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[help] Social Media for Social Change

9 November 2009 by Ashley Perkins 8 Comments

heartspringSocial media for social change.

Yes, you heard it right, social media. That includes sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo.  While some might view these sites as a way to procrastinate through the work day, more and more local and national charitable organizations are using them to share information about their missions with the public.

Non-profit organizations are turning to social media sites to get people involved in fundraising efforts, to share information, to find volunteers and to connect with others all around the world. Really, this connection seems logical due to the availability of this media and because of its appealing price tag.

In Wichita, Heartspring, a center for children with special needs, is one organization that uses social media to further its mission, promote events and connect with people who need its services.

“Heartspring is able to help children with special needs across the nation and all around the world,” explained Katie Grover, Director of Marketing for Heartspring. “Parents of children with special needs often struggle to find resources and once they are found, lack of funding or financial resources prohibit them from utilizing those resources. Because social media is typically free, [these] parents… who often hit dead ends… find a place where they can share their story and ask questions while others can respond with suggestions, tips, how-tos and support.”

Edurelief is another national charitable organization that uses social media. Edurelief “is a development organization focused on breaking the cycle of poverty, improving quality of life and encouraging hope in the future of people’s lives around the world through sustainable education, training, and advocacy on their behalf.”

“Many people argue that social media marketing is a waste of time for nonprofits because the monetary return is small compared to other methods of fundraising,” said Jonathan Renich, founder of  Edurelief. “While this is generally true, there are many examples of organizations utilizing social media in effective fundraising campaigns. I believe if organizations can learn to look past the question of donations and into the realm of building relationships with people they will begin to see that social media is, and will continue to be a very important part of any organizations promotions.”

Renich said some of the organization’s best volunteers have come from social media contacts and that the work of those individuals has taken Edurelief to a higher level.

“I believe, while social media maybe doesn’t provide organizations with the traditional results they may be seeking, it brings an entirely new, and very important, aspect to their work: community,” Renich said.

One of the more powerful ways Renich said he has seen social media work for Edurelief is in the story of a girl from France named Capucine.

“[Capucine] has a vivid imagination and…is an incredible storyteller,” Renich said. “Her mother started recording her stories which became quite an internet phenomenon. After learning about our organization, Capucine and her mother made a video asking for people to buy t-shirts and buttons they had made to help support school children in Mongolia.”

The response to Capucine on Vimeo, Facebook, and Twitter was huge, according to Renich, and has already raised over $3,000 for Edurelief programs. More information about Capucine can be found here.

Many other powerful examples of how social media has helped provoke social change exist. Michelle Riggen-Ransom, Blogger-in-Chief at PopTech started this blog after being inspired at a South by Southwest panel discussion in 2008. Her goal was to chronicle some of the notable examples of the use of social media.

“‘12for12K’ is a year-long effort to raise $12,000 per months for 12 different organizations, using a variety of different social media channels,” Riggen-Ransom said. “And my friend T.J. just wrote about how he took part Epic Change’s ‘Tweetsgiving,’ which enabled a small village in Tanzania to build a classroom with Twitter-donated funds.”

Although she no longer updates the social change blog, Riggen-Ransom said the experience was eye-opening.

“I’ve learned how many folks are out there in the world trying to make a difference,” Riggen-Ransom said. “I’ve also learned that as big as the world is, technology has made it very easy to connect with people from many different countries, backgrounds, and viewpoints. For that I am very grateful.”

Based on the success it has seen so far, Edurelief is launching a new social media based campaign called the Avatar Project which, according to Renich, will give people a chance to be “a small piece in a much  larger puzzle working to bring change in Mongolia.” Edurelief will approach users for this project through Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.

Grover has seen many benefits from the use of social media as well.

“I’ve been surprised and pleased with the amount of ‘re-tweeting’ that I’ve seen after posting information about a special event or conference we are hosting by people who live well outside Wichita or Kansas,” Grover said. “There are so many people who are passionate about helping children with autism and other special needs, and social media sources are a fantastic way to share resources, successes and challenges.”

Lights on the Lake and The Autism CARE Walk are two events that Grover has promoted through social media. She also uses it to share information about the organizations Conference Series, the monthly E-newsletter and other activities in the world of special education and special needs children.

“Having mediums that can convey real time information has…allowed us to get our message to individuals that might not have been accessible, as easily, through traditional means (i.e. TV, print, radio),” Grover said. “Most importantly, putting ourselves out on social media outlets costs Heartspring nothing. And as a non-profit seeking to invest every dollar we have back into the care and education of the children we support, that is a priceless gift.”

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