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Bringing the crowd to charitable work

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I wrote last week about the way many charities seem to be looking in the wrong places online for their social media work.  It was based on research looking at the success a Facebook campaign had in driving both engagement and funds for a charity.  It emerged that the relative levels of engagement were incredibly low, much lower than a comparable mail shot.  The only salvation was the sheer scale of Facebook made the campaign still moderately successful.  If you throw enough at the wall, some will stick kind of thing.

It all creates an impression that social media doesn’t work for charities, and if you’re looking at the mainstream social networks, maybe you’re right.  Alas, there is a huge amount of fantastic work being done in other fields, not least of which is in crowdsourcing or citizen science.

An interesting example of just such a site is Idealist.org.  The site started out as a volunteering jobs board, allowing people to hunt down non-profits in their area that were looking for help and support.  This month however they’ll be launching a project that aims to crowdsource activism.

The aim of the project is to help close the gap between people thinking something is good and worth supporting, and them actually doing something about it.  Central to the plan is using what’s in the news to spark conversations and collaborations amongst users on how best to tackle related issues.

“Journalism is a big part of it,” founder Ami Dar said recently. “It’s such a huge part of the way people get moved. If you talk about the gap in intention and action, how does intention get ignited? Very often the news ignites you. You want to do something. The news has such reach.”

It’s hoped that eventually news sites will begin carrying a widget that will allow readers to start acting on what they read straight away, connecting up with like minded people from around the world.  The site is intentionally vague around how exactly things will evolve, as they want the crowd to have a big say in that process too.

“It’s incumbent upon non-profits of different kinds to give you the kinds of micro-actions you could so while waiting for the subway: We need this sentence translated, or we’re thinking of a new tagline. Simple stuff,” said Dar.

“A typical non-profit has a three-hour brainstorming session to think of a new tagline. Why can’t they send out their three favorite taglines, and a hundred people waiting for the subway will tell them which is the best?”

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