Here’s a question with an answer that surprised me:  What’s the number one reason people support charities or causes?  According to Robert Reich who runs the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the #1 reason people contribute to or get involved in charities and causes is because someone they know asked them to.

We’ve all been there, right?  A friend asks us to support a cause she cares about, and simply because she makes the request, we want to help.  We show up, share ideas and resources, make contributions and even get our families and kids involved.   We see this behavior all around us.  It’s part of our social fabric, our social currency.

But does this give and take translate online?   Do online appeals work in the same way that our ‘real life’ social currency does?

Just last month, the Georgetown University Center for Social Impact released a study on “digital persuasion” – “how social media is being used to influence perceptions, actions and support for causes.”  The study demonstrated a big departure:  In years past, face-to-face communication was the primary mode of ‘cause information exchange’.

Now, survey respondents named social media as their top source of information about the causes they support.

The study found that more than half (55 percent) of digitally active, cause-savvy American adults were likely to do far more than simply “like” a cause.  Engaging with causes via social media prompted them to:

–       Donate money (68 percent)

–       Volunteer (53 percent)

–       Donate personal items or food (52 percent)

–       Attend or participate in an event (43 percent)

According to Georgetown, “Eighty-two percent agree that social media is effective in getting more people to talk about causes or issues.”

The numbers for bloggers and highly engaged social media moms are even higher. According to several studies, almost 90% of bloggers have used their online platforms to promote or advocate for a cause they believe in.

In The Motherhood Annual Social Good Survey of Mom Bloggers, we found that women like knowing:

–        About the causes their friends support

–       That their time spent online, blogging and posting can lead to good things

–       The power of collective action

All of which is to say that social media for social good is a huge movement that is changing the way charities, giving and volunteerism are working.

The Motherhood has worked on many, many online social good campaigns over the years.  Based on this experience, following are “9 Ways to Use Social Media to Support Your Causes and Charities”:

1.  Make a Specific Ask That Is Doable, Effective and Measurable.  Too often, we get appeals from friends asking us to support their causes, but we’re not quite sure how we can help or if our involvement or contribution will make any difference.

So, first off, when you invite people to get involved in your cause or charity, be sure you can answer the question, “What can I do to help?” One idea is to create a milestone for your campaign (e.g., “if 100 people agree to do X, some great good will happen as a result”).  Make sure your request is easily doable and that it will result in measurable impact.

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The Motherhood worked with the UN Foundation and Shot@Life to help create “Blogust” – a blog relay last August.  Every day for the 31 days of the month, a different blogger posted about Shot@Life and the importance of vaccines around the world.  For every comment to the posts, $20 went to Shot@Life to vaccinate a child.  One comment = one life saved.  More than 11,000 comments came in and we hit the program goal of $200,000 raised for Shot@Life.

We gave the community a specific, doable, measurable goal – and the community exceeded it.  Said another way, we might not be able to vaccinate all the kids in the world in a month, but we sure can hit the target of 10,000 comments and save 10,000 kids’ lives.

2.  Share Your Story. Women know instinctually that we connect with each other around our shared stories.  When we hear or read about a friend going through a hard time, our heart goes out to them and we want to help – much more so than if we read the statistics on how many people suffer from that particular problem.

We’ve seen this time and again – storytelling is the best way to get people involved in the charities and causes you believe in.  Share why it matters to you. Share individual stories of impact.  Share stories to demonstrate why the need is so great.  That’s what the 31 fabulous bloggers of Blogust did and their stories were gorgeous … and the response was huge.


3.    Invite your friends and give them a role.  When the ONE Campaign invited Cooper and me to travel with them and 8 bloggers to Kenya, we helped create a project with ONE to spread the word and engage moms in the U.S.  We gave our group the name “ONE Moms” and invited almost 40 U.S.-based online communities of moms – think Cool Mom Picks, Spanglish Baby, Boston Mamas, Parent Hacks and MomsRising – to get involved as “ONE Mom Partners”.

The ONE Mom Partners received a menu of ways they could choose to join in – from cross-posting blog posts, to interviewing a ONE expert or joining a conference call with the CDC in Kenya, and more – and they created magic on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter before the trip and as they interacted with and shared our posts and tweets from Kenya.  Thanks in part to their great efforts, when the ONE Moms returned from Kenya, ABC News named us “Person of the Week” and covered our story on Good Morning America.

4.  Choose the social media platform that’s right for the project.  Facebook is the most active and successful social media platform for charities and causes, but it’s not right for everything.  For example, in our work with the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, one of the goals was to ask moms to contact their Congressmen and Senators and thank them for their support.  Well, it is notoriously, hard to get moms to pick up the phone and call their mayors, governors or representatives (for reasons we completely understand).

For this project, our approach was to create a Twitter chat and ask moms to send a message to their representatives via Twitter – a much easier ask than picking up the phone.  The Twitter chat generated many millions of impressions and was the right venue for the conversation.

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5.  Use the web for what it does well – crowd-source information that’s useful for everyone

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and we are working with The Century Council to encourage parents to talk to their kids about underage drinking.  On April 17 at 1 pm ET, The Motherhood and Women Online are hosting an hour-long Twitter party, with 10 fabulous bloggers as co-hosts, for moms and dads to share how they approach the topic of underage drinking with their kids.  Through the collective wisdom of the group, we will all come away with insights and new approaches – and will support a very important cause for parents of teens and tweens.  Please join us!

6.  Go for media coverage.  However big or small your campaign, be sure to let your local papers, radio outlets and TV stations know about it.  You really never know when your project might be exactly what a reporter is looking for.  We’re living in a transmedia world – online and mainstream media working together create the greatest impact.

7.  Celebrate the Win and Say Thank You.  There is nothing more powerful than saying ‘thank you’ and then giving everyone a huge collective hug for their hard work and accomplishments on your project. This sounds so very obvious, but it is amazing how often this step is left off.  Give your family, friends, neighbors and online community a reason to be proud of their contribution – and something positive to share with their family around the dinner table that night.


8.  Plan for Giving Tuesday in November 2103.   The UN Foundation, Mashable and 92nd Street Y launched the first Giving Tuesday this past November and it was a raging success.  More than 2,500 charities participated in the first Giving Tuesday and $10 million was donated online that day, a 113% increase compared to the same date the year before.

The second Giving Tuesday will take place on December 3, 2013, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, and given the huge response to #GivingTuesday last year, your charity or cause will want to be a part of it.

9. Follow the People Doing Great Things.  We’re all creating history here – social media for social good is still very, very new, and every day new ways to use online platforms are being created and discovered.  Our advice – tap the insights and expertise of the women doing fabulous things in the space.  We hope you’ll keep checking in with The Motherhood – we post about social media and social good all the time (here’s our recent post on the fantastic Merck for Mothers campaign – a great Facebook model to consider).  And be sure to follow great innovators, among them:  Chrysula Winegar at When You Wake Up a Mother; Morra Aarons-Mele at Women Online and The Mission List; Jennifer James at The Mom Bloggers Club and Mom Bloggers for Social Good; Catherine Connors and her team at Babble; Jennifer Burden at World Mom Blogs; Jyl Johnson Pattee at Mom It Forward; the team at MomsRising; and Amy Graff at BabyCenter. (Please share in the comments the names of others we should all be following!)  In September, follow and participate in the Social Good Summit to get the latest from around the globe.

The Nine

  1. Make a specific ask that is doable, effective and measurable
  2. Share your story
  3. Invite your friends and give them a role
  4. Choose the social media platform that’s right for your project
  5. Use the web for what it does well – crowd-source information that’s useful for everyone
  6. Go for media coverage
  7. Celebrate the win and say thank you
  8. Plan for Giving Tuesday 2013
  9. Follow the people doing great things

Lastly, thanks to Holly Rosen Fink who invited me to speak at WestchesterIRL, the impetus for this post.