How the Red Cross Got Facebook Supporters To Leverage $50,000 donation from Western Union Foundation

8 years ago


Wendy Harman, American Red Cross

There's been a drumbeat of depressing news stories because of the bad economy and the outlook for nonprofits in 2009 isn't exactly cheerful either.  So, I've been looking for any glimmers of hope and inspiration.  Here's what I found this week.

Recently, thousands of Facebook members helped leveraged a $50,000 donation from the Western Union Foundation by voting for the American Red Cross and its disaster relief efforts.  The $50,000 donation will contribute to a broader American Red Cross goal to raise $100 million for disaster relief.

As soon as I heard about it, I tracked down Wendy Harman who is responsible for social media strategies at the American Red Cross to learn more about how she did it.

1. Tell us about your job?  Is it 100% social media or does it include other online/Internet marketing?

Officially, it's 100% social media.  I truly believe that being present in an open, giving, and transparent way in spaces where your supporters are already spending their time will lead to a stronger loyalty to your mission. But, in this economic climate the Red Cross is certainly making more aggressive online marketing moves.

2. Can you tell me the basics about the Red Cross $100 million fundraising campaign for disaster relief?  

2008 has been a record year for disasters and therefore a record year for disaster response.  The Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund is what gives us the ability to be ready to respond to the 70,000 disasters that happen every year. In order to keep the fund healthy, we set a goal of raising $100 million back in September. All 700+ chapters are participating in the campaign. I think we're employing every fundraising method in the book!  For our email messages, we're getting help from Blue State Digital (Obama's online strategists). We're pushing the Text2Help program that allows anyone to donate $5 by texting "Give" to 24357.

As for social media, we've tried to supply our online supporters with all the tools they might need to make it as easy as possible for them to help us get the word out that people affected by disasters need their help. We created a wiki full of sample avatars, banners, widgets, videos, audio clips, etc. – that are easy to grab and use. We've used our online channels to keep the public updated on the campaign. The campaign's home page has all the links you'd need to help out.

On Saturday we celebrated a National Day of Giving (which I like to call N-Dog) – all over the country Red Crossers were out and about raising funds for the campaign.  To date, we've raised $70 million.

3. How did you get the $50,000 from Western Union Foundation via Facebook? What was your strategy?

This was such a great victory for us. Until recently, all employees had been blocked from viewing social networking sites due to security concerns, so we were never even able to tell our own organization what we were doing out in this wild social web. Since the great wall fell, we've been able to promote initiatives like the Western Union Foundation contest to all of our chapters and blood regions. When 700+ entities across the country are all asking their supporters to vote, we have a much stronger turnout.  This contest marked the first time we were able to put a notice about taking a social media action in our internal communications channels and I believe that was the key to our success.

4.  Given the horrible economic circumstances, why concentrate any time on social media at all if other proven methods - like email - have higher ROI?

We have the luxury of being able to do both. As I said earlier, we're now using the Blue State Digital strategists to revolutionize our email outreach and we're able to complement those messages across social media platforms. Plus, even (or maybe even especially) in horrible economic circumstances it's important to listen and learn from the people whose support you're trying to inspire.

5.  What have you learned about social media strategy for fundraising that could be broadly applicable to other nonprofits?

I think you and Kami Huyse and John Cass gave me the best advice back in September. Offer the people who are talking about you easy tools to help support your mission. Hand the power to passionate supporters and they are able to leverage their own networks with their own personal stories.

To further assist the Red Cross in reaching its ambitious goal, Western Union is offering consumers the opportunity to donate to the American Red Cross at any Western Union location. All money transfer transaction fees will certainly be waived for donations to the American Red Cross to ensure that every dollar goes directly to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Beth Kanter, BlogHer CE for Nonprofits and Social Change, writes Beth's Blog.

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