What's Your Best Tips for Organizing or Facilitating a Charity 2.0 Event?

BlogHer Original Post

Flickr Photo by DaveFishernc

Charity Balls, Dinner Dances, Black Tie Charity Events, and other parties where people donate money to a charity to party together are nothing new.   Take a look at the web site of any well-established nonprofit organization, and you'll probably see past invitations to these types of events or for an upcoming one.    We're seeing the rise of social media to promote, organize, and in some cases hold the actual charity event itself.  While initially driven by "free agent" fundraisers (those not on the organization's board or staff, but who are fans and social media users), we'll begin to see more and more as nonprofits adopt social media as part of their fundraising tool box.

Even just a decade ago, a typical nonprofit charity event would have a committee of dedicated volunteers who would plan and promote the event.  The committee would be responsible for all details of the event, as well as reaching out to their friends and colleagues with personal invitations to the event.  There is a long history of charity balls, in the early years  organized by the "Ladies Auxillary" and chronicled in the society pages of major newspapers.  (See this article from the New York Times dated April, 1896 of the Hackensack Hospital's Charity Ball)       
As Millenials start to come into their own, we're seeing Charity 2.0 events morph and change.  

Charity Ball 2.0 Offline/Online Mix

This is not your mother's or grandmother's black tie dinner dance charity event!  These are charity parities designed and organized by fans of a charity, mostly younger people.   While it is an offline event, the organizers leverage their social graphs to invite friends to the event and use social media for all aspects of managing and promoting the event.  The best example comes from Social Media for Social Change (SM4SC), an organization started by Gradon Tripp, that uses social media tools to raise money for nonprofit.   The most recent event was held this weekend to benefit City Harvest at the Roger Smith Hotel. SM4SC's goal was to raise a $20,000 donation with $13,214 contributed as of today.  The event includes a silent auction and company sponsorship.

In October, Social Media for Social Change organized a similar fundraiser event at the Harvard Club in Boston and raised more than $20,000 for Jane Doe, an organization that fights domestic violence and sexual assault.  Last fall, as part of his presentation at social media conference, Gradon Tripp shared that the event exceeded their expectations and they decided to replicate the idea in other cities with other charities.    The event in NYC was the first.

They also ran a couple of "virtual fundraisers" leading up to the April Event which served to provide an opportunity for those who couldn't attend the event in NYC to contribute and to promote the offline event itself.   On March 7, Meg Fowler  and others from Social Media for Social Good organized an online fundraiser, called Stay In and Help Us.  They asked their friends to figure out how much money they might spend on a Saturday night out (dinner and movies) and contribute the money to City Harvest, a nonprofit organization in New York that rescues food from restaurants and supermarkets and delivers it to soup kitchens and other programs that feed the hungry.  The event used social networks like Twitter and Tumblr for real-time updates on the event and had the ladies of Sleepover 2.0 live streaming for entertainment.  The event raised about $1,400 within six hours.  On March 26, they asked their online buds to participate in another Twitter-based event, TenBuckThursday, to fuel online donations for April 3rd charity event.

Another example of offline/online charity event was the Social Media Smackdown which took place mostly online, although it was launched at a face-to-face event sponsored by Mashable and Blurb during SXSW and hosted by PayPal, Kompolt and Mashable.  This charity event was not a self-organized, networked fundraiser, but an example of an agency-driven event.  The two-week fundraiser had nine teams of social media influences and celebrities competing against each other to raise for money for nine different charities.  In total, the event raised over $35,000 for charities and non-profits in less than 2 weeks.

We're also starting see how social media and social networks are allowing individuals to connect and self-organize charity events outside of a nonprofit organization.  There is a both an online and offline event that take place at the same time.  Twestival is the most recent and impressive example.  It was a networked fundraiser of a scale we haven't seen before, raising over $250,000 from over 200 cities around the world via Twitter.   As my colleague David J. Neff from the America Cancer Society quipped during our panel at SXSW, "Twitter meetups just to meet are so 2008. We want to meet up and do something with more purpose than just have a few beers."

I described the Twestival as "Look Out Here Comes Everybody To Raise Money for charity:water on Twitter" with a wink to Clay Shirky's work.  This raised some interesting discussions among nonprofits about networked fundraising, namely "Are Groundswell Fundraisers A Distraction or Opportunity?"  I had a chance to meet Twestival's founder, Amanda Rose at SXSW and chat with her.  Last month, I did a reflection interview after the event with her to discover what worked and what didn't.   Amanda organized the event as a volunteer and she is looking at the next version of the Twestival. 

I haven't yet seen any case-studies or how-to posts with advice to free agent fundraisers or nonprofits on how to organize or facilitate this a "Charity 2.0" event.   So, here's a few tips for nonprofits and free agents a like:

  • Organizing live events takes a lot of coordination, planning, systems, and time.   Be sure you have the capacity to pull it off.  Find and connect with others who want to help you get it off the ground.   
  • If you are passionate about a cause or issue area, do you due dilligence to find a nonprofit that is doing quality work on this issue. Britt Bravo has some terrific advice.  
  • If you are from a nonprofit and you want to facilitate or encourage free agent fundraisers or fans to help you or organize a charity event for your cause, you need to start with listening and identifying the influencers in your issue area.    Begin to build relationships.

What are you tips and suggestions for pulling a successful Charity 2.0 Event?

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


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