Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon -- How he loves Six Degrees now and how he's using it to raise money for many charitable causes!

By now, you’ve probably received an email from film star and musician Kevin Bacon, asking to join his charitable initiative – yes, that’s Six Degrees as in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, the pop culture game that everyone tried to do to see how everyone is connected to the icon.

Kevin found out about this game and decided it’s time to turn this game into something good and profitable, but not for him. He could’ve just ignored it and let people get their kicks out of it, but he didn’t. Instead, by partnering with Network for Good (, where users can donate to more than one million charities and search from among more than 36,000 volunteer opportunities, Kevin has created a site where you can link up with your fave celeb’s charities or encourage your friends and family to contribute to your favorite charity. Once you participate, you’re only ONE degree from Kevin, but more importantly you’re raising money for charitable causes. It’s a wonderful idea and a great way for Kevin to turn something that he admitted he wanted to go away, into something good.

Kevin, Bill Strathmann, CEO of Network for Good, and I talked about how this entire project came about.

Bill: In the wake of 9/11, AOL, Yahoo and Cisco joined together to create an independent non-profit, Network for Good. It was an easy way to put donors and volunteers online. It wasn’t as easy to donate online as it was to buy a present, so they created this site which makes it very efficient and drives down the costs for the non-profit. There’s also whole other side of our business – we provide 8,000 non profits with the ability to receive donations on their own webpage, so we serve both donors and non-profits.

What challenges were there?Bill: It was supported by well-known brands that established immediate legitimacy, but we did not necessarily translate into trust among non-profits. It’s tough for the non-profits to have the resources to do their website and have a merchant account, so they found out it’s safer for them to use Network for Good.

What else do you do?Bill: We keep track of your donations, so you can track what you’ve given to what organization and have it all in one report. Since our founding in 2001, $125 million has been donated to more than 20,000 non-profits.

Why did Network for Good get involved in Kevin’s
Bill: We finished with our first version and we were working on our second version of Network for Good and we looked at how to leverage social network for good on such things as AIM pages and Yahoo. It was serendipitous. We were in discussion with our partners when we heard from Kevin. When a celebrity like Kevin reaches out and can drives traffic and enables people to have tools to the power of donating and fundraising on line, it works. Studies show that 15% of people give based on what their favorite celebs care about.

Were you concerned about being connected to celebs and having them use it just for publicity and to further their careers?
Bill: A little concerned, but in the meeting Kevin said it had nothing to do with promoting his own career. It was clear in that first conversation with him it wasn’t the case. How does it help them anyway? It doesn’t get them cast in movies and it seems absurd that it might help their career. Kevin was clear in the beginning that this site enforces the concept that something we do affects someone else thousands of miles away and that we’re all connected.

Kevin, take me back to when you came up with the idea for Six Degrees – how did it happen? What was your catalyst for starting it?
Kevin: Like a lot of people, I have a Google alert set up with my name. I admit it. And for years, I've noticed that most the times I received an alert, it was a reference to my name in the context of the concept of Six Degrees. Someone would blog, "You know, it's like that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomenon" to express the small world phenomenon. For a while, I had hoped the idea of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" would go away, but I realized that actually this might be a way to do something good. Paul Newman has his salad dressing, which raised millions for charity. I thought, maybe Six Degrees is my salad dressing. Maybe it could be more than a game or a gimmick, but rather a force for good.

Why did you pick Network for Good as your cause?
Kevin: When I started, I asked the charity Network for Good to help. That’s because Network for Good reflects what Six Degrees is all about. Through, you can connect to any cause you care about. You can donate to more than a million charities in one place online, or find volunteer opportunities right in your town. Network for Good has raised an amazing $100 million online for more than 23,000 charities, which makes them my favorite cause.

Do you find it ironic that years later you were able to turn it into something like this? And the concept that we’re all connected – shouldn’t we just be helping others even if there isn’t that connection?
Kevin: Seriously, when I heard about the game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” back in 1994, I was horrified. I thought this was a joke at my expense. But it’s still here. Actually, I’m glad it’s still here, because if you take me out of the equation, it’s a beautiful idea. The idea is that we are all connected, that what happens to our brothers and sisters down the block or on the other side of the world affects us. The idea that we have a responsibility to take care of this vessel we are all riding on. I think people feel this more and more in the world today.

When starting any new charity or website, there are obstacles to overcome. What obstacles or negativity did you encounter while trying to do this? What did you do to overcome them?

Kevin: There's really been an overwhelmingly positive response. I think that's because this isn't about me, Kevin Bacon, as much as it is about other people - like you - and what you care about. If you check out the site, you see these amazing stories from hundreds of people about why they support certain causes. What's to criticize? Six Degrees gives people a platform to be a celebrity for their own cause, and that's something a lot of people want to do. I think another reason for the smooth process this has been is that I didn’t start a new nonprofit from scratch. I found out that Network for Good had the infrastructure to set up Six Degrees quite easily, and so I partnered with them rather than reinventing the wheel.

You’ve been quoted as saying, "It is my hope that Six Degrees will soon be something more than a game or a gimmick…It will also be a force for good, by bringing a social conscience to social networking." – After 9/11, Katrina and the tsunamis, helping others has become more important than ever before, but do you think that this charitable spirit is more of a trend that will people go back to the “think about me” mentality?

Kevin: I don't think there's any turning back from the desire to help other people. It's part of human nature. I think most everyone recognizes that we can't wall ourselves off from the world. Connectivity is part of the cultural zeitgeist. Large scale disasters, global warming, cancer - they affect us all directly or at least within one degree.

Some people may say they just can’t give any money right now – but they want to become involved. How would you encourage them to get involved through your site?

Kevin: There are lots of other ways to help. You can create a charity badge to raise awareness and funds for your cause among friends and family on Six Degrees, your own web pages and blog. You can use to search from among more than 40,000 volunteer opportunities. Or you can auction off items on eBay to benefit the charity of your choice.

With soooo many charities out there, how is it possible that they all will succeed?

Kevin: You're right, there are a lot. More than a million on Six Degrees, in fact. Most will succeed because there is just so much need out there, and for every cause, there's a constituency of people who care.

There seems to be a focus on celebs and their charity work lately in the media with a ton of criticism that it’s all for PR. Why do you think this is such a big deal? Aren’t you allowed to help others too? Why the criticisms?

Kevin: Celebrities feel fortunate, and I think most have a genuine urge to give something back. Many have causes they are very involved in. The nice thing about Six Degrees is it allows celebrities to explain in their own words why they are about certain causes. It's not about PR, it's about the charity. I think people get critical when they feel it's the other way around.

Do you think that musicians need to be doing more?
Kevin: As a musician myself, I am excited that more and more are coming on board. Kanye West and the Black Eyed Peas are now part of Six Degrees, along with Michael Britt and others.

Bill, what’s next for Network for Good?
Bill: Stay tuned…Six Degrees will have its next version and we are going to be focusing on that now. We are also working on improving our existing functionality and creating new partnerships. We are constantly evolving, improving our services to the non-profits. Our goal is to get them to focus on their mission and not worry about the donation side of it.

Kevin, what’s the most important thing you would want those reading this to know about
Kevin: You can make a difference. It's so easy to feel one person's actions don't amount to much, but that's just not the case. In just over two weeks, at Six Degrees we already have nearly $100,000 in donations and more than 2,000 people fundraising with charity badges. That's a huge collective impact. I'm going to match the top six badges with grants of up to $10,000 each, so go make a difference for your charity today.

Thank you Bill and thank you Kevin for talking with me.For more information, visit and

(Photo courtesy of Katya Andresen at Network for Good.)

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