Posted on December 30, 2009
2009: Charity Comes to the Social Media Ball
PND -- 2009: Charity Comes to the Social Media Ball
While early adopters and young adults have embraced online social networks for years, 2009 was the year that celebrities, nonprofits, and foundations got in on the act and began to experiment in earnest with social media tools and platforms to raise awareness for their programs and causes.
According to a report issued early in the year by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 46 percent of American adults online claimed to use a social networking site such as MySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn, up from 5 percent in early 2005, while 11 percent said they use Twitter or another "microblogging" service. Facebook, the most popular of the social networking sites, soared past the 200-million-user mark in the spring, while the number of people who access Twitter, the new darling of the social media world, spiked in February and March after the mainstream media caught on to the fact that celebrities had become regular users of the service.
Indeed, more than a few celebrities decided to leverage their real-world popularity to champion charitable causes on Twitter. In April, actor Hugh Jackman (@realhughjackman) challenged his Twitter followers to explain (in 140 characters or less) why he should support their favorite charity, with the most convincing "tweet" winning $100,000 — a prize that ultimately was shared by two organizations, Operation of Hope and charity: water. Similarly, Bob Woodruff (@bobwoodruff), the ABC News anchor who sustained serious head and brain injuries in 2006 while covering the war in Iraq, raised more than $75,000 through Twitter over the Memorial Day weekend for his foundation, which aids injured service members and veterans.
Many private foundations also embraced social media for the first time in 2009, while a smaller number experimented with online challenges that employed crowdsourcing techniques to generate awareness for or solutions to a specific problem. In January, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, in partnership with mtvU, launched the Indebted Digital Challenge to help raise awareness among college students about the nation's deepening fiscal crisis, while a month later the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Ashoka's Changemakers community unveiled Designing for Better Health, a global online competition designed to identify "nudges" that can help people make better health decisions.
Then there was the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which in May created an "island" in Second Life, the popular user-generated 3-D world, in partnership with the University of Southern California and Global Kids. Part of the foundation's $50 million digital media and learning initiative, MacArthur Island was designed to be an online laboratory where, over the next couple of years, the foundation can explore how virtual spaces can be used for social good, grantees can showcase their work, and the foundation and its partners could connect to new audiences.
How to tap into virtual communities to promote a brand while doing good was a challenge that a number of Fortune 500 companies took up during the course of the year. In May, the Target Corporation launched a contest called Bullseye Gives in which visitors to the mass-market retailer's Facebook page could decide how $3 million should be allocated among ten large charities selected by the company. And in November, JP Morgan Chase launched its own Causes on Facebook application to crowdsource millions of dollars in charitable giving to a hundred deserving nonprofits. While the suggestion in a New York Times story that the bank had "disqualified" three nonprofit groups — two favoring reform of existing drug laws and an anti-abortion group — from the contest as their vote totals mounted resulted in a flurry of critical blog posts, online social media-based giving campaigns seemed to be here to stay.
That view was echoed by
Case Foundation CEO Jean Case, whose foundation, in partnership with Parade magazine, helped pioneer the social media giving campaign. "From our very first experiences with social media prior to the launch [of America's Giving Challenge on Facebook], we recognized the powerful potential to bring communities together around issues for which they shared a passion," said Case. "[W]e believe that the prospects for robust participation by nonprofits are better today than they were in the first challenge, and we are heartened to see that nonprofits have embraced the rapid growth in social media with enthusiasm."
MacArthur Foundation Announces Winners of 2009 Digital Media and Learning Competition (4/17/09)
Online Contests Represent Potential 'Jackpots' for Charities (5/13/09)
MacArthur Foundation Launches Virtual Island in Second Life (5/24/09)
US Twitter Usage Surpasses Earlier Estimates (9/14/09)
Case Foundation Launches Initiative to Help Nonprofits Leverage Social Media (9/6/09)
2009 America's Giving Challenge Winners Announced (11/26/09)