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Originally published February 23, 2012 at 6:23 PM | Page modified February 23, 2012 at 7:25 PM

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Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn used to power online giving campaign

Seattle-based real-estate company Colliers International has launched a charity campaign powered by social networking.

Seattle Times business reporter

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It's supposed to have a domino effect: You give $5 to a favorite charity, encourage your friends on a social network to do the same, they tell their friends, and a chain reaction results. That's the philosophy behind Everyone Gives, a charity campaign launched by Colliers International, the Seattle-based commercial-real-estate giant.

Colliers, which has revenue of $2 billion a year, is hoping that the eight-day campaign launched Wednesday will go viral. After the first day, the website reported more than $160,000 in pledges and 4,000 participants in 53 countries.

"We saw the significance of social networking and where it is going in society," said Doug Frye, global chief executive of Colliers who came up with the idea for Everyone Gives. "It was a medium to take advantage of."

Everyone Gives has more than 900 charities, including the well-known American Cancer Society and Big Brothers Big Sisters, though donors can nominate other nonprofits that accept online contributions. Users start off by "planting" a tree by making a donation — say $5 or $10 — to a charity at everyonegives.org. The donor can then tell friends about it through Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and watch the tree branch out as more members in the network donate.

Sree Sreenivasan, a professor of social media at Columbia University, said the idea of seeing your small donation branch out into a tree fosters both inspiration and competition.

"One person encouraging another to participate is much easier to do in social media," he said.

But Frye said he doesn't believe in social pressure. Instead, Frye said he wants to empower people by showing the impact a mere $5 contribution can make.

"We really believe the biggest mistake you can make is assuming your donation is too small," he said.

Frye said setting up Everyone Gives cost more than $500,000. Colliers is not branding the effort as its own and doesn't spend its advertising dollars on it. All of the donations are sent to the designated charity.

Instead, it's choosing to spread the word via social media, including its Facebook page. Frye also said other companies, charities and designers are spreading the word about the Everything Gives website on their own, in hopes of expanding their own trees.

The eight-day launch is the "rewards" period in which the tree with the highest amount of donations will be matched by Colliers.

Frye expects the site to generate more than $1 million in donations by the end of the year. Sreenivasan agrees it has this potential in the long run.

"E-philanthropy works for the same reason charity auctions and marathons work. People want to be involved in the 'community feeling.' "

He also said tapping into social networks is effective because it reaches out to a new audience that includes all ages.

Ward Caswell, director of key accounts at Argus Software, which helped develop Everyone Gives, said that having conversations with friends, families and colleagues about personal interests can very easily turn into "tangible fundraising."

Atia Musazay: 206-464-2718 or amusazay@seattletimes.com

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