May 19, 2010

Behind the success of 10 top Causes

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

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!


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.


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.


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.

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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April 30, 2010

TakePart: Spurring people to take action

TakePart: Spurring people to take action from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaThe single most difficult issue that those of us in the social change movement confront is: figuring out how to get people to take action. So I’ve been paying close attention over the months to the successful efforts of TakePart, an initiative of Participant Media.

Ric-O'BarryI recently ran into Adriana Dunn, editor of the TakePart blogs, and caught some of her thoughts about the lessons they’ve learned in participatory media. Adriana just wrote an entry about major events related to The Cove, winner of the Oscar for best feature documentary, over the past 18 months. They’ve just passed the 1 million petition mark, but you can sign the petition, write to elected officials or make a donation.

Watch, download or embed the video on Vimeo

Ric O’Barry — the former trainer for Flipper who stars in “The Cove” (and the fellow holding the sign at top right) — appeared on Oprah on April 22, Earth Day, bringing the film’s message to the masses.

TakePart is much more than “The Cove,” however. Check out their beautiful News & Blogs section to see all the worthy causes you can get involved with or learn more about. For example, author Michael Pollan recently did a live chat about the 2009 documentary Food, Inc., in which he appeared.

“We’re not always going to be the one single source of information,” Adriana tells me, “but we do want to be the source where the community can go to find information about nonprofits, social change or whatever issue you’re passionate about.”

Follow @takepart (6,510 followers) on Twitter; Participant Media (SocialActionNow) has not yet taken off there.

Participant Media has either produced or distributed such films as “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Kite Runner,” “The Soloist,” “Syriana,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Visitor,” “Food, Inc.,” “North Country” and the new “Oceans” and “Furry Vengeance.” See their full list.


‘The Cove’: Will movies usher in a new era of social change? (interview with Christopher Gebhardt, general manager and executive vice president of TakePart, on Socialbrite)
The Cove site on TakePart

March 8, 2010

‘The Cove’: Will movies usher in a new era of social change?

Moving movie audiences to take action from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaI‘ll confess: I was excited to see The Cove take home the Academy Award for best feature documentary last night. While all the entrants were worthy, “The Cove” is among the handful of movies pushing the idea of Hollywood productions as the fulcrum for social change.

A few weeks ago I caught up with Christopher Gebhardt, general manager and executive vice president of TakePart, the Beverly Hills-based digital arm of Participant Media, which marketed and helped bring “The Cove” to theaters nationwide. Participant Media (formerly Participant Productions) — Jeff Skoll’s social entrepreneurial film production company — has an incredible track record in bringing socially relevant films to screens nationwide, including “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Kite Runner,” “The Soloist,” “Syriana,” “Good Night, and Good Luck,” “The Visitor,” “Food, Inc.,” “North Country” and now “The Cove.”

A breath-taking string of success.

dolphins“The Cove” is remarkable for its guerrilla filmmaking tactics in chronicling the grisly business of dolphin hunting in rural fishing villages in Japan, where as many as 20,000 dolphins are slaughtered annually. It won the Audience Award at Sundance last year. Participant didn’t fund the film but funded its marketing.

“We’ve spent the last five years at Participant figuring out how to take the film and really use it to … really get people involved with an issue,” said Gebhardt, speaking after a conversation on stage at Social Capital Markets 2009.

You may have noticed one fellow on stage at the Oscars — film subject and animal activist Ric O’Barry — holding up a sign that said, “Text DOLPHIN to 44144.” (The camera cut away after only one second — the academy has a long tradition of not acknowledging or encouraging overly activist sentiments.)

What’s cool about “The Cove” is that, just as the movie ends, theatergoers are met with the same message: Text DOLPHIN to 44144. When you text the short code, Gebhardt explains, you’re given ways to connect, including the option to sign online petitions to protest the brutal practice, send letters to President Obama, the US ambassador to Japan or Japan’s ambassador to the United States, or you can take other actions.

Watch, download or embed the video on Vimeo. (I’ve started producing these in a higher resolution 3800 kbps bitrate at 720 pixels wide.)

I should mention that I was in the first group of bloggers in 2005 who signed on to guest-post on Participant’s first such effort: the “Good Night and Good Luck” site to discuss press reform and how changes in corporate ownership of the media have affected our democracy since the days of Edward R. Murrow. Continue reading