Charities: Are you cool or old school?

Compare this photo of the Windows Vista launch (blogged by Seth Godin last week to make a slightly different point) with the photo above – taken in London less than 24 hours later after the launch of Global Cool – a 10-year campaign “to reverse global warming”.

With which image do you most associate your charity?1

I mentioned Global Cool to Whitewater’s Steve Andrews and Anna Crofton over a beer last week. I predict that we will see new charities like Global Cool popping up in other ‘areas of benefit’, perhaps filling a gap a sluggish or less effective organisation has ‘vacated’.

Small charities can now have influence way beyond their size. Individuals, too.

Steve then highlighted the examples of and Robert Thompson’s water buffalo movie on the Whitewater group blog, which I wrote about last time. But he offers more evidence that the charity sector cannot afford to stand still.

Earlier this week I sat through the first four Whitewater Baby Boomer focus groups and, while it’s early days, I’ve heard plenty of donors say they’re bored and turned off by fundraising that asks for generic donations into the corporate pool. And, conversely, I’ve heard them thrilled with the idea that donations might actually pay for the stuff they’ve donated to. Ear-marking really is the future, whether we like it or not.

Now I’m not qualified enough to judge the credentials of the founder Dan Morrell and the scientific brains behind Global Cool, nor get into a debate about whether carbon offsetting will really make a difference, or whether we need to go much further… but that’s not my point anyway.

Frankly, I like their style.

Platinum-selling recording artists such as KT Tunstall and Josh Hartnett will act as ‘messengers’ to “empower a community of individuals” to take positive collective action. MySpace is also on board and will be pushing the message out to its millions of subscribers.

Last week Chancellor Gordon Brown said politicians must be more open and accountable if they are to engage new generations of internet-savvy voters in tackling the most urgent problems of the 21st century.

The Chancellor (pictured right) told delegates at the Microsoft Government Leaders Forum in Edinburgh that young people growing up with MySpace and YouTube expect to be involved more fully in political deliberation than previous generations. Access to information and the ability to mobilise public campaigns online has empowered ordinary citizens, he said.

Personally, I don’t think Global Cool is about the cult of celebrity but recognises that by harnessing the power and energy of the entertainment industry much can be done to spread the message. What do you think – a short-term publicity stunt or 10-year slog?

Al Gore is in it for the long haul. I was surprised by Gore’s wit and style in An Inconvenient Truth, which I watched on DVD for the first time last night. Big Al is now a Nobel nominee and the film is up for an Academy Award. Environment Minister David Miliband announced on Friday that the British government will distribute the film to all secondary schools in England (in the US, the National Science Teachers Association rejected a similar offer).

Anyway, before you think I’ve lost my judgement, I know ‘being cool’ and show-offy is no substitute for substance. But I have no reason to doubt that those fronting Cool Planet do not have the passion for their cause. Now they need to show they can be effective.

A decade ago, Joe Saxton wrote in What Are Charities For?

[Charities] have the potential to do far more than a better job. They exist because of what they believe in. The roots of most charities are in visions of a better world. Yet those visions, those beliefs, those values are all too often hidden. The beliefs are there, but the passion has gone the fire in the belly, the outrage and the anger long extinguished by layers of hierarchy, working parties and procedure.

Joe called on charities to put themselves forward as moral leaders and the source of new and innovative ideas to tackle some of society’s intractable problems.

If you do not, you will end up somewhere near the middle of Kathy Sierra’s mediocrity index.

1 I know Microsoft is not a charity… I’m just comparing the two images to make a point 🙂