Using social media for social good is not a new concept, what with the likes of Beth Kanter (www.bethkanter.org), Social Media for Social Change (www.sm4sc.com) and FirstGiving (www.firstgiving.com) among many others exploring the use of theses new communications channels for good. What I have experienced lately is social media as a solution for the individual’s dilemma: how do I raise money for a charity event?
Tradition has dictated that since childhood we have regularly hit up our family, friends and neighbors for donations for readathons, walkathons, marathons and bikeathons. Social media has not changed that dynamic–or the willingness of family, friends and neighbors to donate. What it has done is open up the potential number of people you can reach, and the ways you can express yourself.
This year I rode in the Pan-Mass Challenge (www.pmc.org), a two-day bicycle ride across much of Massachusetts, which raises money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I knew the fundraising commitment- $4,200- was not something I could raise from family, friends and neighbors, and, for the second year in a row, I enlisted help online. Here are a few of the factors I considered:
Social media opens a primarily local event to the whole world. Cancer affects everybody. Just because this event is locally based (for me) and benefits a Boston-based charity, does not mean it can’t have resonance throughout the world. I also doesn’t mean I have tom limit myself to walking up and down the streets of my neighborhood rattling a coffee can, and hitting up siblings and in-laws at cookouts.
Social media opens up creative avenues. Last year, the first time I rode the Pan-Mass Challenge, I started posting videos by mounting a Flip camera on my bicycle, doing some very simple editing, and hoping people liked them.
I found that it helped me find things to write about for the blog, and gave me some experience in a media format that I hadn’t yet used much. I also hoped it would engage potential sponsors more. Also, I gradually got better (well, maybe a little better. A more recent example:
Pan-Mass Challenge Training: 57-Miler from Doug Haslam on Vimeo.
The “beg-a-thon” is part of my life, and has a place in my life-stream. I did worry about coming on too strong in asking for sponsors, especially as the Pan-Mass challenge drew near and my posts grew more frequent. However, I did not receive complaints- one reason, I think, is that I kept mixing in my regular content, posts about public relations and social media, and avoided becoming a one-note blogger.
Last year, the results impressed me. I raised $3,400-plus, meeting my goal dramatically the day before the ride. This year was even more remarkable. Despite the recession, I raised $800 more than last year, met my goal a week earlier, and raised my average pledge from $45 last year to $50 this year. Why? Here are some observations from the results:
Facebook has evolved into a more legitimate personal channel than it was last year: Last year, I raised money mostly through Twitter. That was, and remains, my most active social media channel. I started a group on Facebook, but my friends there were also friends on Twitter, and the two channels seemed redundant. In the ensuing months, Facebook changed. More people from more diverse areas of my life: family, school, neighborhood, etc., joined Facebook, and responded to my Facebook posts. What kind of effect did this have? Overall, only 40% of my sponsors repeated their giving this year- a nod to the recession, no doubt- and yet I had more sponsors this year.
Despite the recession, I raised more money, more quickly, and raised the average donation: I started to cover this in the last point: not only did Facebook open up a whole new group of people to my online entreaties, but the number of people in my Twitter network and the number of subscribers to my blog also increased substantially since last year. As I also mentioned above, not everyone from last year returned, so a wider network of friends (and I think in this instance it is a great word) turned out to be important.
Generosity must be repaid: I decided that I should recognize my sponsors, using the blog, Twitter and Facebook to talk about them, and show the different types of people who come together to support a great cause. I called my sponsors “Heroes”- without their money, there is no research, no doctors, no equipment, no facilities- and wrote a series of blog posts (the first one was on Media Bullseye’s own Chip Griffin: http://doughaslam.com/2009/05/19/my-pan-mass-challenge-heroes-1-chip-griffin/). While some people prefer to be anonymous with their donations, 25 of my sponsors this year agreed to be profiled–and it provided a way to encourage people to spread the word. Plus, it was a fun way to publicly thank those who wanted it.
How does this progress next year? I have high hopes that the newly-redesigned fundraising site, PMC Paceline (see my page for a sample: http://pmc.org/DH0159), will have more of an effect next year, when we can use it from the get-go. In the future, more integration and more interactivity at the level of the charity itself will add another piece to an effective social media fundraising campaign.
Doug Haslam is an Account Director at Boston’s SHIFT Communications, and blogs at DougHaslam.com.