How you can change the world with social media

Raising money for causes or friends in need is nothing new. This basic idea has existed practically forever in the offline world, with fundraising drives, bowl-a-thons and charity dinners. But with the rise of social networks, our "friend-base" has grown from our co-workers and neighbors to an almost endless supply of potential donors that can be rallied toward a common goal.

Not only can I influence the friends I have, but with a worthy cause and a clear goal, I can engage the people they know and the people they know until finally Kevin Bacon is helping my favorite charity.

Organic campaigns to help people spring up on Twitter and Facebook all the time, with individuals rallying around the friend of a friend who needs to make a mortgage payment and campaigns to raise money for a well known charity like Charity:Water. Many of these campaigns come and go in the matter of a few days, but several stand out as examples of how to most effectively utilize social media to champion a cause people are most passionate about.Tim Ferriss, the author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Four Hour Work Week, has successfully utilized social media tools to raise thousands of dollars to build schools in Vietnam, libraries in Nepal and India, and most recently, to help thousands of classrooms in the U.S. secure basic classroom supplies. Tim was turned on to the power of social media as a communication tool when he used it to launch his book, which became a NYT bestseller in under a week with no offline advertising.

As his most recent campaign, "Tweet to Beat," wrapped up, he took time to share how one can fund raise with social media tools. In keeping with his four hour workweek philosophy, the following guide will focus on testing, lean fund raising, and execution without unnecessary work.

In The Four Hour Workweek, Ferriss says, "Doing something unimportant well does not make it important," which applies no matter how noble the goal. That includes digging wells in Africa, building schools in Vietnam, stamping out malaria or curing AIDs.

Come learn how to champion a cause the way Ferriss has already done twice, and let's start changing the world.

What does social media fund raising mean for donors?

The usefulness of social media fund raising isn't limited to the actual fund raisers. In this new environment, donors can expect more from their causes and make more informed decisions. Donors today suffer from what Ferriss calls "philanthropic overwhelm," in that there are too many charities to choose from. While the use of social media adds to the number of charities a donor is exposed to, it also provides opportunities to quickly learn more about a charity.

One solution Ferriss offers to combat the abundance of charities and causes is to approach the endeavor like an angel investor would.

"Who would you put money into? Where is your karmic return on investment going to be the greatest? If you put $100 of money into this company now, will they be able to get $1,000 of impact over the next two years?"

By viewing a charitable donation through this lens, it becomes easier for the donor to demand the accountability and transparency they would expect from a company they invested in. After performing due diligence and selecting a cause that will make the best use of the donation, it's also easier to spread the word via social media and become a champion for the charity.

Why Social Media?
On top of providing a great communication tool social media also provides an excellent means of gathering data. Ferriss says, "Social Media tools, if used properly, are also exceptionally valuable for gathering data and experimenting. You can spend a week and $100 gathering data from a small experiment and then double your efforts, focusing on what worked." Readers of The Four Hour Workweek will recognize this tactic from the section on starting a business, so it's no surprise that Ferriss has applied this to his charitable endeavors.

One example of the power of social media tools to measure the effect of a promotion is the experiment in which donation gift cards were sent to Twitter followers that could be redeemed for a $3 donation to a classroom at DonorsChoose.org. The results of this experiment showed an astonishing 30-50% return on each dollar given away!

How to roll your own Social Media Fund raiser.
How you implement a social media based fundraiser is of utmost importance. While you could run it the way your parents raised money; becoming a registered charity, creating a board, processing money and expending a significant amount of time and money in fees to reach a goal; Ferriss' tenet of cutting the unimportant from fund raising dictates a new and better way to proceed
  • Use free tools like social media, Google Forms, Twitter, Facebook Causes and Chip In to power the fund raising effort.
  • You don't have to touch any money to be a fund raiser. In these two campaigns Ferriss has personally touched zero dollars, yet he was still able to raise over $300,000.
  • Be a campaign manager. Partner with a respected charity when available and lead people to your doorstep.
  • You have to be transparent and accountable. "Very few people are willing to write a blank check to a cause or an institution without knowing where that money is going. [they want to know] exactly...exactly where the money is going."
  • Provide a 1 to 1 correlation; in other words show them the outcome. In the LitLiberation campaign, Ferriss' correlation was, "If you put in $15,000 and a school will be built in this location at these GPS coordinates, your name or the top donors' names will be on a plaque and you can visit in the school in 12 months.
Getting Started!
While Twitter is an excellent communication tool, the character limit necessitates the need for a website to clearly explain your goals. Before you go tweeting about your new charity drive, you should feel confident that your cause is crystal clear. As Ferriss puts it, "People can dislike your charity, they can disagree with your cause but they shouldn't be confused by it."

In keeping with the need for transparency and to stand out in a crowd of charities you'll need to remember that social media services like Twitter are primarily a communication tool, the new email or phone-a-thon, to spread the word about your cause. The end result should drive people back to a website which gives donors a plan, "Step 1 -- step 2 -- step 3."

Creating a successful companion website needn't take days and weeks to complete. Ferriss created the LitLiberation website in a coffee shop in Bratislava using Wordpress.com fueled by double espressos, and had a campaign ready to launch in five hours! He simply provided potential donors with these four pieces of information.
  1. What the problem is
  2. Why it's important
  3. Why it's important now
  4. Steps they can take to help
After creating a clear set of instructions for donors, you should be prepared to report back on the progress of the campaign immediately. If you haven't partnered with a charity that can do this, Chip In is an excellent tool that makes collecting donations incredibly easy, and provides an embeddable widget to facilitate progress reporting.

Also don't underestimate the power competition has to motivate fund raising, especially on social networks, where it is easy to share an individual or team's current standing and motivate others to work harder. Finally, if you can swing it, try and get someone to donate some "ethical bribes" to your campaign to sweeten the pot for potential donors. The Tweet to Beat campaign had so many ethical bribes it almost felt like Billy Mays was saying, "But wait ! If you donate now, you'll get this pro account at Dropbox and a voice mail transcribing service. How can you say no to this?" and that's the point.

How to be a social media fundraiser and stay true to the Four Hour Workweek style.
Now that you know how to be a campaign manager for your favorite cause, I'm sure you're chomping at the bit to go out there and do good, but you're an incredibly busy person. Here are three tips from Ferris to efficiently become a social media fundraiser.
  1. Choose one cause or project. The more physical it is, the better. In other words, donating to education isn't as good as donating to Room to Read, which isn't as good as donating to a library in Nepal. Make it very specific, something people can experience, visit or see.
  2. Set constraints on your time. If you could only spend a total of five hours to raise $10,000, what would you do? Who would you call? Don't get fixated on the tools. Take these hypotheticals seriously and set a hard deadline with time constraints.
  3. Try and get one name involved. Better if it's a recognizable name. This is hard. But it's worth a try. Consider contacting the Big Name and offering to make a donation in their name if you can count them as a supporter.
Change the world!
There you have it, a set of instructions to change the world. Never before have the tools been more freely available, the lines of communication so cheap and their reach so big than with the power of social media. There is a tremendous opportunity for charities and individuals to create lean transparent fund raising campaigns for next to nothing and reach the masses.

Watch out world; here we come.

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