The project “A Minute of Your Day for Good” (1minute.ru) was launched in November 2011. Users of the platform can accrue “charity minutes,” which advertisers later honor in cash. Using this system, volunteer work hours are converted into donations to charity organizations participating in the project.
The project offers its users short advertisements, which they volunteer to watch and funders reward with cash donations to charities. For every charity, 1minute.ru hosts a dedicated webpage with a description of the particular campaign, the names of its organizers, and the current status of donations.
Aleksey Melnicheck, co-founder of 1minute.ru, spoke  [ru] to Evgeny Voropai of Greenhouses of Social Technologies about the problems of virtual charity in Russia and Western trends in fundraising.
Evgeny Voropai (EV): Dozens of charity platforms exist on the Internet, but 1minute.ru is unique for its fundraising. Why did you decide to create a stand-alone project, instead of joining something already established online?
Aleksey Melnicheck (AM): Our project’s basic idea is to offer a simple instrument to help people. And here it's important to highlight that this is aid without money. For our purposes, we identified this as volunteering on the Internet. And we don’t see any other projects on the RuNet with which we could or would want to join. When we started working on 1minute.ru, we only understood a fraction of what there is online. And this is the biggest problem with charity in Russia: nobody knows about it. After launching [our] project, we started to get acquainted with [other] similar resources and their creators. Our project greatly differs from other resources, and especially from the work of foundations. We don’t ask our users to give us money. Instead, they can donate their time. Because donating time is much easier than donating money, our project considerably lowers the barrier of trust needed to facilitate charity participation.
The timing barrier is much lower than financial obstacles, and this is something we need to accept. As soon as users have the opportunity to learn about some socially significant activity, the chances rise that he'll stay with us.
EV: What goals did you set before starting the project?
AM: The project was born within an “Innovation Workshop” course at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, therefore the first thing we wanted to do was to put it into practice. We analyzed Western competitors, perfunctorily studied philanthropy on the RuNet, and came to the conclusion that this field was practically empty. There were few projects online that dealt with anything social.
The idea seemed quite simple: display advertising and donate the revenue to charity. But at some point, we realized that we had limited ourselves to video-advertisements, and that it would be better to expand. In November 2011, we launched the site. There were many problems, the heart of which was that we had launched an advertising platform without any users or advertisers. We needed to bridge the gap.
EV: In terms of charity, 1minute.ru is a fundraising platform, but, from an advertiser's point of view, it has marketing elements. How effective is your project in promoting advertised products?
AM: In Western countries, there exists the concept of “cause-related marketing,” and it is a huge market. In the U.S. alone, annual capital turnover in his field is roughly $2 billion dollars. This has grown into a trend. Many advertisers are happy to participate in charity campaigns. In Russia, this practice is not widespread. Online, you only rarely encounter any kind of major campaign associated with charity. Yet, Russian advertisers demonstrate great interest in this format. 1minute.ru is a comprehensive solution in product promotion. The company gets the attention of [our] users, but it also aids social campaigns. Our project is an opportunity for advertisers to take part in charity using their own marketing accounts.
EV: How have you attracted partners?
AM: We carry on our work with companies in different ways. We found our first “clients” through personal contacts. This helped us with our launch. After some time, working with advertisers became simpler. Now we're able to offer a working platform made up of real users. It's worth mentioning that majority of advertisers came to us on their own. We only work directly with all these companies.
EV: In the report on 1minute.ru's first campaign, there are some discrepancies between the number of users and “minutes for good.” How is the time measured?
AM: “Minutes for good” is a very arbitrary parameter. It's [used as] an indicator of user activity. If a user logs in and has finished some volunteer act, we add one minute. In the [site's] current version, the number of “minutes for good” is determined by the act's value and difficulty.
EV: 1minute.ru monetizes users’ actions. But predicting an audience's activity is difficult, and getting those people to do something is even more so. How do you motivate users to take part in the project?
AM: It is difficult to motivate people when they don’t know about you. Therefore, our first task is to familiarize users with the resource. As a rule, when people learn about the project and like it, they are ready take part in it. In promoting the resource, we used all available channels (we published in several different places, and talked to friends and acquaintances). In our work, we identified a trend wherein every thousand users we attracted to the project brought with them another two thousands new users.
It's crucial for us that people understand what we expect of them. For instance, we only explained what we wanted when we ran our first campaign. As a result, we lost 50% of our audience. Many users didn’t understand our concept, and went to other resources. We concluded a review, looked at “WebVisor,” and judged which of our links users most often click, what they do on the site, and where they exit. Later, we optimized the site on the basis of this data, and our bounce rate dropped to 20%.
We didn’t realize this right away, though. An article published on habrahabr.ru helped us with this. The article contained information about who we are, what we do, and how our service works. Statistics showed that traffic to the article had a bounce rate of about 10%, whereas another random post about cars resulted in an 80% refusal rate. We understood that the project's simplicity and availability correlates to its traffic ranking and audience participation.
All this was taken into account when we launched the second version of the site in June 2012. We created infographics explaining the site’s operating principles. We changed slightly the model of audience interaction. This approach paid off. 35% of our users are now authorized.
EV: More often charity organizations use the business–model of commercial enterprises. Foundations turn into vendors, and donors turn into customers. How would you explain this trend?
AM: Already at the very beginning, we resolved to build a particular project and avoid yardsticks. What's most significant is the users and their involvement in the process. We are not a source of funds, and we don’t run any of the campaigns. 1minute.ru looks for funding organizations to implement the ideas and organize fundraising campaigns. In this respect, our project is a donor, too. But it falls to funding organizations to distribute the funds and address any problems.
If we look at the charity index and volunteer rate for the Western audience and compare to those traits to Russia and CIS countries, it becomes clear that more than half of all Europeans and Americans donate money to charity. In Russia, only 5% of citizens do this, though nearly 30% of Russians indicate a readiness to help others or volunteer. Moreover, in the United States, for example, private donations far exceed corporate philanthropy.
EV: The number of foundations and philanthropic organizations is growing with incredible speed. But many organizations cease operations after their first fundraiser. Is this a consequence of a lack of financing or is it due to the incompetence of the organizations’ founders?
AM: It's difficult to stage any social event without the necessary financing. The second most important problem is personnel. Professionals should be financially motivated. Otherwise, you simply cannot expect a quality final product. It is far from easy to do charity on enthusiasm alone.
EV: Based on your experience, is it possible to say that “virtual” charity might become an alternative to “real world” charity?
AM: I believe in that. We observe virtualization trends in all spheres. Charity will not be the exception. It's another issue that Russia hasn't quite arrived in this field, yet. I believe it will be possible to fundraise online and turn this tool into an effective mechanism for donations. Distrust in the Internet as a charity resource, however, is still pretty high, and the character of most online initiatives is spontaneous.