What to do when a fundraising page goes viral

High-profile-giving

How to prepare for high profile social giving

We’ve seen a marked increase in JustGiving pages which take off by themselves, spreading virally because hundreds of people are donating to the same cause in a short space of time and raising unexpectedly large amounts of money. We call this high profile social giving.

The rise of high profile social giving presents charities with both unique opportunities and challenges. So we ask, would you be ready to respond to something like this?

Where does high profile social giving come from?

Responding en masse to public events is not necessarily a new phenomenon. Think back to 1997 and the huge public response to the death of Princess Diana. The coverage was extensive but entirely offline and social networks were in their infancy. Over a million bouquets of flowers were left outside Buckingham Palace – 1.5 metres deep in places. Yet now, as people increasingly live their lives online, their responses have gone digital and become more frequent, expressing themselves as petitions, Facebook shares or increasingly, donations to charity.

We use high profile social giving to describe situations where people begin to give to a fundraising page through a groundswell of social sharing, kicked off organically rather than by a charity appeal. Often, this happens as a response to a crisis, a tragedy or other high profile event.

When Claire Squires collapsed and died during the 2012 London marathon, over 81,000 donations raised over £1 million for the Samaritans in seven days, and over 65,000 people shared her JustGiving page on Facebook.

And in the wake of the murder of Woolwich soldier Lee Rigby, a massive Facebook campaign drove people to his page. Even before his name was released to the press, people had donated over £90,000. We also saw an increase in donations to armed forces charities across JustGiving. Hundreds left flowers at the scene but over 12,000 people made donations and 95,000 shared it on Facebook.

As a large number of people begin to donate small amounts in a short time period, the response becomes the story, leading to increased exposure in the press and driving even more giving. It’s a virtuous circle that can drive a huge amount of money for good causes.

The impact of high profile social giving

Handled sensitively, a high profile social giving event could raise large sums of money for your charity and make a massive difference to a cause which might previously had little to no media exposure.

Mary’s Meals, Martha Payne’s charity, has seen an incredible burst of awareness since her giving went viral, with renewed interest this month when she was presented with a Pride of Britain Award for her work.

Not only this, but an unexpected social giving moment gives you the chance to engage with a whole new group of people who are warmer to hearing more about what you do. In memory and mass response giving is often a positive outcome from an otherwise tragic situation, and causes should feel good about giving people a way to make a difference and be part of a movement for good.

What are the challenges?

This kind of giving is rarely predictable so it’s impossible to artificially create this kind of response. However, if it happens you may need robust technology in place to cope with the sudden spike of traffic.

At the peak of donations following Claire Squire’s tragic death, JustGiving was processing three donations a second with over 8,000 page views each minute.

There are few platforms out there that could handle this demand – the equivalent of millions of people reading the same BBC news article at the same time –  so it’s worth considering if your charity’s website could cope.

You’ll also need to respond quickly, making fast decisions which are not always easy.

Neuroblastoma Children’s Cancer Alliance faced a PR challenge when the far-right group English Defence League (EDL) began to fundraise in the name of one of their children’s appeals. The coverage in the online press, Facebook and Twitter illustrates some of the challenges faced when a groundswell of people get behind something unexpected and a charity needs to respond quickly.

Responding to a social giving ‘crisis’ means you need to keep your internal communications channels open, and quickly turn this into a public statement that you can share through social media.

How to handle a high profile social giving moment

  • Speak to those who have been through it before, such as JustGiving and other charities, and learn from the mistakes and tips of others. I know that our ability to respond to and support the Sam Harper-Brighouse page was faster and more comprehensive due to the lessons learned the previous year.
  • Reach out to the charity or family behind the campaign – the huge swell of attention can be bewildering and it’s good for them to know how you can support them.
  • If a page is taking off, ensure you have a senior, cross functional team involved who can make quick decisions. The intensity of these pages is often brief so you don’t have long to get your house in order.
  • Be aware of high profile events that could turn quickly into giving. For example, the Boston Marathon bombings led to a flurry of enquiries to JustGiving asking where people could donate. Unfortunately there were no UK charities to direct them to and people weren’t able to give when they wanted to.
  • Respond in real time – this type of giving is driven by social media so the people behind it are comfortable with this form of communication. Be transparent about the decision making process you’re going through. When the public are being social, you need to be as well – in real time.

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Gemma is the head of charity partnerships at JustGiving and is passionate about helping charities raise more money and getting great return on investment. She leads on optimising and creating new fundraising streams for charities and steered the product vision for their In Memory fundraising tool. Gemma speaks regularly at charity conferences and was one of the ‘Top 20 speakers’ at the 2013 IoF National Convention.