How One Man Used Social Media to Raise $91,000 for Charity

social media case studiesThe Big 4-0. For most, turning 40 inspires something big.

For Danny Brown, it wasn’t a sports car, Vegas trip or marathon run. He was inspired to set a different challenge for himself—to bring people together and raise money for worthy causes.  And the response was very unexpected…

To celebrate his 40th, Brown and his wife spent a few days at Niagara Falls. Taking a break at a local café, they noticed an elderly woman come in by herself and order ice cream.

Brown wondered about her story.

After he and his wife headed home, Brown couldn’t stop thinking about the lonely-looking woman in the café—and regretted not talking with her.

“Everyone in social media talks about how we need to connect and open up,” Brown says. “I couldn’t make that connection to the lady we saw in the restaurant. We forget human connections offline. I wanted to make sure that if someone needs help or just a little bit of company, that people are reaching out to them.”

That a-ha moment kicked off a project that has since raised nearly $100,000 to date—reaching countless people.

Organization:

Social Media Stats:

Results:

  • A 12-hour Tweet-a-Thon raised $15,500 for Share Our Strength.
  • Traffic at 12for12k.org increased by 4000% during the Tweet-a-Thon.
  • A Twitter avatar “frame” helped bring in 3,600 followers.
  • 12for12k.org raised $91,275 for charities in 2009—all with volunteers.

One Man, No Budget

Brown launched the 12for12k Challenge, an initiative to bring social media communities together to help people offline in 2009. For years, Brown has worked in corporate communications and social media for companies like British Telecom. Currently, he’s the social media strategist for Maritz Canada.

Brown’s challenge takes the power of social media to the nonprofit world. “I know quite a few people offline who do charity work and the struggle is administrative costs,” he says. “I knew social media could offer a wider audience for far less investment.”

The 12for12k Challenge set an ambitious goal: raise $12,000 monthly for 12 months for 12 different charities—with no budget (the only costs were the website and hosting, which Brown paid for out of pocket).

His vision: Solely rely on social media to spread the word and raise donations for a featured charity each month. Then, 100% of donations go to the charity.

When word spread of Brown’s plans, his contacts and their contacts lined up to help. There may not be funds, but ideas, persistence and passion are the currency of social media anyway. In that regard, more than a dozen core 12for12k volunteers made it a “rich” initiative.

Four Cornerstones of the Campaign

Danny Brown launched the 12for12k.org site after an experience left him wondering “just how social we are.”

First, they set ground rules. Each supported nonprofit must operate with no more than 10% administrative costs, be a registered charity, and accept donations via PayPal or credit card.

Social media activity drives people directly to the 12for12k.org website to learn more and donate via ChipIn, a Flash widget that shows a running total of donations. Donations go directly to each nonprofit’s bank account.

About half a dozen volunteers joined Brown in generating updates on 12for12k’s four social media cornerstones of the campaign: blogging, video, a Facebook group and Twitter. More recently, they started a Ning community.

Updates on the Facebook group focus on featured charities, events and fundraising progress. The organization posts videos on YouTube and Viddler to kick off monthly campaigns and highlight related causes, such as homelessness.

Additionally, about 30 blog partners take Brown’s messages to their audiences.


Danny Brown prepares to kick off the 12 Days of Christmas Homeless Push in December.

One Cause Nets $15,500 Via a Tweet-a-Thon

danny brownTaking advantage of Twitter’s viral capabilities, the organization created a Twitter avatar “frame” for followers to include on their profile pictures, which encourages their followers to ask about 12for12k.

Last March, 12for12k featured Share our Strength, a national organization working to make sure no child in America grows up hungry. The organization’s “Pledge to End Hunger” campaign, led by MediaSauce and Kompolt, sought pledges online in response to a challenge from Tyson Foods. For each pledge, Tyson would donate 35 pounds of food or 140 servings.

Scott Stratton of Un-Marketing.com volunteered to help 12for12k host a Tweet-a-Thon for Pledge to End Hunger. For each $12 entry, donors were entered into a drawing to win one of about 20 prizes, such as an iPod Touch, Amazon Kindle 2, Flip video camera, gift cards, Nintendo Wii Fit and jewelry. A purchase of 10 entries automatically earned donors a free website review.

With entry fees and raffle prizes, the effort hoped to raise $12,000 in just 12 hours.

Scott Stratton of Un-Marketing.com donated his time and ideas for 12for12k.org’s Tweet-a-Thon for Pledge to End Hunger.

Supporters of 12for12k and Share our Strength, and hundreds of other friends and supporters, Tweeted away all day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The resulting response exceeded Brown’s and Pledge to End Hunger’s expectations. They hit their goal of $12,000 much faster than 12 hours – in just five-and-a-half hours.

Online Strategies for Offline Benefit

1. Share your vision
Don’t go it alone. Take your big idea to your current friends, fans and followers.

2. Set a time limit
People often don’t act unless there are limits or a specific goal. Set a short timeframe or hard numbers to reach.

3. Understand your audience
Brown analyzes site traffic for geography, income levels, ethnicity and gender to make future plans.

4. Keep it credible
People can be leery about contributing online. Set guidelines for nonprofits to feature and funnel funds directly to them.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” said Jeff Wiedner, director of community engagement at Share Our Strength. “I had a feeling that the timing was right for our mission and, since Scott knew so many people, that we’d do pretty well, but I never expected how quickly we reached that $12,000 target.”

When all was said and done, the total reached $15,549 for Share Our Strength, which pushed donations beyond monthly averages for the nonprofit. But the impact extends well beyond the actual donations.

“We got attention from folks like Mashable, Chronicle of Philanthropy and other media,” Wiedner said. “That led to more folks knowing about SOS and our mission, which led to a bump in our online community, which led to greater interactions with our community and building out of other campaigns later with other bloggers. There were some additional corporations that learned about us, too, as our reach grew.”

Share Our Strength Tweet-a-ThonA total of 477 contributors raised $15,549 for Share Our Strength during a 12-hour Tweet-a-Thon.

4000% Traffic Increase

Brown turns to analytics tools Woopra and Quantcast for detailed measurement of traffic on the 12for12k.org site. With those, he not only knows traffic numbers but where they live, their income level, average spending, ethnicity and gender—letting him tailor content and events to his audience.

In March, the site was “hammered” with a 4000% increase in traffic in a 12-hour period because of the Pledge to End Hunger Tweet-a-Thon.

Yet the most important metrics for 12for12k don’t require fancy measurement tools. In 2009, the initiative fell short of its goal of $12,000 every month. But it still raised $91,275 that all went directly to charities and the people they help.

More importantly, Brown did so without any organizational budget, on the side of his day job.

Well into 2010, he still hasn’t stopped. In fact, the momentum of last year has inspired him to do more. Plus, he’s intent on continuing to support the charities of 2009 as he can with exposure and social media help, if needed.

Year two began by featuring Hope for Haiti, bringing in $8,000 so far from 140 contributors.

Brown wants to expand by enlisting sponsors, hosting more events and focusing on three charities each quarter, rather than one each separate month. This year’s theme, “connect globally, help locally” will encourage people to do more in their own communities.

“A lot of people don’t do anything because they’re just one person,” Brown said. “If you think you can’t help financially, help a local charity in your city understand how to use social media to tell their story. Ask a charity what you can offer them.”

What do you think about this story?  Have you seen any great examples of social media impacting nonprofits in your community? What are they doing well?

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About the Author, Casey Hibbard

Casey Hibbard is Social Media Examiner's case study writer. She is also president of Compelling Cases Inc. and author of Stories That Sell: Turn Satisfied Customers into Your Most Powerful Sales & Marketing Asset. Other posts by »




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  • http://twitter.com/DoreenatDMS Doreen Iannuzzi

    What an exceptional and comprehensive article/case study on super Danny Brown and all the 12kfor12k participants and their efforts… fabulous.

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Hi there Casey,

    Thank you so much for allowing 12for12k space here at SME. Really enjoyed chatting with you and, as Doreen mentions, what a fantastic overview. 12for12k would never have gotten off the ground and achieved what it has (so far) without the support of everyone you mention here, and the awesome supporters, sponsors and partners that offer so much of themselves every month.

    Thank you again,

    Danny.

  • http://sparkintomarketing.com Jean Wolfe

    Excellent case study…thank you. I was interested in the ways you received the funds, as well as the social media information.

  • colberg

    Great Ideas We are a “Nonprofit speaker’s bureau,” that needs
    to raise funds to provide Financial Awareness. What ideas do you recommend? Thanks in advance.
    http://www.sofausa.org

    GC

  • Bonnie Frechette

    I experienced the power of social media for helping a non-profit just yesterday! To celebrate National Peanut Butter Day in a charitable way I asked my followers to retweet my post and for every Retweet I would donate 1 jar of peanut butter to the local food bank. By days end I received 129 Retweets, translating into 129 jars of peanut butter I will donate to the food bank. When I say “I’ here I am referencing the Whole Foods Market store that I work at (University Heights, Providence, RI).

  • courtneydirks

    We need more people like Danny Brown in this world, who take their strengths and use them to benefit the greater good.

  • http://www.bachwriter.com/ Paul Bachleitner

    Great work, Danny! I’m a communications consultant for philanthropy and nonprofits, and it seems like so many organizations resist social media because it’s so new and unknown to them. I think your story can help inspire them to grow; they’re missing out otherwise.

  • http://twitter.com/b_reilly brian

    Fantastic story, the possibilities for social media really seem endless at this point in time. I’ve recently been volunteering to build up the online social media presence of a nonprofit called Forgotten Voices International (www.ForgottenVoices.org) an organization that is focused on locally developed care for children orphaned by AIDS in southern Africa.

    Through some consistent engagement on activist networks like care2 and change.org we’ve really seen a huge spike in engagement and support for our cause. We’re set to launch a new campaign in the very near future so the framework we have in place should really help us ramp things up.

    Really trying to build out the facebook page as well: http://www.facebook.com/forgottenvoices bc its just a great way to aggregate content from all the different networks we’re a part of and keep our supporters up to date with our action.

  • http://www.socialrabbit.net/ Lara Solomon

    Great story, made me feel very warm and fuzzy that people are using social media for good. I’ve retweeted and posted it on my Facebook page and will definitely be checking out the site – I love the concept.

  • http://marismith.com/ Mari Smith

    BRILLIANT!!! I adore Danny Brown – what a fabulous role model for so many. Excellent, thorough post, Casey! You rock!

  • http://twitter.com/elizabetharuiz Elizabeth A. Ruiz

    Terrific ideas. I sent this link to a friend who is actively fund raising for animal charities. Living in California wine country she even had a wine event and raised about $5k for one evening. She’d love to raise $12k and definitely $91k!

  • http://twitter.com/maverick18 MayC

    Thanks for highlighting this amazing effort. Am inspired to do something similar for the charities that I support too.

  • caseyhibbard

    Lara,

    Thanks for the feedback and for sharing this with your audience!

  • caseyhibbard

    Thanks Mari! It was a pleasure to get to know Danny through this.

  • caseyhibbard

    One of the big take-aways I got was putting time limits on things, giving people a sense of urgency, as in the Tweet-a-thons.

  • http://www.goldentwist.net/ Golden Twist

    This is a truly amazing story. Very inspiring. We should all strive to do what this person has done. Think about how much we could raise then….

  • http://www.DorriOlds.com/ Dorri Olds

    I loved reading this. Lately I am finding so many people who, like me, care about other people. I love how Danny was so touched by that woman who seemed lonely in the cafe and it inspired him to take positive actions towards helping others. — Dorri, http://www.DorriOlds.com, http://twitter.com/DorriOlds

  • mehmoodmasood

    tell me something more about the social media marketing..

  • http://elainefogel.net/ Elaine Fogel

    Great story. Just one thing I’d like to point out to Danny. Having a maximum 10% administrative cost is a misconception. It’s a pre-determined idea established by charity watchdogs who don’t truly understand that nonprofits, like businesses, need investment in their missions in order to succeed. There’s no one better to explain this than Harvard Business blogger Dan Pallotta, author of Uncharitable – How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential. I recommend it highly to anyone involved with the charitable sector.

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Hi Elaine,

    One of the things we do at 12for12k is look at how the charity is run from an administrative side. While there is a recommended “limit”, if you like, (which we raised to 15% this year), we will look at ones that have a larger cost, if the end result justifies it.

    One thing we don’t want happening is for the majority of the money to go to red tape and bureaucratic interventions. We’d rather help the guys that have that small cost because they volunteer and need the help, as opposed to the big guys that eat up a lot of the donation amounts.

    Cheers for the book tip! :)

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Hi there Dorri,

    Thank you! The thing I love about social media is the fact that it really does open up the possibilities of what we can do, with no real geographical limitations. One of my dear friends, Mark Lovett, runs an organization called Global Patriot. The idea is to have everyone proud to be a patriot of the planet, no matter what race, sex or religion. Simply put, one global community.

    I for one can’t think of a better goal than that, and it’s things like social media that really helps ideas like that take shape and formulate.

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    The skies would truly be the limit, wouldn’t they? :)

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    That’s an awesome story – and who wouldn’t like to enjoy great wine while raising money at the same time? Count me in the next time! :)

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Thank you kindly, Mari – I guess us wee Scots can do some good now and again, when we’re not terrorising our English neighbours ;-)

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Fantastic effort there so far, Brei, and really looking forward to seeing you grow. Change.org is a fantastic organization, as you say, and one that can really help you get your story out there. Good luck!

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Cheers Paul. I think that’s often the stopping point, if you like. We think, “Well, I can’t really make a difference on my own.” But as 12for12k has shown me, with the amazing supporters and people that help week in, week out, there’s no such thing as “just me” anymore. And if non-profits would just take that first step… the results can be amazing.

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Thank you so much, Courtney, for your kind words. Something that never fails to amaze me are the awesome people that jump into help 12for12k, and share with their own networks. That’s how we really make a difference, in all we do :)

  • http://marismith.com/ Mari Smith

    Oh Danny – you made me totally LOL!! teehee. :D

  • mikehatton

    Great story Danny,
    I am trying to help do my part as well, locally I partnered up with the Children’s Aid Foundation and created a trust fund to help those who truly need help. Your story is inspiring.
    Mike

  • http://dannybrown.me/ Danny Brown

    Cheers Mike – CAF is a great organization, and kudos for your trust fund. It’s folks like you that make a better place for everyone :)

  • http://twitter.com/jonharules Jonha Revesencio

    You recognized the need for change and did what most people usually fail to do, you ACTED upon that desire. We always see people asking for change but afraid to MAKE it or even act on it but Danny, you sure raised the bar! Thanks for the inspiration that really, we can make a change, if we really want to.

  • Mmbunn

    I want to start a non-profit. I think my idea fills a need but I a not sure where to even begin. There is so much information out there and it is hard to know what is credible. I really liked this information. I would like to keep the cost of running it to a minimum. I look forward to finding people to partner with and look forward to reading through this site to learn more. I hope I can be just as successful as Mr. Brown. Thank you for sharing!

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