How Great Social Media Increased Charitable Donations 338%

After the earthquakes in Haiti, the Red Cross raised over $8 Million dollars by text. It was big news in the online and mobile communities. The bigger news was that the Red Cross raised over $35 million combined through various social media platforms – 338% more than from texting.

And frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that the Social Media platforms outstripped the text-to-send-money program. Here’s why:

  • Social Media giving is inherently, well, social. If you give money via a Facebook ad, that gets reported to your status and the ad then gets sent to your friends, with your involvement added to the ad.
  • The Facebook Ad effect provides social evidence for the givers without the givers looking like they’re “tooting their own horn.” Much harder to do with a texted donation. Sure, you can then tweet a request for others to join you, but it’s not quite the same. And it’s certainly not as automatic or under the control of the Red Cross.
  • The cascading status page and social proof effect induces community norms onto the charitable giving. Now you’re not just deciding on whether to take the time to make the donation, but you’re wondering how much of a selfish jerk you’ll look like if you don’t donate, when all of your friends have.

So I was pleased to see the following on my Facebook page:

A Facebook donation option for the red cross


But here’s how I think the Red Cross can do this even better:

Everyone wants to know that their money is actually going to the victims that they’re donating to. No one wants their money to go to staff or to infrastructure investments like IT equipment.

And while that can be a problem, it’s also an opportunity. Why not give the person a relatively real-time update on what aid the red cross is sending and what aid they’re getting ready to send.

“Last night The Red Cross flew, landed, and distributed over 20,000 gallons of drinking water to typhoon victims in the Philippines. [See our page for pictures] Right now we’re flying clothes out to them, and today we’re buying emergency food, to be sent out tonight and scheduled to land by 4:00pm tomorrow. $10 buys a family of five a full meal and the full amount of you donation will be used toward Typhoon aid.”

So why do I think this copy and approach would work better?  3 Reasons:

1) It Makes the Donated Aid Concrete and Immediate

It’s not just “aid” it’s drinking water and food and clothing and emergency shelters, and so on. Plus you’re showing how food bought today get’s landed and distributed tomorrow. Concrete, tangible benefits like food and water and shelter win out over the less tangible aid. Thinking that your money might someday maybe help isn’t nearly as good as knowing that the difference your donation makes will impact people tomorrow.

2) It Aids Transparency and Credibility

In general, 91 cents out of every Red Cross donated dollar goes directly to providing aid. Only 9 cents goes to fund raising efforts and administration costs. So about $1 out of the $10 donation they’re asking for will go to overhead. But if it’s the typhoon victims that have gained your sympathy, you want to make sure your money is going to help them specifically.

And, frankly, you’d rather think that the Red Cross’s overhead would be raised in different fundraising efforts, not the ads that specifically use recent tragedies as an impetus for sending aid, right?

So the suggested copy is aimed at accomplishing all that — letting people know 100% of the money raised by the aid will be going directly to the victims of the advertised disaster.

3) It invites people to the Red Cross Facebook Page to See the Good that their donations are doing

When people see the donations at work, and see the good that the Red Cross is doing, that becomes not only a big PR win for the organization, but it increases the motivation for the individual donor to keep giving (or to initially give if they haven’t previously). Heck, it might even recruit a new volunteer!

Social media can be a blessing in a time of disasters. A blessing for everyone: victims, bystanders, and aid providers. I’d just like to see it work even better for all three groups.