Designing for Generosity

Amazing and inspiring talk from Nipun Mehta, the founder of ServiceSpace (formerly Charity Focus), an incubator of projects that works at the intersection of volunteerism, technology and gift-economy. What started as an experiment with four friends in the Silicon Valley has now grown to an global ecosystem of over 350,000 members that has delivered millions of dollars in service for free.

Nipun s routinely invited to share his message of “giftivism” to wide ranging audiences, from inner city youth in Memphis to academics in London to international dignitaries at the United Nations.

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The main principles of ServiceSpace

Stay fully volunteer-run.

ServiceSpace was founded by volunteers and is run by volunteers. There is no paid staff, no office, and no central facilities. All ServiceSpace programs are conceived, designed, implemented, and administered by people who selflessly give their time so that others can benefit from those services.

Serve with whatever we have.

They have chosen a slightly different path than most organizations, and choose not to focus on fundraising, grants, or other sources of revenue – for example, none of the websites contain any advertisement. All services are distributed are gifted without any fees. Thus, the project serves with whatever support and resources that come in organically when people are truly moved to give.

ServiceSpace projects are built within a gift-economy system, an economic system in which goods and services are given freely, rather than traded. In a traditional market economy, one’s wealth is increased by saving. In a gift economy, giving leads to increase: an increase in connections and relationship strength.

Focus on the small.

The attempt is to do “small acts with great love”. As their tagline says, “Change Yourself, Change the World.” If we started out by having a goal to change the world, we might have been a little disappointed in our abilities; when we start with ourselves, we notice that the ripples around us continue to get bigger and bigger and as more people try to do small acts, we have every potential to change the world.

Just as every tiny bit of a hologram contains information of the whole, we feel that paying attention to the process, to the present moment, gives us plenty of information to become instruments of a larger, systemic change.

This is how ServiceSpace makes things happen. But essentially the engine that drives the organization is inspiration, pure and simple.

The Projects incubated


KarmaTube: A collection of short,”do something” videos coupled with simple actions that every viewer can take. Our vision is to create and connect a global network of volunteers to create uplifting stories that celebrate the work of local change agents. And encourage people to “Take a Pledge” to make a small change in their daily lives. The KarmaTube site currently hosts 816 inspiring videos with more than 36,743 newsletter subscribers to its “Video of the Week.” Its tagline reminds us to: Watch. Be Inspired. Act.

DailyGood: Extraordinary, positive changes are happening all around the world every day but they often get overshadowed by sensational and shocking news. Not any more. Welcome to a portal dedicated to good news! Every day, 108,360 subscribers receive an email with uplifting news, an insightful quotation, and a small call to action that people can take in their own lives. DailyGood is “News that Inspires.”

Awakin: A hub for local meditation circles simply called “Wednesdays” that have been on-going every single week for the past 14 years. These started in the Silicon Valley and now have expanded to many living rooms across the world. Each week the group sits together for an hour of meditation, followed by a circle of sharing. A newsletter with a passage selected from various wisdom traditions and an audio reading is sent out to 67,000 subscribers each week.


Conversations: A place for in-depth conversations, originally started as an art magazine in the early 1990’s by Richard Whittaker. This project is now fully run on a gift-economy basis. All the costs associated with the magazine are covered entirely by the support from grateful readers and other supporters of the work. In addition to the magazine and website, its e-newsletter reaches 30,556 subscribers.

KindSpring: To encourage anonymous acts of kindness, we started a fun game of tag — do a selfless act for someone, and leave a card behind telling them to pay it forward. 957,308 smile cards have been shipped anonymously without any charge. On, more than 14,753 members have generated 19,536 kindness stories as a part of “SmileGroups.” With a high-demand for more tools from teachers, we’ve created new offerings like Smile Decks which has a different kindness idea on each of the 52 cards. Our weekly newsletter with top picks of kindness stories has grown to 83,439 subscribers in a short time.

Karma Kitchen: What started as an experiment run by a team of volunteers each week, has now served over 34,000 guests through the pay-it-forward model. Guests continue to pour-in each week mainly through word-of-mouth, to enjoy the community ambiance. With over 21,600 hours of volunteer contributions, volunteers in other cities were inspired to start their own Karma Kitchen. In addition to Berkeley, you can now also enjoy the delicious meals made with love in Washington DC, and Chicago.


PledgePage: For volunteers who run marathons as fundraisers for noble causes, PledgePage is an easy way to publish and share their photos, diaries and manage a donor list online. When this business was in danger of shutting down in 2001, ServiceSpace took it over and made it a free, non-profit service available to everyone. Collectively, 8,044 PledgePage sites have generated millions of hits to raise well over $3,167,212 for good causes around the globe.

CF Sites: CharityFocus began in 1999 serving non-profit organizations (NPOs) with web solutions when the cost of a website was too enormous for most non-profits to afford. 1,040 volunteers successfully completed 254 website projects. We later created our own in-house technology called CF Sites to allow NPO’s to build their own basic websites and host them with us at no cost. CFSites has helped create more than 7,920 websites for various causes around the world.

ProPoor: A portal for the South Asian development community with a database of 14,576 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ProPoor was started by the founder of Sony Enterntainment Televsion as an organization with paid staff. However, encouraged by the spirit of Service Space, he asked us to adopt ProPoor and turn it into a completely volunteer-run project.

See also: MovedByLove