ServiceSpace never really tried to create itself. It just happened. In January 1999, in the height of the dot-com heyday, a few friends gathered in an ordinary living room, over some pizza. It was Silicon Valley, where greed was in the air. BMWs were being given as signing bonuses, and 18-hour workdays were not uncommon. But this meeting was about something very simple, something so simple that it was radical. It was about giving.
"Let's serve without any strings attached, just for the sake of giving," Nipun Mehta opened. A group based on a fundamental generosity. Subsequently, four volunteers went to a homeless shelter to offer help, and ended up building them a website to create more awareness about their cause. A revolution was born.
Thousands of volunteers took time out from their fancy jobs -- even if it was for a few hours a week -- and signed up for the simple, no-frills idea of helping nonprofits build websites. No money was charged, and no money was given. Everything was free.
When we started in 1999 as CharityFocus (our former name), our work was to empower nonprofits with web-based technological solutions, but that soon expanded into effectively organizing and motivating hundreds of inspired volunteers that came our way. We literally did not want to turn people away so started creating new projects so they could express the generosity that had been sparked. By 2003, we were providing online services ranging from: a platform to create your own fundraising website; to launching a portal to promote acts-of-kindness; to taking on a South Asian non-profit organization. In 2006, we launched a gift-economy print magazine, along with KarmaTube -- a portal for uplifting videos. In 2007, Karma Kitchen was born. Today, the work of ServiceSpace regularly touches thousands of lives in a myriad of different ways.
Despite its unexpected success, ServiceSpace never wavered from its three major organizing principles. First, be volunteer run. Second, serve with what you have, without asking for anything. Third, focus on small acts. It kept us simple and human, raw and authentic. Back in the 1500s, those principles might have made us a bunch of altruistic farmers. But in the 21st century, we became a networked posse of many smaller posses, known as ServiceSpace: A virtual organization with very little operational overhead.
Over the next dozen years, we delivered millions of dollars in free services and organically grew our programs into over a dozen core projects. More than three hundred thousand users joined as members. We never held any intention to grow an organization or create systemic change. We were, and are, just a bunch of Everyday Joe's who are trying to be the change we wish to see in the world.
From its very inception, the focus of ServiceSpace has been on the inner change that comes when people take the opportunity to act selflessly. No matter what the success of the organization is, our emphasis will always be on the volunteer experience. ServiceSpace strives to be an incubator of compassionate action by enabling everyday heroes, people just like you and us -- with the opportunity to serve.
And that opportunity to serve is always present. Our objective is to foster greater awareness of this potential and to assist each other in being agents of positive change. In that sense, ServiceSpace is nothing more than people acting collectively to enable each other to act on instincts of compassion and altruism.
Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. -- Howard Thurman
Generosity 2.0 is an article that details the systemic implications of building a movement in an Internet era.
Nipun Mehta speaks at Bioneers about thie history and meta-view about the bigger movement.
(*ServiceSpace was formerly known as CharityFocus)