published in September 2004. They found that 42 percent of American Internet users, or 53 million people, used IM. The heaviest usage is among Gen Y (age 18-27). Pew reported that 46 percent of Gen Y used IM more than email and that the largest portion of people…35 percent… who use IM for an hour or more a day are Gen Yers.

In short, IM appeals to Gen Y the way a welcoming barnyard appeals to farm animals.

Microsoft’s signup page is certainly illustrated with Gen Yers, leading me to believe that’s their target with this promotion.

There’s a lot to like here. There’s no cap on the amount that can go to one of the nine charities, but all are guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 this first year. Likewise, as of right now, the i’m Initiative will be a permanent part of their business plan. That, too, is reminiscent of Squidoo.com. They've also built in a capacity for Live Messenger fans to spread the word virally using the theme "i'm making a difference."

I have two small reservations.

The mix of charities is a curious one if they are indeed targeting Gen Y. The Red Cross, MS Society, UNICEF… and to a lesser degree the Sierra Club and Susan G. Komen… are slightly fusty choices. I’m not saying they’re unworthy of the program’s support (or your support or mine, for that matter). Only that these causes are most likely to appeal to an older generation. But maybe Microsoft is just hedging its bets that older people will sign up, too.

My second reservation has to do with having to choose just one charity to support. Unless I’m missing something, it seems to me like it would be a simple matter to allow someone to support multiple charities at once; say, The Sierra Club and StopGlobalWarming.org. Or, the Red Cross, UNICEF and ninemillion.org. Why not allow the option to split on a percentage basis the revenue generated by each call among multiple charities? Or, why not split it by month such that UNICEF gets the proceeds from your messaging in January, the National AIDS Fund in February, etc.?

I'M in hopes that this promotion will fly. Because just as Mr. Softy has borrowed a page from Squidoo, there will be a lot of web-based endeavors that will steal from Microsoft if it works.

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