Socializing With Change.org

By Heather • Jan 25th, 2009 • Category: Features, Socializing With

Note: This is the first in an ongoing series profiling how non-profit organizations — of varying sizes, locations and missions — are incorporating social media. The goal is to share lessons, spark dialogue and share ideas among non-profits.

In case you missed it, Friday was a big day in the relatively new world of social media for social good.

Change.org today announced the winners of its Ideas for Change in America competition at an event at the National Press Club and attended by nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, and members of the Obama campaign and incoming administration.

Change.org — a network for social action — is helping to lead the online movement for change. They spearheaded a movement to identify and mobilize support for causes such as affordable higher ed, universal health care, sustainability and peace. With more than 650,000 votes cast for 7,500 ideas submitted in this recent contest, clearly Change.org has mastered the art of online organizing. Managing editor Josh Levy spent a few minutes with me last week to offer insight to help non-profits get the most out of the online tools.

Here are the top three things I took from our conversation:

  1. Don’t be seduced by the lure of new tools. Too often, non-profits are looking for the quick fix. The magic online tool that will create a rush of donations. Hate to break it to you, but that’s just not going to happen. As Josh explained it, the tools are valuable, but the key is to communicate the right message and understand how to use the tools. Josh compares the exercise to a political campaign. Which leads us to the second point …
  2. Organize a community. By now, there have been hundreds of stories about the brilliance of Obama for America. Here’s the secret: Obama didn’t invent the tools. Facebook, Twitter, online fundraising — none of that was new. He just figured out how to apply his community organizing experience to the online world. His campaign identified leaders and participants — and gave them all ownership. Each person was an integral part of the bigger community. Once they were invested, they turned into a massive online army — spreading the message and discovering other willing participants within their own spheres of influence. Any non-profit can do that. Maybe not to the same scale … but the concept still applies.
  3. Allocate enough resources. I bet Josh would suggest I add a caveat to that last idea. Any non-profit can create a community of online ambassadors as long as it dedicates the necessary time and resources to do it right. As he explained, blogging is sustained engagement. Which means it need to be frequent, interesting and conversational. (And, not just press releases and announcements about yourself.) Bloggers should also be good online neighbors — linking to and commenting on other blogs. If you’re not actively engaged in that process, you probably don’t understand how  much time it requires — nor do you understand the potential benefits. Josh suggests non-profits start with two or three tools and use them well. Give your staff the time and authority to use the tools the right way. (Yes, that means you have to give up some control. Welcome to Web 2.0)

One other nugget from Josh that non-profits may not like to hear: Using social media for donations is much easier said than done. In fact, email is still the most effective online fundraising tool. That being said, if you are smart about using social media, your organization will build a community of dedicated supporters who will help spread your message. And, that’s a critical part of any non-profit’s success.

Photo credit: Alex Barth

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3 Responses »

  1. [...] Change .org today announced the winners of its Ideas for Change in America competition at an event at the National Press Club and attended by nonprofit leaders, grassroots activists, and members of the Obama campaign and incoming …[Continue Reading] [...]

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