May 19, 2010

Behind the success of 10 top Causes

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At the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, one of thousands of causes on Causes.com.

Campaigns, timely updates, passionate supporters add up to move the needle

By Kim Bale
Socialbrite staff

Lots of nonprofits and social change organizations have used Causes (formerly Facebook Causes) to raise funds and amplify their efforts, but the vast majority of them haven’t moved the needle much. So we set out to discover: What makes a successful campaign on Causes?

Each week, people donate hundreds of thousands of dollars on Causes. But participating organizations often have goals beyond raising funds: Many are trying to recruit new supporters, raise awareness about issues, enlist people to attend events and so on. Organizations using Causes, a small unit within Facebook, often use Facebook apps and the viral power of friends of friends to generate attention in a way not possible in the days of stand-alone destination websites.

The really remarkable stories on Causes, though, involve the individual activists — not the nonprofits themselves — who launch a cause and generate interest in some of today’s most pressing issues. Some causes grow in membership by word of mouth, while others are part of a planned outreach campaign. Large or small, each cause showcases its top recruiters, donors and fundraisers in its Hall of Fame, prompting more people to participate.

While Causes has not lived up to everyone’s lofty expectations as a money machine, even small-scale causes — like the $3,400 donated to help wildlife hurt by the BP oil spill — can add up to make a difference.

There are many elements to creating a successful cause campaign — frequent updates, active supporters, playing off news headlines and joining larger fundraising efforts are four key factors — and lots of ways to measure success. Here are 10 of the best efforts we’ve seen on Causes. Have your own favorite? Add it in the comments below!

 
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The Race To End Cancer

1With nearly 6 million members, The Race to End Cancer is the largest Facebook cause and has raised $74,105 for the Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Started by 19-year-old Michelle Miles, the cause has become enormously successful as members recruit their friends in hopes of raising money and growing it to the next level. Incentives such as competing in America’s Giving Challenge (Causes is one of three sponsors) and helping the hospital win a playroom makeover sponsored by Xbox keep members donating and recruiting friends. Other successful cancer campaigns include Campaign for Cancer Prevention and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, among many others.

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Overseas China Education Foundation (OCEF)

2The OCEF has more than 10,000 members and has donated more than $240,000 to improve school systems in rural China and help disadvantaged children get an education. Part of their success is due to tying in to larger campaigns, including the Facebook app for Chase Community Giving and America’s Giving Challenge; OCEF won the 2009 Giving Challenge, receiving over 13,000 of the 105,420 donations made.

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Love Without Boundaries Foundation

3This small, volunteer-staffed nonprofit managed to pull ahead of larger organizations in the 2008 Causes Giving Challenge to raise an eye-poppnig $144,898 from just 4,115 donors. The secret to their success? Many of its staff members signed up for Facebook just to join the challenge and then used the organization’s heartfelt stories and touching photos to bring in thousands of new supporters who had never heard of them. Love Without Boundaries provides Chinese orphans with medical care in preparation for adoption. The organization allocated $50,000 of the prize money to save the lives of 10 babies through heart surgery. To date, the cause’s 30,000 members have generated $158,459, telling us that ginning up online support during the Giving Challenge was critical key to success.

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The Nature Conservancy

4More than 230,000 supporters have chipped in $367,819 so far for The Nature Conservancy cause. The Facebook application (Lil) Green Patch has been especially helpful — people who use it have recruited 1,219 members and raised $210,000 to save the rainforests. The organization is providing updates about the Gulf oil spill, generating additional interest and contributions.

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Save Darfur

5While many causes are started by outside activists or supporters, a staffer of the Save Darfur Coalition launched this cause as part of the nonprofit’s outreach to the wider community. Save Darfur was one of the first causes on what was then called Facebook Causes. With more than 1.1 million members, Save Darfur has raised $99,000 in donations and generated significant awareness about the situation in Darfur. Save Darfur drives traffic to Causes from multiple social networks by playing off news headlines about Sudan and the tragic suffering of its people.

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Amnesty International

6Brian Glasscock created the Amnesty International cause, which he updates daily with relevant posts and discussion topics. As the top recruiter with 555 recruits, the 16-year-old has helped grow the cause to more than 546,000 members, catching the eye of Amnesty International and landing him a job managing their online presence. Support is as lightweight as reading a short blog entry about human rights abuse. People have donated more than $38,000 to date.

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Feed Hungry Children in Haiti

7In the response to the food riots and “silent tsunami” of food shortages in 2008, the Friends of the World Program created the Feed Hungry Children in Haiti cause to aid relief efforts. The cause took on added urgency after the January 2010 earthquake that devastated the country. So far, more than 93,000 members have helped generate $68,297 to donate to the United Nations World Food Program. For 25 cents, the program can provide a meal to a child, and the Prem Rawat Foundation has vowed to match every Facebook cause donation up to $100,000. Thanks to this partnership, more than 440,000 meals have been provided to children in Haiti.

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Stop Global Warming

8The Stop Global Warming cause is one of the largest causes on Facebook. To date, its 3.5 million members have donated more than $40,000, most of which has benefited Al Gore’s organization, The Alliance for Climate Protection. The cause originally raised money for the Friends of the United Nations Environment Programme, though after Gore won the Noble Peace Prize the group and its administrators collectively decided to fund his organization. The organizers do a good job posting updates about news around climate change or the Gulf oil spill.

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Tibetan Freedom Movement

9The Tibetan Freedom Movement, run by Students for a Free Tibet, works on behalf of the people of Tibet to advance their struggle for freedom and independence. The cause has more than 76,000 members and has raised $180,150 to date. Run out of the United States and Tibet, the cause page has become a global forum for discussion of human rights and sovereignty issues. The cause page is currently promoting a Free Tibet Acton Camp in upstate New York on June 23-29 — the deadline to apply is today.

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“The Cove” – Save Japan Dolphins

10“The Cove,” a multifaceted online effort to stop the brutal killing of dolphins in a Japanese fishing village, got a publicity boost when it won the Oscar for best documentary feature earlier this year. On the Causes site, The Cove issues action alerts to spread news about cruelty to dolphins and whales. Its nearly 700,000 members have donated more than $55,000 to date.

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Kim Bale was recently the community outreach specialist for The Extraordinaries. Follow her on Twitter at @balekimb.

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