Digital Philanthropy: Turning Selfie-Ness Into Selflessness

The Internet is an incubator for the worst and best of ideas and causes, from the most humble to the most vain.

But things like narcissism and charity aren’t mutually exclusive; on the world wide web, what can be mistaken for the former is sometimes used to advance the latter, or vice versa.

To have a cause in 2015 requires selflessness, in a sense, but also a great presence – meaning philanthropists often must be willing to go the distance to get attention (and funding) for their missions.

In the age of social media, selfies have become a powerful tool for attention-seeking and communication. This has been demonstrated by #nomakeupselfies for cancer research, the ice bucket challenge for ALS, and similar concepts. Participants of such campaigns should be applauded for aligning their faces with charitable causes — but there are many others out there using the web and social media to be more than a kog in a machine.

In Fall of 2014, Curiousmatic set out to use the selfie, too, as a vehicle for others to spread awareness: selfie-ness, for selflessness, for any cause imaginable.

The concept? Show us your Aha! Selfie (your face/faces, lit up with understanding). Tell us what your cause is, and invite the world to vote for your chance to win $500 for your choice of usage.

The contest

Plenty of folks of all ages, genders, and causes that submitted selfies to Curiousmatic. They are all, in their own right, courageous champions of compassion: grassroots activists who chose to put their faces out there to advance causes of import.


The contests’ guidelines were loose enough that chosen causes could be completely selfish (think money for designer shoes, or making a potato salad). But as it happened, there was zero frivolity, mayonnaise-drenched or otherwise.

In a rare act of happenstance shocking to all involved, the contest came out neck in neck, right at the campaign’s close. The odds of this were incredibly slim, but it nonetheless happened: Matt (with Biking for Baseball) and Laurie Strebe (for a dental mission in Elias Pinas) tied for the win.

The winners

Our first winning contestant, Wisconsin native Matt Stoltz, didn’t just put in effort online with our contest to bring his mission to fruition: he is currently putting in literal mileage for his cause, biking to all 30 major league baseball stadiums across America to raise money for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Milwaukee, a mentorship program, and the Biking for Baseball nonprofit.

Matt is about halfway through his 11,000 mile journey; his progress can be tracked by GPS on the B4B website, where you can help sponsor his mission as well. B4B updates are also periodically posted on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, so backers can stay vicariously involved.

Our second winner, Laurie Strebe, is something of a contest aficionado and serial philanthropist with a heart of gold. She recently sent Curiousmatic a personal letter from the Dominican Republic, where she and a team of medical workers provided dental care for the impoverished residents of Elias Pinas and surrounding villages in January of 2015.


Congrats to Laurie and her team, who completed their mission in the Dominican Republic after winning our #ahaselfie contest!


A photo posted by Curiousmatic (@curiousmatic) on

Laurie has already booked her next mission to Elias Pinas, and is involved with a few more missions in 2015 with various groups. Photos of her January trip can be viewed on Facebook: a useful way to communicate the impact of her team’s work, and thank those that made it possible.

Both Laurie and Matt have put the $500 earned toward these noble causes, so far to great effect.

What it all means

It’s true that Kim Kardashian’s Selfish (a book of selfies) is still a bestseller, and will probably make more money than will be donated to many small charities combined. We can both thank and blame Internet’s obsession with selfies and celebrity for that.

But we can also thank the digital age for allowing people like Laurie and Matt the agency and tools to expand their reach, raise money, and keep people from all over the world aware and involved in their social progress.

Curiousmatic is fortunate to have been a tiny part of these individuals’ dedication to worthy causes. But for Matt, Laurie, other submitters, and every other aspiring or practicing digital philanthropist, we believe that where there’s a will, there’s a way — whether it’s through contests and up-votes, or not.

All of these things are but a digital reflection and amplification of hard work. And to that, we raise our selfie stick in a salute.

Jennifer Markert