This was originally posted on February 2nd on the excellent Media 140 blog, but we’ve copied it below for you.
It is now more than a fortnight since Haiti’s devastating earthquake. Billions of dollars in donations have poured in to relief operations, as stories of devastation and miraculous survival have gushed out of Port-Au-Prince.
Digital strategist Jonathan Waddingham and his team at online fundraising website JustGiving.com have not had much time to breathe since horror struck the Caribbean island nation on January 12. However, as the chaos gives way to rebuilding efforts, Jonathan takes a moment to reflect on how response to this disaster reflects changes in the way in which charities are now making full use of the real-time web.
As news broke on the 12th January about a massive earthquake in Haiti, some of the first details to emerge were from charities working there. In the past, this may have taken the form of a press release a day or so after, but this time these messages came first in tweets. Then they came in blogs, phone blogs, photos and videos – all online.
Whilst the 2005 Asian Tsunami proved something of a milestone in charities adopting the internet as a way of raising money (for the first time, online donations to the appeal were more than traditional cash giving) it may be the case that this terrible tragedy will prove a similar landmark for charities using the real-time web.
Fundraising through social media for Haiti
Social media has proved an immensely powerful fundraising medium for the DEC and its members’ appeals in the last two weeks. Third Sector reported that the first £8m of the DEC’s appeal was raised after it was announced by a tweet. Whilst the BBC website drove the most supporters to the DEC website, the next biggest sources of traffic were Facebook and Twitter. Andrew Cates, chief executive of orphan charity SOS Children’s Villages, said: “We blog, we post videos on YouTube and we use Facebook and Twitter. If you have good online content, it’s all you need.” Plan UK also reported a “remarkable response” from social networking sites.
Since the barrier to adopting social media is so often a perceived inability to measure results, which for fundraising charities means raising money, the fact that this appeal has been so successful through using Twitter and the like is hugely important – and may persuade other charities to try out the same techniques. Admittedly campaigns for disaster fundraising differ to everyday fundraising, so it won’t lead to the same response for every charity, but it’s sure to make people think.
The use of Twitter has meant a large increase in follower count and reach for the charities: on the 9th Jan, the @decappeal account had 338 followers – it now has 2493. Its reach peaked on the 25th January, when 75% of its messages were retweeted, spreading it to over 40,000 people (according to twitteranalyzer). Not only did it broadcast its appeals, but linked to stories from the ground from other charities, bringing the human aspect to the fore, as well as engaging with people supporting the DEC appeal through their own fundraising:
In the US over $30m has been donated by SMS, and in the UK it’s probably millions too, but there are no public figures yet. In a way, it’s the perfect donation mechanism for the real time web as it’s so frictionless and quick: there are no long and complicated forms to fill out online or offline, you just text a word to 5 digit number (text GIVE to 70077) and you’re done. Since almost everyone has a mobile phone, there are very few barriers to giving in this way.
Charities embracing the real time web
But what has been most impressive about charity’s response has been the way they have embraced the new, and largely free to use, technologies available to them. See Oxfam’s spokesperson in Haiti, Louis Belanger, updating the world via a posterous blog and ipadio on their news blog. Watch MSF’s blip videos giving briefings on the latest situation. They’re acting as a news agency as much as an aid agency, as well as encouraging other people to use their conten – as we have below:
Read Actionaid’s blog telling the stories of the survivors through images and YouTube. See the images from Haiti the British Red Cross is sharing on Flickr and their Facebook page. And from the US there’s the Extraordinaries iphone app, which was used to tag photos from Haiti and help find missing people. That was real-time crowd-sourced action for the digital age.
Add to this the frequent updates, appeals and reaction coming from the Twitter accounts of the DEC and its members (they handily made a twitter list of all their members), the story was and is being told, re-told, and shared with people all over the world.
The way these charities have embraced the real-time web as a way of storytelling and disseminating information has surely been a factor in the massive response, as nearly half of the UK population have donated. It’s also likely to form a blueprint for future appeals, not to mention bringing a new focus on using the real time web for campaigning and fundraising, demonstrating the impact of donations and telling the stories that need to be heard.
Visit http://media140.org for more great articles on how the real time web is changing the way many people interact with the internet.