One Degree Is Where You Start

Kevin Bacon in front of the Haas CenterThough “six degrees of separation” is a great hook for marketing a social cause, it is the one-degree increments that make change happen. It’s all in who you know—really know. This point was made repeatedly on May 11 when actor Kevin Bacon; Jennifer Aaker, Stanford GSB professor and author of The Dragonfly Effect; and Bill Strathmann, CEO of Network for Good, came together to discuss social networking for social good.

The gathering was the culmination of a process that began with a one-degree relationship between colleagues Tom Schnaubelt, Executive Director of the Haas Center, and Dan McCabe, Chief Development Officer of Network for Good. (Network for Good manages Kevin Bacon’s SixDegrees.org charitable website.) McCabe and Bacon were brainstorming about issuing a challenge to come up with a new idea for SixDegrees, Bacon thought college students would have great ideas, and McCabe thought of Schnaubelt and the Haas Center and called him up. The result of that call: the Stanford OneDegree challenge, a contest for Stanford students to propose charitable ideas involving social media, was issued. According to Schnaubelt, “The challenge gets students thinking differently about public service and about how social networking can be used for the common good.” 

Leveraging Connections

Kevin Bacon with Julie Kennedy and Larry DiamondBacon’s one-degree relationship with fellow actor Paul Newman got him thinking about how he could have more of an impact for the common good—really make a difference. He said his friend loved to cook and that was the impetus for his line of food products, which earned money for Newman’s favorite causes. “I use his tomato sauce all the time,” Bacon said, “and I started to think, ‘What do I have to sell?’” What he came up with was “Six Degrees,” a trivia game from the 80s based on his celebrity social web. He decided to make it his brand and asked celebrities he knew to choose charities to write about on his SixDegrees website. Bacon soon realized that celebrity faces alone aren’t enough to convince people to donate. “Most people get connected to causes through the people they really have a connection with,” so he invited “ordinary” people to post their charities on SixDegrees.org and create their own celebrity following. To date, through his site, $3.5 million has been raised for these charities.

According to McCabe, Aaker’s theories of the “dragonfly effect” line up almost perfectly with Bacon’s philosophy of small groups of people creating ripple effects, and it was natural to connect the two for this event. Aaker works closely with Stanford students on social media and the 100K Cheeks Campaign, a Stanford-based student group dedicated to getting 100,000 people signed up for with the national bone marrow donor registry by June 2012. 100K Cheeks specifically seeks to address the severe shortage of South Asian donors in the registry, as there is only a 1 in 20,000 chance for South Asians to find a match. The campaign was inspired by the story of the response of a group of friends (one-degree relationships) who mobilized a registration campaign upon hearing of Stanford alum Sameer Bhatia’s diagnosis of leukemia. 

Small Acts-Big Change

Kevin Bacon with Jonathan Berger and Stanford studentsAaker talked about how to realize change using social media. “Most revolutions are sparked by the actions of a few ordinary people; small acts can create big change.” she said. She followed up on Strathmann’s notion of the importance of the “heart and head” connection when approaching donors by advising the integration of strong data into a good story. “Your goal must be clear and compelling and the mere thought of achieving it must make you happy.” Strathmann told of Network for Good’s mission to teach nonprofits how to engage social media. People can leverage stories that are compelling to them with the people they’re connected to. The ripple effect begins and resources for social good are created. “We aim to help nonprofits unleash the generosity that is latent in all of us.” 

After remarks and fielding questions from the audience, the panel introduced the three finalists of the One Degree Challenge who each gave presentations on their ideas. Bacon named Alexander Berger ’11 (Philosophy; MA, Education) the winner for Billionaire Effect, an idea that would leverage Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail to help those with relatively modest resources engage friends and friends of friends in raising money for charity. “I think all three ideas are absolutely remarkable,” Bacon said. “There are aspects of all of them that could be used.” Berger will work with Bacon and SixDegrees.org to develop his idea. He’s grateful for the opportunity and hopes that “’Give Like A Billionaire’” might be able to help great charities raise more money somewhere down the line.”