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CauseWired Alaskans Use Social Media to Pick, Click and Give to Charity

By Tom Watson on February 2, 2010No Comment

Socially-conscious social media is working up north: Alaskans have taken to the Pick. Click. Give. campaign, which is leveraging platforms from Facebook and Twitter to YouTube and Causecast to draw attention to and explain the Permanent Fund Charitable Contributions Program. The program began officially in 2009 to allow Alaskans to donate a portion of their PFD to qualifying Alaska nonprofits of their choice while they filed online for their PFD. An underlying goal is to encourage individual philanthropy in Alaska.Here’s a Q&A on the program with my friend Aliza Sherman, a veteran digital guru and co-founder of the social media firm Conversify! in Alaska, and Jordan Marshall, initiatives & special projects manager for the Rasmuson Foundation and project manager for Pick. Click. Give.

1. Last year, Pick. Click. Give. raised more than half a million dollars for Alaskan nonprofits – how did it work and how was it unique to Alaska?

ALIZA: The entire Pick. Click. Give. awareness campaign is based on something inherently unique to Alaska: our Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) or the annual payment each Alaskan receives as part of a pay out to share in the state’s oil and gas profits. No other state provides a similar fund or payment to citizens of their state.

The overarching goal of the Pick. Click. Give. campaign is to draw attention to and explain the Permanent Fund Charitable Contributions Program. The program began officially in 2009 to allow Alaskans to donate a portion of their PFD to qualifying Alaska nonprofits of their choice while they filed online for their PFD. An underlying goal is to encourage individual philanthropy in Alaska.

Additionally, through social media, the Pick. Click. Give. campaign is working to give exposure to the program and motivate Alaskans to participate and to encourage their friends, family and followers to participate as well.

The previous year (2008) was spent assessing Alaska nonprofits based on a number of criteria to ensure that they qualify for the program as well as to set up the technical aspects of adding a list and way for Alaskans to check the organizations on that list they wished to support with an amount of their choice.

2. You’re using social media to spread the word – which platform works the best for you? What have you learned about how causes and social media work?

ALIZA: We’re on our third year of learning about not only social media for cause-related missions and messaging but also of using social media for not only hyper-local outreach but hyper-rural outreach as well. In partnership with first Rasmuson Foundation and then the Pick. Click. Give. program, we’ve explored Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, and Causecast as well as blogs as social media tools for education, outreach and activism.

While it is hard to say exactly which social media platform is working the best for actually driving Alaskans to pick the organizations to support when filing for their PFD, we can say the following:

The Blog – Each post averages over 100 views. The post about Facebook for nonprofits exceeded 200 views. Currently, there is little comment participation but we can assume people are reading the information and interested in reading the blog.

Facebook – We’re at 352 fans. In the scheme of Alaska nonprofits, this is a solid number. Compared to other Alaska-related for-profits, this is small although even Alaska companies struggle to break 1000 fans.

Twitter – We’re at 213 followers. Twitter is still relatively nascent in Alaska but we are also finding we are struggling to get Alaskans on Twitter to follow and retweet. This may be a learning curve on the part of Alaskans who tend to be very conservative about following others on Twitter. They tend to use Twitter more like Facebook – conversations with actual friends.

YouTube and Causecast – Because of the video PSAs created for the campaign last year and this year, we wanted to leverage those on the most popular video sharing site (YouTube) as well as the one dedicated to causes (Causecast). This year, we added some simple clips of representatives from several of the nonprofit organizations that received donations from the program last year to explain specifically how they’d be using the money. We wanted to emphasize that the money from Pick. Click. Give. was making very specific impacts and define what those were.

MySpace is a mixed bag right now, often feeling – and behaving – like a red-headed stepchild, but I’m a firm believer of leveraging that network for it’s multimedia capabilities and to reach another strata of Alaskans who may not be on Facebook or Twitter.

3. Were smaller organizations able to keep up with the larger ones? How did they do it?

Some of the charities that did the best succeeded for several reasons unrelated to the size of their organization. In the case of a certain animal rescue group, for example, this was the first time they had put themselves out there for support from individual Alaskans and people jumped at the chance. Still others had tremendous success by sending out reminders in newsletters, via email, and dipping their toe into social media for the first time.

4. The Permanent Fund Dividend is unique to Alaska, but what can nonprofits take from the campaign?

ALIZA: There are several takeaways for nonprofits from a social media standpoint:

- Be Targeted. Social media can be effective as not only a global or national communications tool but can also be calibrated to be hyper-local and even hyper-rural. For smaller nonprofits whose scope doesn’t reach beyond a state or a region or a town, social media can still prove useful and can be that finely targeted.

- Pick the Right Tools. While I firmly believe we have the right mix of tools for a strategic social media-powered campaign, we did set out with additional tools that we’ve pared down because they were too time consuming with little return. Holding onto MySpace is only possible because it takes less resources to maintain than Facebook or Twitter. Holding onto Twitter while the numbers are smaller is a strategic move to be ready for the 3rd year of the program when I believe more Alaskans will be used to Twitter communications.

- Coordinate Efforts. Social media tools can be linked together and coordinated in such a fashion that they can be utilized with a very small staff. Last year, I ran the bulk of social media efforts alone as just one campaign of many that I ran simultaneously for other clients I consulted. This year, we are lucky to have one additional person devoted to social media a few hours a week and have better internal coordination with our project partners such as Rasmuson Foundation and the Nerland Agency (the ad agency that developed the programs brand and the PSAs).

JORDAN: No matter which state you live in, the success of the fundraising depends on making a personal connection with your existing and prospective donors. It’s one thing to create a broadcast message about a new tool for giving, but it’s entirely another when the homeless shelter makes a personal pitch to you asking for help. The beauty of Pick Click Give may be that it reminds people that they can make a big difference in peoples’ lives, so when they get “the ask” from the nonprofits they’re more inclined to act.

5. What could a grant-making foundation learn about the campaign – for instance, could some of the best practices be replicated?

JORDAN : Grant-making foundations are in the unique position of being able to facilitate long-term change. A foundation can help pull together the key players and invest in the big ideas. This allows the individual nonprofits to focus on delivery of their services and programs, rather than shouldering the responsibility of managing a campaign.

6. What was the most surprising result of the campaign?

ALIZA: From a social media standpoint, I was surprised at how many Alaskans we could reach on Facebook, especially in VERY rural areas. I was also surprised by how few we are reaching – and galvanizing – through Twitter. Again, I don’t believe Twitter is a lost cause here in Alaska because Alaskans are on an upward curve of learning and adoption. But I was hoping this would be the year that we’d do gangbusters on Twitter and it has yet to happen. Still, we have an excellent foundation to continue using Twitter for communications about this program over the next year so I see this as an important step to the overall social media picture.

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