During the recent U.S. presidential campaign, I saw only one video with a positive bipartisan message. It was created by the online fundraising platform Sharemeister, who cleverly spliced together footage of both candidates praising our nation's veterans. Here, at last, was one subject Obama and Romney could agree upon: Our vets as heroes.
The film's purpose was to generate donations for Team Rubicon, an amazing non-profit which brings veterans together to field volunteer response teams in disaster areas (such as The Rockaways, New York, where the organization has done incredible work rescuing and rebuilding post-Hurricane Sandy). By "voting" for either Romney or Obama after watching the video on the Sharemeister site, individuals could generate "Shares" that would translate into funds for Team Rubicon. The video received 40,000 views and raised about $1.31 per person who voted for vets who volunteer.
Sharemeister is running an experiment to see if they can get people to give passively to non-profits within the context of "competitive giving events." By downloading Sharemeister's browser application for Firefox, people can generate donations in the form of "Shares" -- simply by spending time online. The app serves up advertisements that provide real monetary value to each Share, which can then be donated to a non-profit.
Sharemeister has come up with several other creative campaigns for generating dollars and awareness of non-profit causes, while also building for-profit brands and helping consumers make a positive impact. For example, their next event is the Holiday Challenge featuring Team Santa v. Team Mrs. Claus to benefit Active Heroes, another wonderful non-profit helping our military families, veterans, and active duty with financial assistance and job placement. Simply register, pick a team, and out-give the other team before New Year's Day. You can donate directly or download the app to increase your chances of winning.
On the surface, Sharemeister founders Marlon Henderson, 29, and Jonathan Hoeflinger, 31, seem like opposites. Marlon is black, married to a white woman; Jonathan is white, married to a Guatemalan woman. Marlon comes from a liberal family of Democrats; Jonathan from a family of conservative Republicans. Marlon hails from Arkansas; Jonathan from California.
Yet the moment they met in their college weight room six years ago, the two men discovered that they resonated on a deeper level. Both Jonathan and Marlon have a burning desire to save the world. And thanks to their cultural differences, "There isn't a single angle we can't see things from," Jonathan said.
Within two weeks of their first encounter, Jonathan and Marlon had become best friends and business partners, teaming up to create Sharemeister. Their initial idea was to build an online platform that enabled people to generate funds for non-profits of their choice simply by doing the things they do on the Internet already, like browsing and listening to music. They continue to refine their vision.
"We've always had a different approach," Marlon said. "We look for win-win-win opportunities: for businesses, their consumers, and non-profits. It's an out-of-the-box way of thinking, unorthodox. People are surprised by it." And Marlon and Jonathan are having a lot of fun building it together.
Jonathan explained, "At Sharemeister, we put the power into the hands of the consumer to determine their return on community. Our competitive giving events are great because they market the brand, sell the product, benefit the cause, and give the consumer choices."
I asked Marlon and Jonathan what it meant to them to live the Life Out Loud. "Have you ever heard the story of the three frogs on a lily pad?" Jonathan asked.
I shook my head: no. He continued, "So there are three frogs sitting on this lily pad. Two decide to jump. How many are left on the lily pad?"
"One?" I answered, wondering what the trick was.
Jonathan laughed. "Nope. Three. Because deciding to jump and actually jumping are two different things. Actually jumping -- now that's living the Life Out Loud. But you can't hesitate. If you're going to jump, jump. You can make mistakes, miss the target, and screw up, so long as you keep your feet. That means having integrity. If you don't have integrity, if you aren't honest, then things will really start to fall apart."
Marlon added, "Honesty is critical. So is action. My brother-in-law used to say, 'Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.' We do a lot of talking, but we're not just coming up with ideas; we're making things happen, too."
"What's your advice for other young entrepreneurs out there who are thinking about taking the leap into living out loud?" I asked.
"If we listened to all the people who said it couldn't be done, then we wouldn't have done anything," Marlon replied. "My reaction is always: 'You're not going to tell me that it won't work. We'll try it for ourselves and see.' John Maxwell said, 'Dreams are like soap bubbles floating next to sharp rocks on a windy day.' You've got to surround yourself with people who are going to support your dreams, not with sharp rocks. Find a group of people who say, 'That will work.' If they don't, then get out of there."