Social Philanthropy: Raising Money on YouTube and Twitter

March 12, 2012       Amy Sample Ward      

Money is always a hot topic of conversation at SXSW from new start-ups looking for venture funds to nonprofits looking for philanthropic support, all for innovative ways of changing and shaping our communities and the world. One panel, moderated by Cheryl Contee of Fission Strategy, focused on the conversation from the social philanthropy perspective; that is, what are various kinds of organizations doing to raise money though socially engaged channels like YouTube and Twitter. Contee framed the conversation with a great question, asking if we see social media as democratizing voices, giving anyone with connection to the Internet the ability to share a message, how do those same tools make money just as freely accessible?

Ramya Raghavan, Nonprofits and Activism Manager at Google/YouTube, says that she sees two trends in the future of online giving through video. The first is engaging a donor at the first step and keeping them engaged. Many people donate online yet have no long-term connection to the nonprofit organization or project. "We are seeing people through YouTube create a long term relationship with donors. Like charity:water’s thank you campaign: they came out with a series of personalized ‘thank you’ videos to their donors and are showcasing their staff in these videos." The second trend is livestreaming, where video is both a real-time feed and experience as well as an archived resource to be replayed. Last week, the American Foundation for Equal Rights livestreamed "8", a play featuring Geogre Clooney, Martin Sheen, and Jane Lynch, about California’s Proposition 8 trial. It had hundreds of thousands of live viewers. Certinaly having celebrities helps generate views, but it is just an example of what you can do with livestreaming.

Claire Diaz Ortiz, who heads up Social Innovation at Twitter, provided her perspective on three shifting aspects of philanthropy. The first being functionality. "Donating online is still in its infancy," said Diaz Ortiz. "There are no really great platforms" to manage or coordinate fundraising. For example, Malaria No More partnered with Twitter to run a fundraising campaign, Help Us End Malaria, using Twitpay’s "RT2Give" application as well as text-to-give from Causecast Mobile Fundraising to raise $10 per donation to fund mosquito nets. Second is transparency. "The main result of an organization getting on a new platform is the pushing of traditional ideas about press releases and communications to the back," said Diaz Ortiz. "Transparency can be a change with social media." For example, Room to Read directs users on Twitter asking for information about their work and funding to their 990s and other operational information on their website. Lastly, she pointed to connection. "Social media allows us to tell our donors exactly what we are doing in the field. charity:water does this in a great way with a live feed of their actions drilling a well," she suggested.

When asked about the obstacles to overcome for organizations to make giving easier, Michaelyn Elder, Director of Online Communications at the United Nations Foundation, suggested simplified messaging. Whether it is through videos, tweets, or other social media tools, organizations need to make their work both understood and relevant to those they are communicating with (and ultimately trying to raise money from). Diaz Ortiz added a helpful reminder to any organization looking to start using social media or to start using it for philanthropy specifically: "start with your existing donors. Many organizations don’t start with who they already have and that they can deepen the relationship with. Do that and then build on the referrals and network."