Last December, I watched Twitter turn into a sea of frozen green peas to support Susan Reynolds in her fight against breast cancer and to raise money for research in her honor. The wizard behind the Frozen Pea Fund (and many others since) is Connie Reece, who specializes in developing marketing and communications programs that use Web 2.0 tools and technology.
She is a co-founding member and serves on the advisory board of the Social Media Club and founder of Every Dot Connects, a consortium of marketing and media practitioners who are passionate about using new technologies to build bridges between people and ideas and causes.
Based on Austin, Texas, I caught up with Connie to find how she is using Social Media raise money for victims of Hurricane Ike and other recent social media fundraising causes.
1. Tell me about you ...
I'm a wordaholic. Some people drink, some do drugs; I'm addicted to words. It's definitely a genetic predisposition. I acquired my love of my words from my mom, who started teaching me to read when I was three, and who still, at age 84, delights in beating me at word games. Ultimately, my writing skills led me into professional pursuits where I actually get paid for feeding my addiction.
2. How did you get first get interested/involved in using social media for social causes? Why is this a passion?
In retrospect, it seems a natural progression over a couple of decades. In the 1980s I worked in direct mail fundraising for nonprofit organizations, then I shifted into the publishing industry in the 1990s. I've been online since the days of early dial-up modems, so I was participating in social networks before the term "social media" was even used.
Through Twitter, I became aware of your work with social causes. I had burned out in fundraising years earlier, so while I contributed to your Cambodian cause I had no intention of doing anything similar. And then, on December 6, 2007, everything changed when my friend Susan Reynolds was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly I had a personal stake in the fight against cancer, and it reignited my passion for fundraising for good causes.
3. You were key architect of the Frozen Pea Fund campaign, can you give me a summary of strategy and what you think made it work? What didn’t work?
Yes, the Frozen Pea Fund was mostly my doing, with the help of some great volunteers I recruited. We moved so quickly, we had no long-term goal, no idea that the effort could be sustainable. That's both what made it work (rapid, organic growth) and what didn't work (no well-defined, long-term strategy).
So after our initial campaign, when we raised almost $10,000 in about eight weeks, we pulled back and then began planning for sustainability. We incorporated, applied for 501(c)3 status, and that's actually when I first met Susan face to face.
Recently we set up an office in Second Life, on the Nonprofit Commons Plush island, and we just purchased our own island in Second Life. Our goal is to develop a virtual retreat where cancer patients can escape their physical pain.
4. Can you share some stories about a few of your recent fundraising with social media projects to help nonprofits in Austin, TX?
The social media community in Austin is very active in worthwhile causes. In July our volunteers from Social Media Club joined with Austin 501 Tech Club to launch the first Blood Drive Tweetup. (A tweetup is a meetup of friends on the microblogging service Twitter.) It turned into a day-long event that was live-streamed, with food donated by local merchants, and it attracted news coverage. (Docublogger video. Statesman blog.)
More than a hundred people signed up online for a donation timeslot to come in and give blood; the center averages around 40 a day. The professionals who run the Blood Center said they’d never seen so many first-time blood donors.
This month we organized a HAM-up Tweetup (HAM because September is Hunger Awareness Month) to benefit the Capital Area Food Bank. Tyson Foods' Hunger Relief project got involved and issued a social media challenge: they would donate 100 pounds of protein for every comment received on their blog post about the HAM-up, up to a 35,000-pound truck load. They thought it might take a week to get 350 comments and meet the goal; it took less than six hours. Tyson's protein-laden truck arrived in Austin on September 8.
It was a timely delivery. A few days later Hurricane Ike slammed into Texas and the remainder of the HAM-up events had to be postponed. Our food bank went into disaster relief mode and has been coordinating food donations to evacuees who fled to the Central Texas area.
5. What advice would you give to social media mavens who want to work with or help a nonprofit?
Cultivate relationships with communicators at the nonprofit organization. Attend their events. Find out what social networks they participate in, and communicate with them online. You should also be building your own online network. What has made Austin Social Media Club efforts so effective is that our members are highly engaged in social networking.
6. What advice would you give to nonprofits who want to integrate a social media strategy for their organization.
That would be a great question to ask Lisa Goddard at the Capital Area Food Bank because that is her full-time job. She came to one of our Every Dot Connects workshops where we were teaching Web 2.0 tools, and she's become an unstoppable force. She is the one who contacted Social Media Club Austin to ask for help in organizing the HAM-up. And the rest, as they say, is history.
7. I know you live in Texas - and I can't help but ask about IKE - and where we people can support relief efforts and what you're doing to help out?
Thanks for asking. There are so many ways people can help, whether it's through the American Red Cross or local relief agencies. The food bank here is still seeking donations for the evacuees that remain in Austin; it may be weeks before they are able to return to their homes. Our food bank is also assisting the Houston food bank.
Over one million people in the Houston area are still without electricity, so they can't store or cook fresh food. A number of my relatives in Houston and Pearland were displaced by Ike, and my cousin's very pregnant daughter barely made it to Methodist Hospital downtown as the storm swept in Friday night; her son was born on Saturday, after the hospital had shifted to back-up power and lost water.
On Monday our food bank had to turn away evacuees lined up for emergency food boxes. That broke my heart. But for the grace of God, those evacuees could have been my family members. While my family had plenty of relatives and resources to provide for them, thousands don't. Without the help of food banks and disaster relief agencies, they would go hungry.