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Charities are making social media work hard for them

7th October 2009

Charities are making social media work hard for them

Charities are making social media work hard for them

In tough economic times people and businesses are less able to give as freely as they may have once given, charity unfortunately stays at home!

As with any business in a recession charities need to be where their audience is or they run the risk of being left behind, and it’s clear some smaller charities are struggling to change lanes and adopt social media as a key part of their strategy. Some charities, however, have made the leap and have been reaping the rewards of new social opportunities.

Age Concern with partner Innocent Smooties developed ‘The Big Knit’. Started in 2003 the campaign has raised, to date, over £600k for older people in the colder winter months. The campaign now includes Flickr, YouTube and Blog channels which enable the people who’ve got behind the campaign to be part of the story. Clever widgets such as the ‘Hatometer’, which can be embedded into supporters blogs and websites, shows how many hats have been knitted so far.The founder of the Charity: Water, a not-for-profit dedicated to bringing clean water to impoverished villages in Africa, got an e-mail from Amanda Rose, a British woman who wanted to test the idea that Twitter, with its 30 million users, might be able to raise money. Twestivals were set up by local volunteers of Twitter users in 200 cities across the world who organised parties, concerts and gathering raising $250,000 in four days (check out for the North East Twestival). The Twestival ethos has been picked up by local Twitter users who have used the concept to raise money for local charities.

Macmillan Cancer Support What’s New? community was developed to build a support network around both the charity, cancer sufferers and their families. It shares information, provides a forum for people to share experiences, ask questions and connect with each other. They also use it to highlight events and campaigns, recruit volunteers and raise money.

The key is using the community around the charity to develop valuable social capital in a win, win scenario. The charity wins because it reaches a much wider audience with its message and hits its campaign target, the partner/sponsor wins because it leverages its brand in innovative positive ways to new audiences. The community wins because it gets behind a charity, has fun and raises much needed cash.

So, how can smaller charities and not-for-profits with far less resources use social media?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that pretty much everything a charity currently does to raise awareness, educate and raise money is transposable and can be given real power with some essential social media tools.

Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, Flickr and YouTube are key tools for getting your message out there and getting people to follow, and be part of, charity activities. Each channel can be set up easily and provide a digital presence for the charity as well as offering separate pages for individual campaigns. Together they can significantly improve the overall visibility of the charity online and help develop a diverse support community around the charity. Having corporate sponsors of your social media channels also provides sponsorship opportunities that can generate revenue for the charity.

Twitter, the micro blogging platform, is superb at building a charity’s profile and that of the people who work within it. To get the most out of Twitter here’s a couple  things to consider before setting up a profile for your charity.

– Define “influence” (What do you want to say)
– Establish Your Angle (Who are you targeting)
– Make it Easy to Get Involved
– Do not use Twitter to BROADCAST your brand message
– Focus Beyond Tweets, send people to where they can join you or donate

Engage with people. Social capital, the good you generate by connecting with people and sharing knowledge, ideas and thoughts is at the heart of social media. The amount you give of yourself is comparable to what will come back to you when you need help promoting your charity, events or campaigns. Find out where you target audience is and connect with them.

Once you’ve connected, be active. Think about what your audience wants from you, what interests to them and talk about it. It should be a mix of information relating to the charities activities, events you’re organising, the people of the organisation  (The volunteers and staff etc.) getting on with the good work of the charity. Be opinionated, but don’t broadcast, it’s not about pushing your message down people’s throats.

Social media has the ability to reach people you’re not even aware of, who might be looking to contribute their time or donations to a charity like yours. If you’re campaigning make you messages to the point and desirable. The idea is to hook people (capture their interest and make them want to pass your message onto their friends) into your message and send them via a link to your website or micro site for the big hitting message, which charities have never had trouble coming up with!

Be personal. People like to talk to people, so give your staff the encouragement to talk about the charity’s good work on their own social platforms, educate them as to what is acceptable and preferable, and release them to drive your message to their friends, families and peers.

Taking donations online. Building donation widgets into your website, blogs and social media platforms is easy to do and offers charities the chance to gather donations when you’re talking about your cause or campaign. Facebook for instance accounts for 20% of JustGiving’s revenues, so getting on the right platforms can enable you to tap into valuable, sustainable new revenue streams.

JustGiving, Mgive, Everyclick, Myspace Impact are just a few of the corporate donation models available. Some are free, some charge a set up fee and a percentage of the donations it processes on your behalf, but all give you the opportunity to press for a donation at the point of impact, when people are feeling inspired or touched by what you are trying to achieve.

So, opportunity is still abundant in difficult times. Smaller charities with less resources can take a great deal from the execution of social media campaigns by other charities, which are well documented online. SlideShare, the online resource for presentations on every topic under the sun, lists over 1800 presentation regarding charities using social media. Start there and find ways to reach more people, publicise events and raise money.

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