In November, 2004 the New York Times wrote a brief profile of Strengthen The Good:
IN ACTION; Blogs Tackle Big Topics, Small Causes
By NOAH SHACHTMAN (NYT) 804 words
Published: November 15, 2004
PEOPLE already knew Alan Nelson; they had been reading his Web log for more than a year. So when Mr. Nelson, a 35-year-old management consultant and a co-founder of the widely read Command Post site, started asking for donations to support a California mother of 13, the money came fast and quick from all over the Internet. After two and a half days, Mr. Nelson raised more than $15,000.It became a model for Mr. Nelson, and for many in the mushrooming community of online diarists known as bloggers.
For years, bloggers have been building bonds with their readers by sharing everything from their opinions on Iraq to pictures of their cats. Mr. Nelson is part of a diffuse effort to turn that trust toward a higher purpose. He has put together a new blog coalition, Strengthen the Good, to focus attention on microcharities, like that California mother. Other bloggers have adopted their own causes, from breast cancer research to ambulances in Israel to television stations in Iraq.
Mr. Nelson’s efforts actually began in a rage. In a Minneapolis hotel room last May, he watched the grisly online video of Islamic militants beheading Nicholas E. Berg, the American contractor who had hoped to build communications towers in Iraq. Fuming in front of his laptop, Mr. Nelson readied himself to write a red-faced screed in response.
But then he stopped. He remembered the documentary he had finished watching a few moments before, about Susan Tom, a California woman who had adopted 11 mentally and physically disabled children, in addition to two of her own. Instead of railing against the awful act in Iraq, Mr. Nelson announced that all donations to the Command Post’s (command-post.org) online ‘’tip jar'’ would go to a trust to pay for the Tom children’s education.
Soon, Ms. Tom began to hear from Mr. Nelson and his fellow bloggers. She was skeptical at first. ‘’Lots of people promise things that don’t come true,'’ she explained. But then the pledges started coming. ‘’I was overwhelmed,'’ she added. ‘’Most of these people, they didn’t know me. They hadn’t seen the movie. Most people, they just took Alan’s word.'’
More than 400 people gave during the 60-hour sprint to help the Toms. Buoyed by the response, Mr. Nelson decided to expand his charitable efforts.
‘’The idea was to find charities where a dollar could make a difference, and a little attention could help,'’ Mr. Nelson said.
Now more than 200 bloggers are linking to Strengthen the Good, highlighting the causes that Mr. Nelson brings up. Most of the diarists have not heard of the charities before. But they do not seem too concerned about the groups’ legitimacy. They are familiar with Mr. Nelson, and that’s good enough.
‘’You find someone whose opinions you share, and you’re more likely to trust that person,'’ said Meryl Yourish, a veteran blogger (yourish.com). ‘’You consider it vetted through them. That’s what Alan is doing here — the legwork, to find what’s worthwhile. And I trust him to do it.'’
Ms. Yourish has also been an active fund-raiser on her own. In 2003, she and two blogger friends joined a 24-hour blogathon where they posted whatever thoughts came into their heads to keep them awake: heavy metal, homemade cookies, the Incredible Hulk and ‘’God’s greatest gift to mankind — the fried potato in all of its myriad forms.'’ Altogether, 400 bloggers participated in the daylong push, raising more than $100,000 for about 3,100 charities, from the Frank Zappa Memorial Fund to Toronto Cat Rescue to Doctors Without Borders.
Such appeals are particularly persuasive, a longtime blogger, Jeff Jarvis, (buzzmachine.com) said, because they are online equivalents to friends asking for a bit of help.
‘’Blogs make giving personal,'’ Mr. Jarvis said. ‘’That’s what they do to anything they touch; they bring it back to the human level. That’s what they do with media. That’s what they do with politics. That’s what they do with charity, too.'’
Some appeals are more personal than others. Take, for example, the third annual Boobie-Thon, which ended last month with nearly $9,000 raised to help breast cancer research. More than 150 women bloggers took pictures of their chests, in varying states of exposure, for the online world to see. A $50 donation brought access to the most revealing of the images. But even in those pictures, the faces were cropped. Bloggers already reveal a lot about their lives, but even in the online world, there are limits to trust.