Craigslist has massive untapped philanthropic potential. It could fund Wikipedia forever, support cancer research, provide books for public libraries in poor neighborhoods and so on. Sky’s the limit.
Allow me to explain.
Lately, I’ve come across a couple of interviews with Craig Newmark of Craigslist fame (the first is a podcast on iinovate and the second is part of the excellent book Founders At Work). In these interviews, Craig (a really nice guy) makes it clear that making money is not high on his priority list and that his main motivations are to help people, create community and do good things.
Of course, nobody can force Craig to turn his baby into a money-making machine, but I can certainly try to convince him that he could do a lot more good with relatively little efforts, and the downsides would be, compared to the upsides, almost insignificant.
In the Founders At Work interview, Craig mentions that at the time of the interview (most probably in 2006) Craigslist.org was getting about 5 billion pageviews per month (see page 251).
If Craigslist was to put a single text ad on most inside pages of the site (it can be the smallest text ad available, and with the option for users to opt out and not see ads), even with a relatively low CPM of 2.0 – many sites get between 2 and 10 times that much – they would be making $10,000,000 each month, or about 120 million dollars a year. Almost a quarter of a billion if the CPM is 4.0. And I’m being conservative with these numbers since higher CPMs are possible and Craigslist’s pageviews are probably still growing. It could be much more.
Money is just a tool; with that much of it, Craig could do so much good…
What could he do? Anything!
- Fund Wikipedia and guarantee its future for all of eternity.
- Help bring Africa online by buying thousands of $100 Laptops… Each month!
- Give to Environmental-Defense, the NRDC, the World Wildlife Fund or the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club, etc.
- Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross, Architecture for Humanity, etc.
- Create free wifi hotspot in poor neighborhoods.
- Fund shelters for the homeless, abused women, etc.
- Fund the Monterey Bay Aquarium, maybe. Why not?
- Science & Technology too: the Foresight Institute, Stem Cell Research, HIV research, Cancer research, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence Research, the M-Prize, the Lifeboat Foundation, the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, etc.
- Fund various Open Source Software/Free Software projects to help them hire full-time developers and progress faster (Open Office, for example).
- They could even create their own X-Prizes to encourage socially beneficial research.
- Fund the EFF and other organizations that are fighting to keep the internet free and open.
- Fund public libraries, give money for books and infrastructure.
- Offer scholarships to orphans and kids from poor families.
- Buy electric cars from a company like Tesla Motors and give them away in a monthly lottery to help raise the profile of electric vehicles.
The selection process for causes to support could even be democratic among Craigslist users.
Imagination is the only limit, really.
So with a few hours of work changing HTML templates and negotiating a deal with publisher networks (with that kind of volume, you could get much better rates than regular websites), Craigslist could be making tens of millions of dollars each month to help make the world a better place. There probably wouldn’t even be a need to create a new entity to deal with this since the Craigslist Foundation could handle it. It think this should appeal strongly to Craig, a man with a strong “moral compass”.
One unobtrusive text ad on most of the inside pages should be enough. They could come from Google Adsense, Yahoo! Publisher Network or any other network. It doesn’t really matter. Best would be to rotate between different networks so as not to give too much leverage to a single one of them.
The beauty is that since the money made that way is kind of a “bonus” and Craigslist doesn’t really care about squeezing the maximum out of the ads, they can offer their users the option to opt out. That’s right, you could set their preference to “No thanks, I don’t want to support Craigslist’s philanthropy projects by seeing ads” or something like that. Nothing easier.
So how about it, Craig? Why not turn Craigslist into a philanthropic giant and do a lot more good?
Note: Part of this was inspired by one of Jason Calacanis‘ ideas.