The social-media (r)evolution has proven a wonderful challenge for charities and nonprofits. The technology is cheap (), and as millions more get comfortable with it, the opportunity to reach a broad spectrum of supporters grows exponentially. And yet, without careful consideration of the stories your organization wants to tell, and how it wants to target constituencies within the various social-media outlets, the effort can seem maddeningly diffuse.
One organization has returned to the relative simplicity of text messaging with stunning success. Last holiday season a text message was sent to about 500 young people in New York City who had been in contact with “Do Something” but had not been much involved. They were told of a local food drive, and in just minutes some twenty percent joined in the effort. DoSomething.org has not looked back.
The response brought rounds of applause from the staff in the DoSomething Manhattan office, and the director, Nancy Lubin was not even sure what was going on. As The New York Times then reported, she got the report from her colleagues, and “right then and there, she decided Do Something, a national nonprofit group that works to involve teenagers in civic activities, had to go mobile. No longer could it rely on its Web site to motivate young people to take part in social activism. Instead, it would rely on mobile technology in the hopes of substantially increasing its reach and impact. ‘I want us to be the AARP for the 13- to 18-year-old set.'”
The micro effort has inspired the national organization to build its phone/text base to 3.8 million young people by 2014. Not to worry about that database being sold to the corporate world, though: “Never, never, never,” Ms. Lublin said. “It makes my skin crawl.”
Such growth, she argues, must come with personalization and the opportunity for any young person to reach a ‘Cause Concierge’ quickly when advice is needed. With the new initiative, though, support has been flowing back to DoSomething, which had floundered to a paid staff of one when Ms. Lubin came on and doubled the payroll.
Since then, she has found venture capitalists and companies with a vested interest in engaging teens involved with DoSomething. “What piqued my interest is that she’s not replacing what the organization was already doing but instead using technology to take it far beyond where it has been,” said Todor Tashev, an investment partner at the Omidyar Network which has invested heavily in the new initiative.
The simplicity of the texting network belies the pedigree of DoSomething generally and Nancy Lubin specifically. DoSomething was Andrew Shue, who played Billy Campbell on “Melrose Place,” and his friend Michael Sanchez, with the goal of “making community service as cool an activity for teenagers as sports.” Its recent success after a rough patch at the turn of the millennium comes from Nancy’s experience turning a $5000 inheritance into the nonprofit group Dress for Success, which helps poor women enter the work force. Today, it has more than 100 affiliates around the world, and the parent organization raised $15 million in 2009. (from the NYT article).by
Text messaging is not the only social medium the DoSomething community uses, of course. One of the takeaways we see in the story is the success the staff at the action group have achieved in reaching their core constituents through the medium they are most comfortable with. Thus the medium ‘disappears’ and the opportunity to take action and to help comes to the fore.
Is your organization developing pin-point strategies to reach your target audiences? Sometimes millions of precision tags can work better than scatter shot to see who notices.