Haiti Relief Shows Digital Giving’s Potential

The massive charitable response to the devastation in Haiti should be a wake-up call for the charitable marketplace.

The massive charitable response to the devastation in Haiti should be a wake-up call for the charitable marketplace.

Using text-messaging and other digital applications, givers quickly have donated millions of dollars to relief efforts.

Givers also showed social media can be powerful tools for charitable giving.

Just as online giving came of age in the days after 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the tsunamis in Asia, the Twitter generation has shown through its Haiti relief that texting is a strategy all nonprofits need to understand and put to use.

The challenge for nonprofits is figuring out how to do that.

The recession has hit the charitable marketplace hard, stressing nonprofits with rising demand for services and greater competition for shrinking donor dollars.

And in the face of the recession and a tradition of struggling to do too much with too little, too few nonprofits truly have taken full advantage of the Web and email, which these days already seem like “old” media.

Nonprofits tend to be slow on the uptake in adopting new media and fully integrating new digital tools into the way they do business.

Seeing the outpouring of Haitian relief using social media, nonprofits that truly care about connecting with givers using the means of communication their givers prefer should invest the time and effort to truly understand how to build digital tools into their overall operations.

Beyond just being cool and easy to use, social media actually can make a big difference in the way nonprofits raise money, recruit volunteers, deliver services, and communicate with constituents and supporters.

The huge question for nonprofits is whether they actually will do what it takes to plug into new media and put it to productive use.

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  • Chelsea Hick's avatar

    BY Chelsea Hick

    ON January 25, 2010 02:09 PM


    How do you feel nonprofits can capitalize on the potential for giving through texting and social media when the world is not hyper-aware of the need to give to a cause? In a recent course on Volunteer Management, a classmate who is a Volunteer Coordinator for the Red Cross informed us that the Red Cross recently implemented the texting technology, but that it hadn’t been put to wide-scale use. Now that it has been proven effective, I wonder how similar initiatives can be made successful for “smaller” or more localized causes?

  • BY Terri Freeman

    ON January 27, 2010 11:10 AM

    Great question…I’m not convinced that social media will work for all types of fundraising.  I am convinced that it can work in facilitating, and to some extent creating, communities of like minds.  So nonprofit organizations should look beyond the power of social media for fundraising, but also to the power for engagement, volunteer and friendraising, and most importantly advocacy.  We need to be careful of having a “happy meal” mentality about the tools availalble to us, assuming they will be the next “quick fix.”

  • Great article!  As a college junior very interested in nonprofit organizations, I found your article insightful.  It touches on what I have discovered to be a more macroscopic trend in the world of philanthropic organizations: the overall lack of high-level business acumen among many who run such organizations.  The potential for these organizations is huge, but I believe that there can be more done to capitalize on the kindness of people.  I greatly admire individuals who dedicate their careers and lives to working for charitable organizations.  However, I would love to see more business-minded individuals also serving as top management in many of these organizations.  I consider running a nonprofit organization to be a career aspiration of my own, but, having been educated on this issue facing many of them today, I have decided that I can best aid those in need by first gaining business and managerial skills.  I would like to develop the knowledge and capabilities that any business would desire to help them maximize effectiveness and efficiency, but then use these skills to help the nonprofit world.  Thank you for commenting on such an important issue.  Your post made me consider the ways in which technology and information systems processes can be better put to use by nonprofit organizations to help them reach their missions.

  • Is Haiti to much of an exceptional case to really inspire other non-profits and charities?  The media coverage and celebrity attention made the issue so salient and high visibility- those factors acted like free media for the charities.  Without such media saturation, a non-profit may not find so much giving to them.  Non profits may find they need to add content to keep people’s attention.  This increase may be more than the expected to spend in time or labor.  pend more resources on generating content for social media to really see a return on their investment.

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