i'm Initiative has enabled people to raise over $92,000 for ten charities by doing nothing more than chatting with their friends. The i'm program lets users of Windows Live Messenger specify a charity to receive a portion of the funds from the advertising that the application displays.Started last March, Microsoft's
Microsoft has signed up 10 major heavyweight charities for the initiative, including the American Red Cross, the National AIDS Fund, the Sierra Club, and Unicef. Participating users can specify which charity they wish to support with their chatting by entering a text code into the program's set up area after their nickname.
Though the service has so far only raise about ten grand per charity, each is guaranteed at least $100,000 over the first year by Microsoft. Though Microsoft concedes that the amount raised per user is small, Windows Live Messenger reportedly has 280 million users worldwide (the i'm Initiative currently only works for US users), so there would appear to an opportunity for Microsoft to raise a lot more money for charity though this scheme.
"The i'm Initiative has been a very successful campaign for Windows Live Messenger and we're thrilled with the our customers' response to the opportunity it provides to give back by sending instant messages," said Tara Kriese, senior product manager, Windows Live Messenger. "We're looking forward to continuing the initiative and helping raise awareness for important social causes through our customers' support of the organizations involved."
Microsoft says they currently have no plans to end the i'm Initiative and will run it indefinitely for the foreseeable future. That makes a lot of sense. The program is, of course, not all altruistic, and from Microsoft's point of view it is a great way to capture new users. The program is only costing them, at most, an extra $1 million to run over the first year (that $100k promised to each charity) and because the company won't say how much of their advertising revenue is actually being shared with charities, they certainly can tweak that percentage to make sure they at least break even.
According to Microsoft, the initiative has already been successful in capturing a bevy of new users. They forwarded me the chart below showing how Windows Live Messenger has trounced the competition (though I'm not sure precisely which competition) in terms of new user acquisition since the i'm Initiative launched. It's hard to say if i'm is responsible for that, but clearly Microsoft thinks so. Regardless, the cost to charities is zero, the cost to users is zero, and the benefit to everyone involved is major, so in my opinion the i'm Initiative is a great idea.