Posts Tagged: Charity communications

Making sense of social media is like herding cats

We had half-an-hour to go before the panel I was chairing at the Media 140 event on social media in the third sector event last week was due to face the audience. Fear was setting in.

Huddled in the corner, the panellists and I were chatting about the kinds of questions I would be putting to them before opening up the session to the audience in the room and on the web. And while we had all worked with social media, the sense that we might be out of our depth was creeping in.

“What does that question mean?” asked one panellist, pointing to the question ‘Where is our community?’ which had been suggested as a discussion topic.

“Er, not too sure to be honest,” I replied. After a bit of thought I figured we had better skip that one, much to the panel’s relief. No one could be quite sure if it was an important question or just gibberish (although I’m almost certain it was the latter).

Trying to identify what works and what doesn’t in social media is like trying to herd cats. Sometimes social media initiatives fail for no discernible reason. Sometimes they succeed, but we’re at a loss to know why.

Ten years ago most people were only just online, and we still had time to make a cup of coffee while our dial-up connections loaded up websites. So it’s laughable to think that anyone should already have some magic formula for something as emergent and bottom-up as social media.

We really shouldn’t get intimidated or worried by it, especially since there’s so little financial risk involved.

Social media is a chance to experiment and play. Your social media experiments might not result in what you planned, but the unexpected isn’t always the unwelcome.

Read more on Making sense of social media is like herding cats…

An extra five hundred million for charities? Here’s why See the Difference is too good to be true

According to Dominic Vallely, one of the founders of the soon-to-launch charity video sharing website See the Difference, it is like being at the beginning of Google. At least that’s what he told me when I visited his offices last week.

Vallely restated his bold claim in terms more relevant to the sector. “Children in Need and Comic Relief pioneered the idea of donating through a telethon,” he said. “We’re pioneering the next big thing: the video revolution for charities.”

It’s difficult to believe that fundraising is about to be radically shaken up – after all, a lot of charities already have videos on their websites and share these on Facebook and Twitter.

But Vallely, who was previously a senior producer at the BBC, has some big backers, including Microsoft and Virgin Money Giving. He’s ambitious: he has set the website a fundraising target of nearly £500m in its first five years.

And there’s more to it than just a library of charities’ videos, which would rely on donors bothering to go to the website and watch them. The point is to make the charities’ work a talking point, so people email videos to their friends and post them on their blogs and social networking pages, just like they do with YouTube already.

But before charities start getting over-excited, there are a few things to bear in mind. You can’t just send the videos you’ve already made: they have to fit the See the Difference model of telling a story that highlights a specific project, and pledging to tell supporters exactly how their money was spent.

This means making sometimes complicated accounting arrangements so you can ensure that £10 donated to a specific school in, say, Tanzania, is actually given to that school.

The site intends to cater for a young, headstrong generation who demand to know exactly how charities spend their money and who are sceptical that a monthly direct debit would be absorbed into general running costs.

If See the Difference gets these people giving, it will have succeeded where many charities have failed. But the website could have a different effect: of reducing unrestricted income as people give directly to specific projects.

And in the long term, it creates a cultural shift. Charities are telling their supporters, in effect, that they have a right to decide where their money goes. Surely a charity’s staff, who have knowledge and experience in their field, should decide on the most sensible allocation of funding? Will it become tough to raise general funds if a “donor choice” attitude becomes widespread?

But there could be £500m at stake here – about a one per cent increase in the total level of giving in 2008/09. For that amount, giving more of a say to demanding donors could be a risk worth taking.

Read more on An extra five hundred million for charities? Here’s why See the Difference is too good to be true…

Sharing online applications? That’s charitable

Popular opinion has it that charities are reluctant to share expertise and resources with one another. Which is why Child’s i Foundation‘s promise to make available for free its digital tools to other charities stands out as an act of goodwill.

Digital expertise is something Child’s i has in spades. The British charity, which was set up in 2008 to build a home for abandoned babies in Uganda, makes a point of using only free or low-cost resources. Up until a few months ago, for example, its website was created solely out of a free WordPress blog, though it has recently switched to a more sophisticated site.

Its developers have also created a bespoke code for its Buy a Brick fundraising campaign online, which has so far raised more than £10,000. And soon, the charity promises, the codes to both the website and the Buy a Brick tool will be available free to any charity that wants to use them.

Read more on Sharing online applications? That’s charitable…

A new youth activism magazine: just so crazy it might work

In a move that flies in the face of received wisdom on the best way to grab the attention of today’s young activists, Christian Aid’s youth campaigning arm, Ctrl+Alt+Shift., launches a biannual print consumer magazine this week.

Although the charity is not saying how much the magazine cost to produce and distribute, the amount is likely to have been considerable because, as charities know, producing and distributing paper magazines is very expensive.

And for any publisher, launching a new consumer title in a recession is a risk, and this one has a cover price of £3.95.

To add to the challenge, the magazine is aimed at young adults who, we are told, are all broke and spend their time online reading content for free.

But Katrin Owusu, Christian Aid’s head of youth marketing and innovations, is confident the risk will pay off.

“It’s just another platform to build our community,” she says. “The idea that print is dead is not true; if it’s niche, of high-quality and interesting enough to collect then people are happy to part with money.”

Owusu isn’t just acting on a hunch. She points out that last year the organisation published a limited-edition graphic novel, Ctrl+Alt+Shift Unmasks Corruption, with a cover price of £5, that sold 7,000 copies.

And the new magazine is not strictly new: it existed up until last year, albeit in a much smaller format, as a free fanzine distributed in bars and galleries. The bigger, bolder consumer title, she says, has been called for by Ctrl+Alt+Shift. supporters across the world.

It’s is certainly a beautiful and thoughtfully produced product: stylish, weighty and full of wry comment on consumer culture – an affecting six-page fashion spread, for example, highlights interrogation methods at Guantanamo (headline: “Detention to Detail”).

Read more on A new youth activism magazine: just so crazy it might work…

NGOs owe a debt to amateur bloggers

It’s been five years since the Indian Ocean tsunami. Not long, but an age in terms of online developments.

A revolution has occurred between then and now in how NGOs get information to those affected by disasters, and how they report events to the rest of the world.

Read more on NGOs owe a debt to amateur bloggers…