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Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.
In 2004, KaBOOM! hit an inflection point. After years of double-digit growth leading playground builds across the United States, we realized that we were not growing fast enough to ensure that every child in America has a great place to play within walking distance.
“The reality was, we were only making a dent in the problem,” says COO Bruce Bowman. “We were building hundreds of playgrounds when we needed to be building thousands.” KaBOOM! management considered all of the viable, tried-and-true models of other nonprofits and realized that none of them resonated with our operations, vision and mission.
Without an existing model to copy, we have had to learn by doing. The Monitor Institute case study enables us to share the seven key lessons we have learned so far in the hopes that other nonprofits can move up the learning curve faster.
Despite a few false starts, KaBOOM! has seen a positive impact from the new strategy. In 2009, a dollar spent by the organization on online tools helped to improve 10 times as many neighborhoods as a dollar spent more directly on playground equipment. Online outreach efforts helped people build more than 1,700 do-it-yourself (DIY) playgrounds in communities around the United States last year—almost as many as KaBOOM! has assembled directly during the past 14 years. By persevering on this new path, we have accelerated our growth and affected the lives of many more children and communities.
The Monitor Institute case study also examines the interactive tools we have made available to communities to build playgrounds and further advance the cause of play. KaBOOM! was an early adopter of the Internet, building our website in 1996 and consistently improving our online tools for more than a decade. Today, visitors to the KaBOOM! site can take advantage of compelling online resources and tools such as the Playspace Finder, a user-generated map of playspaces across the U.S.; the Build Planner, an online tool that enables individuals to fund, plan, recruit for and execute a DIY playground following detailed, step-by-step instructions; and online trainings for DIY builders.
Non-profits use the Internet as a means to various ends, as outlined here:
Many non-profits happily (and for good reason) live in the bottom left quadrant. The prime purpose of their online efforts is to tell a compelling story about the organization—so compelling that visitors will hit the donate button and give. The money raised online supports the organization’s own real-world efforts. The American Red Cross, American Diabetes Association, and the ASPCA are just a few among thousands of examples.
An entirely different cadre of non-profits lives in the same quadrant: online-only organizations that facilitate donations (or micro-loans) to the worthy projects of others. Kiva and Donors Choose are innovative examples. They serve as matchmakers between potential donors and small organizations or projects that lack the means to solicit donations effectively on their own.
Though many non-profits include issue-specific petition drives in their web offerings, a few organizations find their prime purpose in the lower right quadrant. Common Cause (appealing to users who share values) and Change.org (which is more agnostic about the cause) bring disparate individuals together around a shared objective via online petition drives.
In the upper left quadrant, non-profits increasingly use their websites to drive volunteering, asking users to leave their computers and do something in the physical world. They may promote the organization’s own off-line efforts (Habitat for Humanity, Susan G. Komen’s Race for the Cure) or serve as brokers between potential volunteers and third-party projects (Volunteer Match and Hands On Network are perhaps the best known examples).
KaBOOM! is a pioneer in the upper right quadrant, providing tools that enable would-be volunteers not just to join a project (though it does that, too), but to organize their own project—to determine its scope, pick the date, recruit the volunteers, raise the money and build something for their neighborhood. The projects we enable are play-oriented, but the approach is relevant to any organization willing to cede leadership and open-source its know-how in furtherance of its cause.
Of course, we work in the other three quadrants, too, but our primary metric of online success is the number of offline projects completed by others.