When I was a kid, I liked to trick-or-treat for UNICEF. This was the early 1970s and I didn't really know what UNICEF was. I was vaguely aware that the United Nations and kids were involved, but I didn't care. What I did care about was going door-to-door on Halloween night and thrusting my UNICEF donation box in the face of the unfortunate adult who opened the door. After the initial surprise wore off, my victim would have to put down his bowl of candy, fish a few coins out of his pocket, and send me on my way. And most of the time I would get the candy too.
I found the whole trick-or-treat for UNICEF thing intoxicating and disruptive. I could literally feel the weight of my fundraising efforts as I shlepped around the neighborhood. At the end of the night I usually had two or three boxes of pennies, nickels, dimes and even quarters sealed up and ready for my mother to drop off at the Unitarian Church where apparently the United Nations and its kids were living.
Forty years later we have the Internet, social networks and electronic money. The result of the intersection of these three powerful technologies has been Zynga and its kin. Nothing wrong with Zynga -- last year it created millions of dollars for itself and Facebook. That's a lot of boxes of pennies!
What powers the over $8 billion social gaming phenomenon is our natural competitive instincts within our social circle. We see a friend earning points from a Facebook game and we think we can do better. And so we give it a try, often buying shortcuts and powerups to keep up with other players.
Jane McGonigal has a great TED talk about putting these competitive instincts to work for more than earning money for gaming companies.
Last week I had the opportunity to learn about Crowdrise, a fundraising site with a real sense of humor and humility -- backed by some really awesome people, like Ed Norton -- that makes raising money for charity fun. Seriously fun. In ways that McGonigal would approve and Zynga would be envious of.
If you've played any social networking games, you'll immediately understand how Crowdrise works: You create a fundraising site, get your friends to participate, and earn points, badges and prizes. There is even a leaderboard.
In about 10 minutes I created my own fundraising project on Crowdrise: HuffPost CTO for Colorado Wildfires. I invite you to check it out if you want to play along. I'm going to play seriously and really try to win this game (i.e., raising $5,000 for the victims of the wildfires)
Here is what some of your competitors are doing:
The best part is you can create your own project, get your own friends involved and do more than just read about the news: You can help fix it.
Follow John Pavley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jpavley