Thursday, February 28, 2013

Crowdfunding 3.0

It's definitely not news that social media have democratized philanthropy, enabling people not previously part of the nation's wealthy "giving class" to start participating at multiple levels.

The digital mass philanthropy movement is definitely making a mark: in the past several years, nearly $1 billion has been raised for good causes via crowdfunding—on platforms ranging from the iconic Kickstarter to somewhat newer players with names like Hope Mob, Start Some Good, Crowdrise and Indiegogo. Micro-donations coming in last year for arts projects via Kickstarter, for example, exceeded the total given in 2012 by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

But many social cause organizations and nonprofits are still very new to these platforms, with some still trying to figure out how best to tackle a crowdfunding campaign of their own.

As part of this past week's Social Media Week NYC 2013 events roster, CauseGlobal assembled a panel of crowdfunding pioneers last week during Social Media Week to talk about what works and what doesn't. Among the panelists were: Crowdrise Co-Founder and CEO Robert Wolfe; Hope Mob Founder and CEO Shaun King; Kickstarter's Arts Projects Coordinator Stephanie Pereira; social media consultant and author Geoff Livingston, and Mary Ann Wincorkowski, the coordinator and chief strategist of an Indiegogo campaign staged successfully last fall to raise more than $64,000 and reopen the struggling Word Up Books community bookshop in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood.

Contemplating a crowdfunding campaign of your own? For those of you who had to miss last week's event, here are the panelists' Top 20 bits of advice:

1. Create a sense of urgency. Says Crowdrise CEO Robert Wolfe: "Tell people they have a short amount of time to act on your campaign, and spell out what will not happen or be missing if they fail to act quickly."

2. Tell a shareable story. Most causes are inherently urgent in nature, but without creating a story to convey a sense of urgency, your campaign might fall short of the mark. Instead, tell and share a gripping story of a local individual or group. "Find new ways to clarify the stakes for the people from which you are asking support," Wolfe said. "Make it about the 'here' and the 'now in their sphere of experience" so that sharing it is about sharing the familiar, or that which is knowable and verifiable.

3. Don't wait to build your social network; engage your core influencers early. This is basic, but worth repeating. Says Wolfe: "Treat your crowdfunding campaign like a community acquisition and activation exercise, and measure engagement from the start." Says consultant Livingston: "Keep watering the garden to build your community by sharing with them way before, during, and long after your first crowdfunding campaign. Share what other people are doing in the sector and congratulate them for what they are doing to achieve the causes you're helping. Celebrate their work for the cause, and they will celebrate yours. Share your work and everyone else's like crazy. Make it about the cause and the business of being involved, not about an organization."

4. Get training on the crowdfunding platform you've chosen to use. "Don't assume you know it or can simply pick up on your own what the platform can do," says Livingston. "Get deep training on it so you can maximize measurement and capture community as well as engage in to the max." Training also helps fundraisers understand better how to shape their campaign to the types of supporters they have, and the social media platforms they're already using.

5. Plan to invest 10-30 hours of staff time. All panelists said it takes a core team of volunteers and staff people to pull off a successful crowdfunding campaign. Says Word Up's Wincorkowski: "You can't run a campaign run by three people in a corner. You want to engage everyone in the organization in some way, and you want to work with people who already have a connection and a stake in the outcome."

6. Build trust early and often. Don't promise what you cannot deliver. Set realistic crowdfunding targets low enough so it's a pretty sure thing you will exceed them, and find other ways to reassure people that you and your campaign is trustworthy and "for real." Hope Mob, for example, offers to verify the stories it tells about the fundraising targets on its platform. "We're pretty rigorous that way," says CEO King. "If you don't have a verified story on our platform, you cannot receive a check." King tells of a campaign on Hope Mob that had sought to raise money for a child's hearing aid, but instead of sending a check to the organization after the successful end to the campaign, Hope Mob bought a hearing aid for the child with the money collected and reported that it did this to build trust among donors. "Everyone who donated gave a percentage of the cost of that hearing aid," King says. "This is about trust. For donors who don't have the covering of a charity they know and can trust, we offer them our ability as an organization to deliver and to report back."

7. Don't wait too long to get started. Says King: "People often wait too long to start something that is in their minds and hearts to do. Trust that you probably have everything you need to start right now. It doesn't matter what stage of life you are in, people always feel they're missing something. You never have enough time, right? You never have enough money. But the truth is this: you never will have more time than what you have now. Go get started!"

8. Don't just offer incentives, offer the right kind of incentives. "What you're offering in exchange for people's buy-in should be relevant to your project," says Kickstarter's Pereira. "Think about commissioning a community of local visual artists for some original artwork, or instead of sending donors a movie poster, think of an experience you can offer them, instead—like an invitation to a local premiere, or the opportunity to help sponsor a special showing."

9. Measure. Use your campaign to build your community—not just for one crowdfunding project, but for future support over time. Use an analytical tool and set up a dashboard to monitor the levels and nature of the online community you're attracting to the campaign. If you don't have one, get one. Watch it. Use it to drive future decisions about the kinds of stories you tell and the social media platforms you're choosing to get the word out and build support.

10. Set realistic goals. Says King: "We see people, all the time—because their dreams and hearts are so big—set impossible goals and they often never hit them and then get discouraged. I always tell people to set the goal much much lower than what you think you will need. That builds credibility and encourages internal discipline and serious budgeting." Adds Livingston: "Underestimate rather than shoot too high. You want to blow past your target, not fall short of your goal."

11. Make your content excellent. "Identify a group of strong writers and content creators on your team or among your volunteer base," King advises. "A well-written story and photographs go very far; a really phenomenal video or two makes your likelihood of crowdfunding success even higher. Find a graphic designer to help you. Find a volunteer. There are amazing people who are just waiting for someone to ask them for a meaningful way to use their skills." Also critical, says King:  "Don't post mediocrity. It's better to delay publication of a crowdfunding site or a video until it is amazing. Don't be cheap. Have a budget for producing professional content and take a percent of what you're raising to pay for it." And lastly? Offers Wolfe: "Make it less about words and more about the visuals. Let strong images make the sale."

12. Don't just think of your $25 donors as one-offs. Convert them into $200 donors by getting them to bring their friends to the table, as additional crowdfunders around your project. And then, after the campaign is over, continue to engage them and invite them to give more of themselves, their time, or their dollars to the goals you're next trying to achieve.

13. Make it a group experience. "The biggest thing," says Wincorkowski, "is to form a great team to expose your cause and make it a community endeavor. We were all fired up having to shut down this bookstore, so we were all enthusiastic about the chance to get it going again." Word Up was able to engage the writer Junot Diaz, who helped volunteers put together a video about the bookstore. "That helped us to turn the tide," Wincorkowski said. But don't forget to also go offline with your appeals. "We did a lot of our community building in person, as well. We showed our faces and we ended up raising a lot of money offline, as well, convincing supporters to give a portion of their services to this campaign. We made it clear from the start that this wasn't about us but about all of us."

14. Make it a shareable story.  Says Pereira: "Take off your fundraiser hat. Don't run a crowdfunding campaign as a fundraiser but as a creative team that is engaging personally with people around the passion you share for the cause. If you're having fun and pushing a positive message, it comes across as a positive attitude that is powerful. Such attitudes are infectious, and sharing is all about inspiring others to say, 'Hey, I saw this great video, check it out.'" Attitude also can be contagious.

15. Make sure the message of your campaign is crystal-clear. "On most crowdfunding platforms, there are at least 10,000 donors, but if your message isn't clear, they will move on—especially when the next campaign is just one click away," Wolfe says. "Nobody wants to read a long document to learn what it is you're up to, so be clear.  Make it short, like '$25 feeds 30 hungry New Yorkers.' And keep it focused on getting someone to buy something.  No matter how great your message is, if you don't have it matched to a good, short story with a clear message, it's not going to go anywhere."

16. Don't work with inexperienced fundraisers. Says Wincorkowski: "You need people who are aware of what it takes to inspire people to give and to keep track of those efforts."

17. Don't set up a conflict with other initiatives, says Livingston. Don't steal the buzz from another project or dilute the amount of staffing you have to support the projects already under way.

18. Don't assume people know you do amazing work. Prove it to them with links, says King.

19. Choose the right platform for your effort, not the most popular one, says Livingston. Make sure—before you start your campaign—that you know exactly what the fee structure is all about and what is required of them and of you.

20. Link to previous success stories. "Show them that you've done this before and that it is within your capacity and networks to achieve impact," says King.

Got any lessons to add? Share them with us!

-- Marcia Stepanek


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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cause Film Oscars

Oscar night is here, and once again this year, there are five short cause documentaries up for an award. The 2013 nominees profile a range of courageous people, from an artistically gifted homeless teen in San Diego to can collectors on the streets of New York, to women cancer survivors. Most of the films reference specific social good initiatives and the work of some largely unsung nonprofits. [It's still not too late to see these important, deeply moving films about the challenges of everyday life across the country and the globe. If you're in New York, the Independent Film Center in Greenwich Village is screening them today and tomorrow.]

And the nominees are:

1. Inocente profiles a 15-year-old girl from San Diego who has been homeless most of her life but who finds "a safe place to go" spiritually in her art and her paintings. "We were looking for a story to do about homelessness, especially about homeless kids," filmmaker Sean Fine told WNYC Radio's Audie Cornish in a February 21, 2013 interview. "We found a nonprofit art program in San Diego called Reason to Survive, and we were invited to go out there and meet Inocente, who had been homeless almost her whole life. Her father was deported for domestic abuse. She has an alcoholic mother who, at one point, threatens suicide. Inocente represents a kind of homelessness that is overlooked in society, that doesn't mean you wake up on the street but are always moving between shelters and friend's houses and apartments, where nothing ever feels like home."

Yet Inocente is anything but a victim. "Here's this girl who, on paper, I would expect to be in a gang or maybe be doing drugs or something horrible because she has had everything in life thrown at her before the age of 15," says Fine, who made the film with his wife, Andrea Nix Fine. "And yet she paints these beautiful, colorful, rich and vibrant paintings and is throwing her soul onto canvas in this beautiful way, and I think it's the way she sees the world." The film was produced by our friend Susan MacLaury, the executive director of Shine Global, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of children worldwide.

Here's the trailer:

[For more on the filmmakers, see this profile of Andrea Nix Fine for Contribute Magazine.]

2. Kings Point  is a heartbreaking documentary about a complex of modest retirement condos in Delray Beach, Florida, where director/producer Sari Gilman's grandmother lived for many years.  Filmed over a 10-year period, the film shows the lonely and raw lives of the seniors who live there and offers a glimpse at how illness and advancing age can shape the social lives of people in the last years of their lives.  "I wanted to show the clash of that sunny promise we all have of retirement and what happens when you do live maybe 20 years longer than you thought you were going to live," Gilman told WNYC Radio in a February 19, 2013 interview. It is a cautionary tale for the millions of Baby Boomers on the cusp of retirement.

Here's the trailer:

Kings Point trailer from Sari Gilman on Vimeo.

3. Mondays at Racine is a documentary about how some women are coping with the physical and emotional scars from cancer. The 39-minute exploration of cancer patients in their most vulnerable moments is anchored in a Long Island beauty salon, Racine Salon de Beaute & Spa, run by two women who lost their mother to breast cancer, and who, every third Monday of the month, give free makeovers, facials and massages to the cancer patients who walk through their doors. "It is a safe place to cry and laugh and connect with each other," says Director Cynthia Wade. Wade followed the women in her film for 2.5 years, from the time they were diagnosed through the path of their illness and their fight against cancer. "It is not a medical film but a film about their emotional lives," Wade told WNYC Radio in a February 22, 2013 interview. Wade will be taking one of the women in her film, Cambria, to the Oscars; the other women she profiled, all survivors, will be watching from home with their husbands.

Here's the trailer:

4. Open Heart is the story of eight Rwandan children who need life-saving cardiac surgery from rheumatic heart disease (stemming from untreated strep throat) and the Salam Center, the one hospital in Sudan that can save them. Filmmaker Kief Davidson made the film to raise awareness of the massive spread of rheumatic heart disease in Sub-Saharan Africa due, in part, to the lack of availability of basic antibiotics among the very poor. The film focuses on the work of Dr. Emmanuel Rusingiza, Rwanda's long-overworked public cardiologist, and Dr. Gino Strada, an Italian war surgeon and also the Salam Center's chief surgeon. The Salam Center is a $15 million hospital run and managed by the Italian NGO Emergency, founded in 1994 to help civilian victims of war. The hospital is Africa's only free-of-charge, state-of-the-art cardiac hospital and it performs high-risk open-heart surgery. "Emergency (the NPO) chose to build this hospital in Sudan, because it is the only country in Africa surrounded by nine neighbors, and it is the most easily accessible to patients who need to get there in a hurry," Davidson told WNYC Radio in a February 21, 2013 interview. "...There is sadness and anger because rheumatic heart disease is such a preventable disease. In America, 100 years ago, rheumatic heart disease was the No. 1 killer in the United States, and it is now virtually zero. But in Africa, it is estimated that there are 18 million people suffering from this today."

Here's the trailer:

Open Heart - trailer from Zak Mulligan on Vimeo.

5. Redemption, by filmmakers Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill, is the story of New York City's "canners"—the thousands of jobless or fixed-income New Yorkers who comb through garbage to find empty bottles and cans so they can trade them in for money (five cents each) at the local redemption center. "We wanted to change our neighborhood and make it better," Alpert told "My wife and I were doing community organizing in Chinatown and the Lower East Side of New York in the 1970s, and failing to make a dent. But when we took one of the early, primitive, black-and-white porta-pak cameras and made short films that documented the horrific conditions of our local schools, factories and hospitals, things began to change." That passion for short cause film and video, coupled with HBO Documentary chief Sheila Nevins's curiosity about these can-collectors in her Manhattan neighborhood, resulted in Redemption, a film about these canners struggling at the edge of society. It was shot between 2010 and 2012 on Manhattan's Lower East Side and Chinatown. "I can usually collect enough cans in a day to redeem for $25, and on Sundays I get more, depending on where I go to get the cans, and the numbers of canners on the streets is increasing," one of the canners in the film told The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC Radio in a February 8, 2013 interview. Added O'Neill: "This is the invisible work force in this city."

The link for the trailer is here (click past the ad).

Let us at CauseGlobal know which is your favorite!

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Top photo: One of the cancer patients who patronizes the Long Island beauty salon, Racine's, courtesy Mondays at Racine's)

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

16 TakeAways

'Tis the peak season for big social media conferences around the country, and CauseGlobal caught up with two of the year's first this past weekend, the Media That Matters 2013 conference in DC on Friday and the just-ended Social Media Weekend gathering at Columbia. [Social Media Week kicks off today and we'll be there, too!]

(User-recommendations versus vendor-PR):
Rebel Mouse. Founder Paul Berry, former CTO for the Huffington Post, asked himself while creating this social media publisher/aggregator, "Does the world really need yet another social media service?" You be the judge. This tool is for helping NPOs create a "social front page" out of the most popular bits of information in their Twitter and Facebook streams, updated in real time. They look a bit like Pinterest pages — all highly visual and updated dynamically from a feed, or many feeds (users choose). Berry says Rebel Mouse can help nonprofits engage better with key supporters in the conversations that matter the most. Here's how PBS used a Rebel Mouse page to share viewer reactions to Hurricane Nemo (photos, videos, and 6-second Vine videos) as it was happening. Here's the Chronicle of Philanthropy's Rebel Mouse page, an information graphic from its survey data. How might your nonprofit better convey its impact and relevancy using a real-time social media aggregator?

* Soundcloud: This is a social audio service that can help organizations create short sound clips (from their iPhones or other mobile devices) and share them dynamically. NPOs can interview an issues expert or a key supporter who can help you make the case for urgency around your cause. How does it work? Upload the audio from you iPhone or recording device to your NPO's Soundcloud page and their direct supporters there to hear it, or embed the audio clip into your organization's home page or blog. A cause might use Soundcloud clips to send a "thank-you" or a brief testimonial from someone your cause helped, and this content also can be tweeted. Recent examples: this recording of what the meteor last week sounded like as it crashed into Russia, courtesy KQED Public Radio in San Francisco. The New Yorker is using it, too, here

Vine. Twitter's new 6-second video-sharing app that lets organizations and individuals share clips with motion and sound. Here's a post on the app by Nonprofit Nate, on the "21 Nonprofit uses for Twitter's new Vine Video App."

Jollyfy. It's a new video recording and sharing app for iPhone and iPad that allows people to record videos during a conference or fundraising event or gala and create a group video album of the collective experience. Think Flickr for short videos.

TwylahA Twitter organizing tool that helps you focus and convey your tweets around your organization's top brand attributes or goals. Here's a link to some nonprofits using Twylah. Here's the Twylah page set up by Doctors Without Borders. Use Twylah if your mission needs to be more clearly defined, or if your staff has a tendency to go "off mission" in its tweetstreams and other communications. Getting clarity around mission is at the core of a nonprofit's success on social media; Twylah promises to help cause leaders stay on-message. A tool to measure audience engagement around the Instagram photos you send and share. NBC uses to gauge its audience around the news photos it shares; nonprofit groups that are especially well-suited to sharing photos (environment, animal, arts and education organizations) might consider using this tool as part of its volunteer and donor outreach programs. Here's an example of a fundraising page on

WhoSharedMyLink: This is a tool that does what its name suggests. Check it out here.

OneQube: Another measurement tool, but this one for real-time insights into trends, participants and content appearing in #hashtag conversations. See this sample from Social Media Weekend. helps nonprofits integrate their engagement metrics and data with the stories that they tell. It pulls data from around the web or out of NPO spreadsheets and data dashboards, and displays it graphically in simple widgets. Nonprofits can put their dashboards together in any way they choose, incorporating everything from follower counts on Twitter to MP3 files of audio to video clips and photographs and infographics that contain only the most relevant information and data about themselves and their key issues. Fast Company recently gave it rave reviews. See this dashboard for Future Leaders of Kenya and this one for Barefoot College. Co-founder Wendy Levy, who I met Friday in DC, says: "We need to get beyond measuring page views and Facebook views, to get a better assessment of how our work as change-makers is actually changing the world around us ... We (nonprofits) are walking and talking data sources, and if we cannot convey that data and convert it into information that helps us make change and measure our impact on the Earth as organizations, then we will be left on the porch while the train leaves the station, and we might as well be shouting into tin cups connected by string."  

Many cause video storytellers are expanding their reach with transmedia campaigns, aimed at promoting awareness, engagement and fundraising across multiple platforms, online and off. Among notable examples from the #MTMDC conference Friday:

* Cause video-maker Nancy Schwartzman and her groundbreaking "The Line" video about young women and teen rape, and the mobile app she developed to promote the film that has now been downloaded more than 50,000 times in 23 countries. Called Circle of 6, the app gives young women a quick, "always on" way to get advice from the six people they trust the most, precisely at the time they need it the most. The inspiration for the app came from Schwartzman's interviews with hundreds of teens during the making of her cause film. During the filmmaking, Schwartzman said, she "let target audience input help drive the direction of the film, so that it became less a video that I made and more of a video I made with my target audience, together — to help others." 

*  Manhattan Filmmaker Roland Legiardi-Laura, co-director of "To Be Heard,"  created the mobile platform, "Power Poetry," from the film to help further promote his push to improve literacy in New York's public schools and on the streets of the city. 

* Pultizer Prize-winning authors Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are releasing a Facebook game on March 4th as part of their transmedia "Half the Sky Movement" campaign. Announced at Saturday's Social Media Weekend gathering, the Half the Sky game title is to be an adventure game targeted at making mainstream audiences more aware of the trafficking of girls and women as sex slaves — and other issues facing females in the developing world (as well as here at home). Produced by Games for Change and co-funded by, the Ford Foundation, Intel, the Rockefeller Foundation and the United Nations, among others, the game joins the book and PBS video series, all geared to the mission of ending the oppression and abuse of women and girls worldwide.


Evidence-based marketing is the next big thing for nonprofits, says UNICEF's Impact and Analysis Coordinator Sebastian Majewski — of the first cause data analysts in the nation. Think data-driven messaging that stresses proof of impact, as well as better strategies for engaging new funders. "This is all about a nonprofit moving from, 'I feel we should do this or that' to 'I know we should do this '— moving from feeling to knowing," Majewski told Social Media Weekend attendees. "It's also about understanding supporter and stakeholder sentiment over time. It's about knowing who is driving communications and the conversations that matter to your organization the most. It's about knowing exactly how your organization can add value in order to be recognized."

UNICEF is the most popular charity across the two main social media networks, Twitter and Facebook, with 1,010,614 followers on Twitter and more than 1.7 million likes on Facebook, say Social Media Weekend organizers. Says Majewski: "Don't monitor your nonprofit brand using social media analytics," he says. "Monitor for the issues your brand wants to be amplified."

Build impact measures into your projects from the start, so your projects are less about experimentation and more strongly tied to mission, says's Wendy Levy. Adds Sally Osberg, our friend and President of the Skoll Foundation: "I'm tired of raising awareness. Where's the change?" Cause supporters are demanding proof of impact as never before.

Data philanthropy is among the most important new areas of giving. Big data —- the terabytes of data collected daily across the world by governments and businesses and nonprofits and schools — contains hugely valuable information for nonprofit causes, if only organizations could translate this information glut into insights they could use to help solve social problems and more effectively target their efforts. In the past year or two, new nonprofits and causes are cropping up to make that happen, and a new form of philanthropy, called data philanthropy. See this post by our friend Lucy Bernholz on the coming influence of Big Data on the giving sector.

* More tips from the tweet-stream of Social Media Weekend, from blogger Karen Sieminski:
Screen Shot 2013-02-18 at 6.36.23 PM

Cause Global will be attending this week's social media uber-gathering, Social Media Week NYC, and participating on a panel we helped to organize at NYU on Crowdfunding for Causes, here.

Hope to see you there!

-- Marcia Stepanek


Monday, February 11, 2013

Philanthropy 3.0

Once again this year, I'm curating a Speaker Series for NYU on disruptive innovation in the advocacy sector. Called Philanthropy 3.0, the series, which I founded in 2010, is aligned with the graduate class on social media strategy that I teach with Howard Greenstein and Tom Watson for the Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. It's all about the influence of emerging/social media on advocacy for social good.

This year's segments focus on Crowdfunding, women-led digital activism, Cause Video and big data partnerships between nonprofits and the nation's new crop of data hackers/analysts for good. All panels will be held from 6-8p at the NYU Welcome Center Auditorium at 50 West 4th Street, on the NYU campus just east of Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Wednesday, February 20tha Social Media Week panel on crowdfunding for causes. Among the panelists are Shaun King, founder and CEO of Hope Mob. King, 28, is the pastor of Courageous Church in Atlanta. he founded Hope Mob in 2012 as a social media platform that asks strangers to vote on which lives to help — "lives that would otherwise fall through the philanthropic cracks of society," King told Fast Company magazine last year. Also on that panel will be: Robert Wolfe, the co-founder of Crowdrise, a cause-focused platform he founded with actor/philanthropist Edward Norton; Stephanie Pereiera of Kickstarter; Veronica Liu of Word Up, an NYC nonprofit that used Indiegogo to raise more than $65,000 to keep the doors open at this community bookstore in Washington Heights, and Geoff Livingston, the social media strategist and author of The Fifth Estate: How to Create and Sustain a Winning Social Media Strategy. Howard Greenstein will be moderating.

Wednesday, March 6th — we'll be talking about the rise of women-led social networks in advocacy, in honor of Women's Philanthropy Month. The panel, "Women and Philanthropy: Networked Activism for a Changing Landscape," will include Jennifer James of Mom Bloggers for Social Good and Allison Fine, co-author of The Wired Nonprofit. Tom Watson will be moderating this one.

Then, on Wednesday, April 10th — same time, same place — I'll be moderating a panel on the latest trends in the use of cause video and social media in fundraising. It will feature the formerly homeless activist Mark Horvath, founder and CEO of; Lee Hirsch, the filmmaker behind Bully, the acclaimed 2011 cause film on bullying, and Susan MacLaury, the chief of Shine Global and producer of Inocente, one of this year's Oscar-nominated short subject documentaries. Michael Hoffman, the CEO of See3 Communications, also will participate. See3 is a co-sponsor with YouTube, Cisco, NTEN and the Case Foundation of the national Do-Gooder Nonprofit Video Awards, and Hoffman will preview this year's finalists.

The last event in the series will be held on Wednesday, May 1st, on Big Data and "hackers for good" in the social advocacy sector. I'll be moderating a demo of a couple of nonprofit projects that are using "deep-data" analysis of government/public information and corporate data in the public sphere to more accurately pinpoint the source and nature of social problems over time — and, in the process, are reshaping these causes' missions and fundraising/action strategies.

Here's the registration link to the program; watch this space for the Series site link. Hope you can join us this year. All panels are free and open to the public.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Photo, above: 15-year-old Inocente, the subject of the Oscar-nominated short documentary of the same name, courtesy of Shine Global)

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lessons from the Front

Some 21 years ago, just after the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Beijing's Tiananmen Square ended in a spray of violence and live fire from military tanks that killed untold thousands, a Chinese journalist colleague of mine advised fellow activists to "be like water." He was quoting a proverb, urging persistence in the face of towering obstacles. Water, he explained, can seep through and around even the most imposing walls to get to the other side.

Fast forward to February 11, 2011, to Tahrir Square, and to the pro-democracy activists in Egypt and their social-media inspired youth movement that forced Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak to step down following years of strategizing and weeks and months of open, organized protest. Watching the cheering crowds via an al-Jazeera livestream from my office in New York on the night Mubarak was deposed, I couldn't help but recall my Beijing colleague's advice two decades earlier, to "be like water." Social media helped to make the difference this time; it helped a large group of change-makers organize a campaign for change that was able to prevail despite traditional efforts by government military forces to squelch it.

In my keynote on social media strategy last week at Stanford University (and with my NYU master's students earlier this week who are enrolled in the class I teach with colleagues Howard Greenstein and Tom Watson, The Wired Nonprofit: Social Media Strategy and Practice), I shared these Top 5 lessons from the rise of social media movements globally. While social media are still evolving, they continue to influence the balance of power between citizens and organizations, and are reshaping the behaviors of many establishment institutions and organizations.

1. It's not about the tools. Technology—social media —changes our behavior and our relationships with each other, and with our organizations. For years, the Internet has been dis-intermediating the "middlemen" across society, from travel agents to video rental stores. Traditional charities have long operated as the middleman between resources and need, but with the advent of social media and the Internet, more "free agent" donors prefer to "go direct." A new crop of "digital nonprofits" such as, and Donor'sChoose are meeting that need, reinventing the role of the middleman in the social good sector.

2. Social media decentralize leadership, shifting the locus of power to outside the walls of established organizations. Some traditional nonprofits tend to overestimate their supporters' dependence on them for access to information and underestimate their supporters' access to each other. The rise of social networks means that supporters don't need a nonprofit's permission to act, or to assemble, or to create fundraising campaigns of their own. The nonprofit establishment can no longer completely control the conversation; new strategies are required to accommodate and engage the conversations and activities of free-agent donors that are occurring outside the traditional donor networks. Social media also create new ways that supporters can hold nonprofits accountable to them. Example: last year's Susan G. Komen for the Cure controversy.

3. Social media create shared awareness. Facebook, Twitter, and other mainstream social networks create large networks for rapid information-sharing. They also make it possible for cause advocates to easily create solidarity around particular events that underscore the importance of their missions. Examples: the "We Are All Khaled Said" campaign on Facebook and the "We Are All Trayvon Martin" actions organized by social media, including a "Justice for Trayvon Martin" page on Facebook. Occupy Wall Street's "We are the 99%" blog on Tumblr and the more recent "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother" essay on Facebook (which drew 1.2 million likes as a re-post on The Huffington Post earlier this year) provide additional examples of how cause advocates can use social media to create and expand the strategy of "shared awareness" to build support for their goals.

4. Social networks want proof of impact. Nonprofits are under vastly increased pressure to prove their relevancy and impact on social platforms. Supporters and would-be donors want causes to "show" their work, not simply talk about it. Examples:'s "Proving It" pages and the 5 Gyres project, a nonprofit that is seeking to raise awareness of the world's five "garbage islands." 5 Gyres employed photographer Chris Jordan to help prove its mission to potential fundraisers.

5. Social media democratize philanthropy. Micro-donations, made possible by online fundraising platforms and social media networks, have been a rapidly growing segment of support for nonprofits. Cause leaders are being forced to expand their understanding of who their supporters are, and to create new ways to work with vast numbers of new advocates, representing more diverse age and income groups across society. No longer can nonprofits afford only to target high net worth individuals and corporations for new dollars. These new free agent social networks represent a powerful new constituency for fundraisers and a new lever of influence. Nonprofits wishing to cultivate the support of social networks must devise new strategies that meet these new micro-donors where they work and play, using social media.

The bottom line? Social media can invigorate a cause and deliver help in new ways, but increasingly "from the outside in."

-- Marcia Stepanek