The way we talk with our friends, the way we date, eat, watch TV, even the way we vote has been transformed by the sudden and overwhelming popularity of social media technology. Our activities in the actual world are becoming ever more deeply intertwined with our activities in the virtual world.
In their ongoing efforts to find new supporters and strengthen bonds with the ones they already have, charities, too, are flocking to social media. Unlike letters in your mailbox or TV commercials, digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter give charities a chance to engage supporters in emotionally powerful ways – ways that not only encourage monetary giving, but turn supporters into full-blown advocates.
Take the example of the humanitarian organization CARE. In 1946, CARE began sending boxes of food and essential supplies to a Europe reeling from Second World War. The program resonated with so many senders and receivers that the phrase “care package” became a common synonym for any gift parcels sent to far-away friends and relatives. Today the organization is trying to tap into fond memories of this legacy through social media. At www.CAREpackage.org, CARE invites donors to fill a digital CARE Package with money supporting CARE’s long-term poverty fighting programs focusing on girls’ education, maternal health, and economic empowerment for women through microfinance and small business training. Where it differs most from traditional online giving is through functions allowing social network friends to build packages together – all connected through Facebook, Twitter and e-mail. CARE Package “senders” are also invited to educate themselves and their friends on key issues, and as well offer tools to reach out to elected representatives.
CARE is not alone in using social networking to generate support. Applications like TwitChange generate interest and big money for charitable causes by auctioning the opportunity to be followed, mentioned or retweeted by their favorite celebrities on Twitter.
Even large corporate givers with a big presence in traditional marketing venues are moving into the social media space. General Mills and Merck have teamed up for an online charitable giving project called Join My Village. Simply by clicking on hyperlinks to videos, visitors to www.JoinMyVillage.com can steer donations from the two corporations to a microsavings program helping rural girls and women in Malawi. Because the site interfaces with Facebook and Twitter, it’s easy for users to invite their social networks to participate, increasing total donations, but also awareness of poverty issues around the globe.
How charitable giving through social networking will evolve during the next years, or even the next 10 months, is anyone’s guess. A decade ago, few people (if anyone) predicted the social network-based advocacy and giving that’s exploding in popularity today. What is certain is that changes in technology inevitably create new ways for charities and supporters to connect.