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August 27, 2012

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After Making His Mark With Domains Michael Mann Is Ready to Make Change With Grassroots.org 
By Ron Jackson

If you spend much time surfing the web
you have probably noticed logos for Grassroots.org popping up all over the net. Companies operating in all corners of the domain industry are linking to the site and the Grassroots banner is even appearing on some PPC (pay per click) parking pages, ground previously reserved for profit making links only. As you might expect from the .org extension, Grassroots is a charitable organization, but many are wondering exactly what it is they do and how they’ve managed to rally such widespread support. 

To get the answers, we caught up with Grassroots founder and current Chairman Michael Mann who has been devoting much of his time to the organization since he and his partners sold a majority interest in BuyDomains.com to Highland Capital and Summit Venture Partners earlier this year. Mann told us the primary mission of Grassroots.org is to provide a wide range of free services to small charities so they can save critical dollars and to promote social action, a goal the site sums up in two words, "Make Change!” 

Michael Mann

While those few words sum up what the organization is about, they don’t do justice to the wide range of needs being addressed and far reaching goals Grassroots has for the future. The organization was created to strengthen the ability of other nonprofit organizations to reach their own goals of advancing social change in areas involving Children, Disease, Education, Environment, Humanitarian Relief, Poverty, Homelessness, Disability and more. 

To make that happen, Mann is applying lessons he learned in the domain business.  “The way I can be most effective is to work in areas I understand, like business management and areas of technology,” Mann said. “With Grassroots.org, I am trying to leverage what I have learned in Internet, marketing, management, and personal networking to provide for people in need. To get it off the ground, I have rallied some of my close business associates and friends to try to fulfill a difficult but necessary mission. The way I see it is that we have no choice but to act and Grassoots.org is the medium that is most likely to be effective.” 

Grassroots helps eliminate “Digital Divide” issues that impact many nonprofits by providing them with free website development, hosting, and tech support. They are also working to add web-based advocacy tools to allow organizations and their constituencies to distribute nonpartisan action alerts, sign petitions, register to vote, contact Congress and more. Other technology will assist nonprofits and charities with fundraising, budgeting and database management.  Grassroots.org also provides free management and legal consulting to help guide nonprofits in areas including organizing a 501(c)(3) (tax-exempt non-profit group) and ongoing IRS compliance. 

Mann’s “technology meets charity” activities actually predate Grassroots.org. He served as Chairman of ByteBack.org during its formative years and that organization is still going strong, operating seven training centers in underserved Washington.D.C. neighborhoods that equip 1,000 individuals for the modern workplace each year.

Mann knows he will have to have help to make his goals for Grassroots.org a reality. He just enlisted a key brother in arms by bringing ADAWatch.org founder Jim Ward on board as Grassroots President. ADAWatch (a leader in supporting people with disabilities) is also being folded into Grassroots, joining dozens of other special purpose sites operating under the Grassroots umbrella . 

Ward understands that Mann has handed him a full plate but after more than 20 years in the non profit field he is ready to dive in head first.  “My experiences as a nonprofit executive, an elected official, and as the leader of a coalition of hundreds of disability, civil rights and social justice organizations have prepared me for the challenges ahead,”  Ward said.


Jim Ward
President, Grassroots.org

In addition to the activities we’ve already noted, Ward added, “Grassroots.org is a valuable and ever-evolving portal for individuals worldwide to study timely issues and take vital actions. Our sub-sites include Homeless.org, Shelters.org, Diseases.org, Relief.org, PlanetEarth.org, PublicService.org, SpeakOut.org, VoterRegistration.org and many more.” Most of those sites operate on domains Mann has accumulated over the years with this vision in mind.

“In the year ahead, we also look forward to strengthening our content by pulling together a Grassroots.org National Advisory Council comprised of leaders and scholars with expertise in our identified areas of concern,” Ward said. 

“We currently have more than 150 nonprofit partners aligned with our overall mission, who are benefiting from our free services. In addition to creating a stronger web presence and providing legal services for these organizations, we draw on their expertise in distributing accurate and concise information to consumers and other charities,” Ward said. “Our nonprofit partners include the Child Protection Project, Rural Hospital Relief Fund, Community Connections for Youth, Boston Asthma Initiative, Cincinnati Housing Partners, Kansas CURE, Clear Cities Coalition and many others. I am deeply committed to our mission and grateful to be working with Mike and our first class team that includes Joe Jurczyk, Alon Nager and Ed Cayetano."

The mission of helping the poor, sick and needy around the world is a duty that practitioners of all major religious faiths would identify with but Mann’s efforts are not rooted in any specific religion.  “Grassroots.org is not a religious pursuit for me. I am trying to apply business best practices to address the most critical issues I can see,” Mann said. “Moreover, Grassroots.org specifically wants to avoid any religious or political connotations, so we can remain neutral and accessible to a broader public. We appreciate the works of positive religious and political groups, but believe our secular, nonpartisan method facilitates a healthier balance in the nonprofit world.”   

The things Mann learned in the domain industry about aggregating traffic, optimizing domains, etc. helped him lay a solid foundation at Grassroots.org, and the structure being built on that site is constantly improving.  New content continues to be added and they have all of the latest communications bells and whistles including forums, blogs and RSS feeds. “We are always working on areas to optimize the visitor experience and encourage them to take action,"  Mann said. 

Mann noted that he is also committed to wringing the most out of every resource entrusted to Grassroots. "I don't get paid anything (quite the opposite), we have no office to save expenses, and thrive on volunteer power if any readers want to join in. We are quite efficient. We produce more tangible work than most charities I am familiar with that have 10 times the budget. And we are just warming up and learning how to get more scale, leverage, and efficiency." 

Grassroots.org will play a major role in a new ebook Mann has just completed titled Make Millions and Make Change! The book, which will be freely distributed, is currently undergoing final editing. “I hope when it becomes available we will drive many downloads. The book speaks to high growth small business theory and pushes social activity to be the side affect of wealth,” Mann said. Mann hasn’t completely left the business arena. He still does some small business consulting and remains involved with several companies he founded including BrowserMedia.com, x3o.com and TakeItOrLeaveIt.com.

Still it’s clear that Grassroots is his first love and there are a variety of ways those interested in joining the effort can help. “Of course donations help enhance the services we provide (even donating used cell phones to our recycling program helps a bit),” Mann said. "Also please link up to our logo and volunteer to help our charity "customers". You will also want to sign up for our free newsletter from our home page at Grassroots.org to keep informed and older newsletters are still available here."

"We also encourage the public to introduce our site to nonprofits that might qualify for and benefit from our services. We really appreciate all assistance in achieving our difficult mission. Grassroots.org is all about participation from the general public, so please join us in making change.”   

There has been no shortage of people lining up to help. Mann said, “we are extremely pleased that an impressive array of men and women from the domain and traffic industry have recently pledged their support for Grassroots.org including Mike Zapolin, Andrew Miller and Peter Hubschman from InternetRealEstate.com (in addition to displaying the Grassroots logo on the masthead of their site, Miller and Zapolin gave Grassroots a major plug during their keynote speech at the October T.R.A.F.F.I.C. convention in Florida), Rick Schwartz from T.R.A.F.F.I.C., Theo Antoniou from GoldKey.com, Frank Schilling from NameAdministration, Ron Sheridan from DomainSponsor.com, Igal Lightman from DomainSpa.com, Monte Cahn from Moniker.com. Thunayan K. AL-Ghanim from Oxide.com, Ari from Anything.com, Chad Folkening from Ecorp, Michael Berkens from MostWantedDomains, Alan Hack from NamesPlusMarketing.com and last but not least BuyDomains.com/Seeq.com. YOU ROCK! If your name is not on this list your phone is about to ring!” Mann declared.

"The support of these groups means that the Grassroots.org logo and programs will be seen throughout the world for the ultimate benefit of the needy,” Mann said. This is still another example of the communications power domain owners now hold but more importantly it is an affirmation that industry leaders know the greatest payoff isn’t always measured in dollars and cents.


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