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How Social Media has changed Philanthropy.

This past December I received an email from a desperate mother whose daughter was attending Wheaton College on scholarship. She wrote to me, after a series of extremely unfortunate events destroyed the entire investment portfolio of the family that was personally providing the scholarship for her daughter. Tuition was now due, and her daughter would be sent home if the balance wasn’t paid immediately.

A quick post on my blog, and a couple of tweets later resulted in over $18,000 raised…in less than 12 hours! This was a powerful example of the leverage Twitter and Facebook provide us to connect and serve a cause.

I remember perusing Twitter the day of the Haitian earthquake. As soon as the news broke, people began Tweeting the latest developments. Within hours, Tweets were reporting prospective death tolls in the vicinity of 100,000 people. The AP and Times estimates were far more conservative at that point, but as we now know, the final toll was more than 200,000. On the tail of the death toll figures came the seemingly endless Tweets about how to donate $10 via text message to the Red Cross. In rapid succession Twitter provided: awareness of the event, a more accurate forecast of the destruction than the most major news organizations, and provided a simple way to directly aid the relief effort. Twitter, a relatively infant technology, was responsible for not only informing, but also then supporting the most immediate philanthropic response to a natural disaster. The outpouring of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the stricken people of Haiti could be directly attributed to the success of both Twitter and Facebook providing immediate awareness.

This is just one sterling example at how social media devices have become an undoubtedly effective philanthropic platform. Of course, nothing comes without it’s negative wares as well. George Packer, a foreign correspondent for the New Yorker, recently posted a scathing blog riposte to David Carr’s piece in the New York Times about why Twitter will endure. As Packer says, “…most people are already drowning in information, and [perhaps the last thing] we need is a never-ending, trivial-data stream to suck us under.” However through a different lens, Twitter is a site that instantly facilitates generous donations through viral fundraising. Sounds like a very welcome, even benevolent invention. It all depends on it’s use of course.

Even prior to Twitter’s explosion in ubiquity social networking sites have been revolutionizing the way people support worthy causes.
Sites like: Kickstarter.org, DoSomething.org, Kiva.org, Kivafriends.org, and DonorsChoose.org—have long fostered a much more interactive method of giving. A method that has done more than most admit to reinvent the blind donation and status-craving styles of philanthropy. The old model kept the effects of one’s donations vague; satisfaction coming only by assuring yourself that you were a generous person. Social media platforms have revolutionized the model. Charities now rely (and are held accountable for that matter) on specific goals and tangible results. Sites like Kickstarter.com, a funding platform for artists, journalists, musicians and the like, enabled people to promote and fund a documentary exposing Uganda’s recruitment of child soldiers, or a goofy TV pilot that looks promising with just the click of a mouse. DoSomething.org, who’ve partnered with MySpace and Facebook as well, allow people to fund and interact directly with teachers and students in under-funded urban school systems. The donor can simply pick out the particular student or teacher they want to support, and keep in touch with them, measuring the effect of their donation directly, while learning about a specific school system and creating a vested interest.

By aligning themselves with social media platforms people visit regularly, charities are exponentially increasing their visibility, and are more likely to engage with people, especially young people. Unlike those old Sally Struthers commercials on TV (you know exactly which ones I’m talking about), which were non-interactive and quickly followed by other attention-diverting commercials and programs, charities broadcast on Facebook and MySpace endure. That is, the pitch doesn’t disappear after 30 seconds.

It’s always been my thought that — to change the results, one must first change the process. Social Media, as a platform and communication phenomenon, has fundamentally brought change to the philanthropic process and landscape in ways still far from reaching their true potential. Moreover, it’s shown just how powerful a global community of like-minded people can be when gathered around a worthy cause.

How will you get involved?

All my best,

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Jay Kubassek

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