Two weeks ago, Rabbits Black brought you a special night with Portugal. the Man, hosted by The Urgency Network and Greenpeace. In addition to raising awareness about increasingly urgent environment concerns, The Urgency Network partners with multiple non-profits, all in an attempt to raise awareness about and increase user support for their partners. The recent crop of crowd-funding services and grass-roots online-petitions has pushed social awareness into the spotlight. But Brandon Deroche and Donald Eley, the founders of Urgency Network, wanted to bring something different to the table.
Urgency Network departs from standard fundraising and signature-gathering shop by offering unique experiences not only to monetary supporters of an organization, but passionate supports who carry the cause with them from day-to-day life and through social media interactions. Recently, Urgency Network awarded its first Jackpot, a $1 Million grant that was spread to the three of its partners with the most active and involved users (Make Yourself Foundation, Carbon War Room, and Greenpeace).
In addition to pooling funds for its partners, the Urgency Network is focused on you, the user. The Urgency Network’s main message is simple: “No good deed goes unrewarded.” By offering unique rewards (from limited-edition prints, to a trip to Hawaii for a spiritual journey with Ram Dass, to ringing in 2014 with STS9, to traveling to space – Yes! Space!) to users who become deeply involved, Urgency Network provides a platform of education to create long-term supporters of some of society’s leading social campaigns. Although Ticket to Rise (the campaign to send supporters to space) won’t launch until 2014, users can still visit Urgency Network now to learn about the company’s current partners and support the causes they care about; all of this, of course, while continually increasing chances of winning some of the current fantastic rewards.
By tying direct monetary support with user interaction and social media presence (all “actions” a user can undertake) to direct rewards to both the user (in campaign prizes) and the non-profit (in wide-spread support and direct monetary contribution), the Urgency Network takes a unique approach to doing good.
Rabbits Black recently sat down with Deroche and Eley to learn more about the Urgency Network, how it started, what sets it apart, and, most importantly, how users can get involved.
Rabbits Black: When did you first get started with Urgency Network?
Urgency Network: We’ve been at this for about three years now, and we just launched back in July 2013.
RB: What has Urgency Network been doing in those three years? There’s a lot of information about the company’s future and content and events you’re brining to your users, so what was really going on behind the scenes?
UN: We spent a lot of time concepting the whole model and making sense of it all. We knew that we wanted to do something with larger than life experiences as a way to capture people’s attention to best support non-profits. But we started in music; Brandon and I have a long history in music and Urgency Network started out as a way for music to support non-profits, as a tool for non-profits. It morphed into what it is today, a platform where you can really use any means of influence as a way to drive efforts and bring people to the platform. So now, users can donate and can complete several different actions, many of which don’t require monetary contribution, to support the causes they care most about.
RB: You both have previous experience in music and you’ve both been involved in the industry for some time now; what pushed this change in your paths and focused your energy on creating Urgency Network?
UN: (Donald) Well, it started with Brandon while he was at his last company.
(Brandon) I worked at a company called Causecast and ran the music program there. It was similar in that Causecast had digital campaigns that used music as an incentive to get people to donate or volunteer and generally engage with a specific cause. Through that, I was able to run some really great campaigns and meet with a lot of different and important non-profit organizations. As Causecast shifted, Donald and I started talking about finding a way to use music and media to connect users to causes. That was about three years ago when we started with our initial concept, and the Urgency Network has really evolved in those three years.
RB: So you’re still, in the grand scheme, a relatively young company. In the startup industry, it seems that one of the biggest obstacles emerging companies face is really getting their message out there. What have you found to be the biggest obstacles for Urgency Network?
UN: The site has only been live for just about five months, and we were fortunate to start off with some really great partners like Richard Branson, Paul McCartney Linkin Park, and the organizations they each support such as Greenpeace, Carbon War Room, and Music for Relief. We had really great opportunities from day one with the support of these different influencers to really get the word out. The biggest obstacle in these campaigns is exposure and having them be seen, but with these partners and the organizations they support, we really got to gain attention and momentum quickly. We didn’t have to start with indie bands with a small audience base or really small organizations and then work our way up, so in that sense we’ve been fortunate. But like anything, the goal of our platform is to break through the noise. We’re still fighting that battle because the internet is such a loud place.
RB: Part of your strategy for breaking through the noise and to be heard and noticed is your campaign, Ticket to Rise, which will give away flights to space as part of its prize. Could you talk a bit more about that?
UN: Ticket to Rise will launch in early 2014, so we can’t share too many of the details yet. But, people can still get excited about it because it is a campaign that will enable multiple non-profit organizations to leverage this ticket to space as an incentive to get people to donate and participate. It’s focused on donations but they can come through and support the organization in other ways as well. Every million dollars that we raise, we’ll send another person into space. So in a way, the campaign is open ended because we could potentially send multiple people to space, and that’s our intent with it.
RB: If Urgency Network’s users want to get involved not just with the non-profits and events that are featured on the site, can they, and if so, what is the best way for them to do so?
UN: Absolutely. People can contact us through the site and we would love to hear additional and new ideas.
RB: Greenpeace is one of the big organizations you work with right now. What are some of the others that you partner with?
UN: So far, we’ve partnered with Greenpeace, the Carbon War Room, which is Richard Branson’s organization, Music for Relief, the Make Yourself Foundation, and the David Lynch Foundation, among others. With the Ticket to Rise campaign, there are going to be a lot of different non-profits, including and well beyond our established partners. We’re open to causes of varying categories, and we hope to see a diverse list of organizations as we grow.
RB: Obviously, one of the best ways users can get involved is to donate, but what are some of the other features offered by Urgency Network?
UN: Every organization is looking to raise funds. But there are also some organizations that are really focused on advocacy and are looking to spread their message. Other actions we offer that can qualify users to win our prizes include watching awareness and advocacy videos, reading articles, and signing petitions. There are also simple actions like liking an organization or cause on Facebook, retweeting posts on Twitter, and signing up for newsletters. There are a lot of different actions that allow people to really champion each cause and become involved and spread the non-profits word via their social media presence. One unique thing Urgency Network offers is the ability to schedule a post, where users can opt-in to post a pre-written, automated post or tweet about a cause. All the schedules posts will go live at the same time with all of the other people who have opted in. We have another feature that allows users to invite their friends to join campaigns, where we offer additional incentives and awards.
RB: Supporting social causes is in vogue right now. It’s great that Urgency Network is filling a gap by allowing users, music fans, and other consumers of media who aren’t necessarily in a position to donate money to still become involved and support causes they feel strongly about.
UN: Absolutely. And that’s the whole idea. Some people might not have money they can give, but they have a large reach through their social network, and by spreading a specific cause or campaign, they can reach others who can donate or who become really inspired and become deeply involved with the organizations. It’s a really big difference between what we’re doing and a straightforward auction to try to meet a band or celebrity. Urgency Network offers a platform that not only has those experiences, but to also allows users to really become educated and learn about a cause and hopefully become long-term supporters.
RB: What does the future hold for Urgency Network?
UN: Getting more larger than life experiences and campaigns will allow us to connect with a number of non-profits. We want to build campaigns like Ticket to Rise that will allow us to bring in a number of non-profits underneath these once in a lifetime experiences. We also want to make campaigns easier for non-profits to come in and set up.
RB: Something that is up in the forefront of people’s minds right now Typhoon Haiyan that recently hit the Philippines and the need to gather and coordinate immediate aid. Do you have plans to expand the Urgency Network to include immediate relief campaigns?
UN: Yes. We don’t have anything up for the typhoon specifically. We haven’t solved the problem of effectively responding to disasters, but it is something we are working on.
RB: What do you really want people to know about Urgency Network?
UN: One thing is that these experiences and incentives really are an entry point for people. We want to catch their attention and give them an excuse to come over and dive in and start taking action. With that, we don’t just view ourselves as a site where users can come on and compete for different sweepstakes. Urgency Network is really the user’s tool to get involved and champion causes and spread a message to their friends and networks.
We are using these crazy experiences to capture people’s attention. It’s a way to get people to the campaign, where they can educate themselves and then turn into a long-term supporter. We look at the non-profits that we work with as partners rather than just beneficiaries.
RB: One of the biggest challenges in getting people involved is actually just capturing their attention. It’s fantastic that you offer people an opportunity to receive a personal positive while helping an organization that they believe in.
UN: Once we get users to the platform, it’s Urgency Network’s ability to offer simple and effective ways to support the cause that will then move the needle. And that’s what sets us apart and that’s how our users can have a meaningful impact.