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« Nonprofits That Tweet: Roundup of lists, resources, and examples | Main | New Twitter Tool Mailana Helps Me Visualize Strong Ties In My Network »


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Katrin Verclas

Hey, Beth -- thanks for the thoughtful (and jam-packed) post. Much to discuss here. My major objection to the 'social media for social change' term is that there is, in fact, absolutely no coherent theory of social change. And this is important -- something I will elaborate on in a blog post of my own.

Theories of change are abundant -- see for a few papers and thoughts on that topic.

Even the most top-down theories of change go something like this:

It goes something like this: In a situation that needs changing we can gather enough data about a community and its problems, analyse it and discover an underlying set of related problems and their cause, decide which problems are the most important, redefine these as needs, devise a set of solutions and purposes or outcomes, plan a series of logically connected activities for addressing the needs and achieving the desired future results, as defined up front, cost the activities into a convincing budget, raise the funding and then implement the activities, monitor progress as we work to keep them on-track, hopefully achieve the planned results and at the end evaluate the Project for accountability, impact and sometimes even for learning. (courtesy Doug Reeler for that one - it's not the one I subscribe to but it's a paramount NGO model)

It used to be that NGOs and nonprofits were the locus of such change (or control, as the case may be).

Now, however, in the age of social media, anyone can elevate themselves to a 'change agent' and organize. That is, in theory, a great thing. However, what I am observing is the following:

* self-promotion as the core rationale for projects disguised as 'social change' is sexy right now (notice that Stacy Monk, for example, is a social media consultant)
* no understanding of the actual problem, cause of the problem, or appropriate responses - and thus, the danger of unintended consequences
* no coherent theory of change that is thoughtful and can be defended (not even a top-down one as outlined above) and instead a marketing and PR lens (see point 1 above)
* and lastly, one of the most galling aspects: the use and/or exploitation of stories, images, or video of people in very inhumane or distressing situations used simply to elicit an emotional response for the purpose of fundraising or marketing. This has been dubbed 'poverty porn,' by the way, and I would pose that #tweetluck qualifies as such.

And, just to be clear - I am picking on this project as exemplifying what is wrong with the use of social media for so-called 'social change' or 'social good.'

A quote on that:

For too long now, most of the communications we’ve all seen coming from humanitarian, development and non-governmental organizations have been what I’ve heard described as “poverty porn” — words and images that elicit an emotional response by their sheer shock value. Images like starving, skeletal children covered in flies. Overuse of the word “victim.”

That kind of communication may get results, but at what cost to those portrayed? I believe that kind of exploitation is nothing less than a violation of human rights, especially considering what the impoverished, oppressed and marginalized have already had to endure.
(quote from photographer Roger Burk).

I will elucidate more on a blog post about what some of the theories of change are that I consider useful in this context -- and why many projects promoted recently by social media hype are dangerously misguided. Alas, the SXSW flu has hit, so it might be a day or two until that is up (and when I feel less angry and sick about all of this...)

Meanwhile, thanks, Beth, for advancing a good debate on this topic. Much love.


I think our "case study" at Alex Brown Racing captures well your original definition of Social Media for Social Good.

We have raised more than $1m to rescue horses headed for slaughter (the charity component)

And we work hard to lobby government on the horse slaughter issue (social change)

It's a pretty cool experience. I am (trying to) write about it, the following may be of interest:

The web-site

The community

Managing the Community

Shannon K. Aronin

Hi Beth,
Great synopsis of the panel. You did a good job capturing some of the moments of excellence and frustrations that were heard and felt I think in the audience. A few thoughts in response:
* Why is there such a distrust of charities? Since when did fundraising for nonprofits not be seen as social good? Nonprofits do social good, and they need money to keep doing social good. MOST are run by good people and the vast majority of donations goes into programs. People forget that feeding the homeless requires organization which requires staff and keeping the lights on. This sentiment is not new to social media.
* Social media for social good is NOT just about fundraising or marketing or these other words that make people feel disconnected from an org. because they feel like they are being targeted for a campaign. It's about inspiration, action & community. We heard a lot more about those things at other panels you spoke on at SXSW and I think the format at Stubbs just didn't bring it out as much.
* I think the societal shift is what you talked about above, individuals self organizing to raise funds for charity independent of the charity, trusting your supporters enough to do this. This goes back to control, another issue that was discussed in more depth in other panels you were on.
* I think major donors are probably not going to start giving $10,000 a pop on facebook. I think if you are giving large sums you need to be strategic about impact. However $10 at a time is not something you need to be strategic about. I mean you give if it interests you and because someone asked you to. That way, hopefully, when you have a cause you are passionate the favor will be reciprocated. It's the same peer to peer model as seen in major gifts just on a smaller scale, and sometimes in 140 characters or less.
* Likewise, I can't remember who said it at the conference, but we don't get consumer fatigue, why giving fatigue? I think people get tired of being asked when you are talking about a grander scale. But for people participating in the social media space, I think they should be prepared to be asked. Sometimes you say yes, sometimes no, and it doesn't have to be a big deal if you say no.

Miguel Rodriguez

This is a great recap of the conference Beth so thank you. I was following very closely from Philly during the event (FYI I was the source of @wtd's Retweet "transparency needs to go hand-in-hand with any kind of #socialgood campaign")

In response to your third question.. as far as Thropic goes, I have to say that we genuinely want to do social good and promote systemic change with our t-shirt fundraisers. We do care about more than just making profits for ourselves. Our business model ties our success to the success of the non-profit so we can all work towards the same goal. By forming a fair and equitable partnership with non-profits (and artists) we put ourselves in a place where we can lift up everyone involved.

Our approach differs from what @armano and P&G did with the Tide shirts. It's not aimed at improving the image of a major household brand. Nothing wrong with that approach it's just different.

Andrea Hirsch

A lot of great ideas. But I too feel like "social media for scoial good" often focuses too much on the ability to leverage networks and reach people for the sake of contributing to a charity - financially or otherwise.

There is so much potential to use social media to make real changes in the world around us. The opportunity to have like-minded individuals join together and create a new collective is incredible. Never again does any one person have to feel alone or like the change they want to see in the world is too daunting to take on by themselves. There are avenues to connect and share ideas with people all over the world that have never existed before. And - when people join together change happens - it is the one common element in every social movment throughout history and always will be.

Tori Tuncan

Thank you, Beth, for this recap and the important questions you pose. I expect some good discussion will follow from this post. My comments will hit on a couple of points - First, my thoughts on social media for social change, and Second, some comments on EpicChange, @StaceyMonk, and #TweetsGiving/#TweetLuck.

I have struggled a lot myself with the "social change" question as I work with Lend4Health. I feel that, as a non-profit/socialgood/NPtech community, we are antsy for analysis, for metrics, and for *proof* of our impact. We also are looking to show how a certain action can change the world in one quick swoop.

I have stayed up nights wondering how somebody lending a family $5 to help them get a stool test done on their child can be measured in terms of social change. I have thought of hiring and economist and a doctor to mesh minds and come up with some statistical measurement for something like "1 stool test microloan = $x in taxpayer dollars saved" but then it starts to seem like I'm taking something very simple and making it complex, just to satisfy the "thems" out there who I think someday will ask me how Lend4Health is changing society.

Tangentially, my 4-year old son is really into dinosaurs lately, and I have read and watched more than my fair share of information on evolution and extinction. And it has started to make me realize that evolution is SLOOOOOW. It is a process. And perhaps social change is a process as well. Maybe the child who gets the stool test then gets more individualized treatment to solve their health issues and they eventually get better and can learn better and can go on to lead a normal, healthy life and contribute to our great GNP. And maybe 50 years later, because of what this child's doctors and family and friends learned about how autism and GI issues are related, some major social change happens around autism, environmental health, safer vaccines, or even just plain ol' health insurance coverage for stool tests for autistic kids. So can I then say that, yes, making a $5 loan on Lend4Health (learned about through Twitter) is "social media for social change"?

If we think of "social good" as "social change," and if we think of "social change" as "sweeping, rapid changes within a society," the maybe social media will not be paired up with social change, unless perhaps it is Congress on the other end of the Twitter stream. But if we think of "social change" as a slower, more evolutionary, procedural change, then yes, I do think social media can play a role.

Another twist in this picture that has plagued my mind in regards to Lend4Health is that non-profits/charities have restrictions on lobbying. So if our society's changes happen largely in the halls of Congress, then a non-profit (regardless of size and funding) will have a hard time playing a direct role. Perhaps the non-profit's role, then, is in raising awareness through fundraising campaigns and, with the resulting funding, moving the evolutionary process forward inch by inch until a governmental meteor can come in and officially "bless" the swooping change the society has already moved toward.

Now, let me turn to EpicChange and @StaceyMonk and #TweetLuck. I could go on and on here about this one, but instead I will just encourage readers to learn more about what this organization and this woman are doing. I feel very familiar with this organization because I follow her on Twitter, I have scoured the EpicChange website, I have watched the videos, I have read Stacey's blog posts, and I have even met her in person to talk about her work. I feel very comfortable contributing to and voluntarily tweeting about #TweetsGiving and #TweetLuck, and I hope that anybody who questions these campaigns, Stacey, or her organization in general will dig in a bit to learn more.

Sorry for the long response, Beth, and, again, thanks so much for putting these interesting posts out there for your community to discuss and learn from.



Re @Tori Tuncan:
"I have stayed up nights wondering how somebody lending a family $5 to help them get a stool test done on their child can be measured in terms of social change."

The type of positioning that you've just outlined (Ie:
We raised $N which resulted in N stool tests. And stool tests are needed because they...[prevent disease, detect malnutrition, etc]), seems to be a large part of what's missing. Simple connection from the funds to the action. $ = tests for kids. True, it doesn't address systemic change - but I, for one, would be impressed to see more direct connections like this... along with some transparent documentation that a significant part of the $ raised was indeed spent on the tests. Nice example.


More on the above - to take the example further: We did N stool tests, we found N cases of Bacterium XYZ, which was then treated by doctors. So your donation prevented N kids from developing such and such condition. In sum, your donation resulted in a very real change in the lives of real people. Oh, and we took a 20% cut so as to fund future such campaigns. To me, an example with this level of detail is both meaningful and forthright.

Tori Tuncan

Ben: Yes, but would that be considered "social change"? That's where I struggle - at what point does changing the lives of individuals/families via Lend4Health become a change in society? (if you can help me with this one it would help me with some grant writing! hahaha) :)

Bringing this discussion back to the examples given earlier in Beth's post re: #SXSW, what EpicChange/@StaceyMonk is doing could easily fit into a similar equation as what Ben lays out. $X in donations via Epic Change were used to make a loan of the same amount (Stacey doesn't take a cut), which was used to build 1 classroom (including desks, windows, etc), which enabled the school to enroll x more children and hire x more teachers. Additionally, in the EpicChange model, these are interest-free loans, and Stacey collaborates with the recipient to come up with ways they can repay their loan (usually involving the power of individual stories). So Epic Change also has the metric of x activities were conducted and y number of goods were sold to repay z% of the loan.

(Stacey would have the exact numbers.)

What I like about what Stacey is doing is that her support of Mama Lucy (the one who founded and runs the school, who is the real change agent in this equation) is bringing change not only to the individual students and teachers at the school, but it also is bringing change to the community as a whole. More kids at school, more teachers employed, etc. And the school recently took first place in their entire district in their exams, so we have proof that it's not just any old school but a really good one.

Oh, and while EpicChange is frequently thought of as the non-profit that is building a school in Tanzania, that is just its first project. Once a large chunk of the loan is repaid, the EpicChange model will re-loan that money to another project -- not necessarily a school, and not necessarily in Africa.

I like it because while the rest of us (including me) are getting jazzed about "micro-loans," Stacey is working on "macro-loans" (and I'd say bringing about "macro" social change in this community in Arusha.)

But...the question for Stacey much of all this talk about models and metrics and stories can be squeezed into a 140-char tweet? So with #TweetsGiving and #TweetLuck she has used social media to get people sharing -- sharing their gratitude, their luck, and (for some, although not required for participation) their money. People got swept up in the good feelings and the online connectedness, and enough people chose to show their gratitude with money. I'm sure most people did not take the time to really dig into the Epic Change website and read about the model and the metrics, but some did, and the information is there for those who want it. This may be seen as "shallow" because people are giving a few bucks based on a tweet about gratitude or luck and a quick story about a school or a girl named Glory, but the medium requires a certain level of shallow-ness, yet it also enables a deeper level of understanding for those who want to click on the link and learn more.

Perhaps I am over-thinking this, and certainly Stacey can talk for herself, so I will butt out here!

*Note: I am not a paid volunteer for EpicChange! haha. I just like what Stacey is doing so I "follow" her and see her as a colleague in the interest-free loan space we both occupy.*


I know of at least one example of measuring systemic change via an evaluation framework that seems to work fairly well - and has been tested for ~7 years longitudinally with 1000s of nonprofits. I don't, however, know if any of this data can be shared publicly. I'm going to talk with the folks who did these studies and see if they can share at least the broad strokes of their efforts.

I'm also interested in knowing what other efforts are out there. I recall hearing about at least 1 or 2 other system for measurement on this scale - but don't recall whom/what/where.

Dan Bassill

Thanks for the post. The question of "at what point does changing the lives of individuals/families via Lend4Health become a change in society?" is a central point to focus on.

It will take a lot of actions, repeated over time, in many places, by many people, to create change around any issue. For instance, I work with inner city kids. If the youth is age 6 when entering school, it will be 20 years before that youth is in his/her mid twenties (duh). What sort of sustained actions will be needed to assure that this youth is alive, not in jail, has a proper education, and has a job?

Their are millions of kids needing such support in many places, for many years. Thus it will take lots of charity, and service, in many places to make this happen. If those who are helping "burn out" or get "donor fatigue" it's like a parent saying, "I helped you get to age 6. You find someone else to take you the rest of the way, or at least the next year or two."

Prior to the internet, and the growth of social networking and social media, the people trying to do this work were isolated in their own community, or even their own neighborhood. Ideas were not shared from program to program, let alone across cities or nations. Now we're changing that.

The few people Mead talks about who can change the world, now could be from several different places, using social media to connect with each other, engage others in the cause, and find the dollars that it takes to turn these different acts of kindness into sustained, and coordinated acts that lead to change.

The change starts with responsibilities that individuals take. If enough people take these actions over many years it becomes a change to society.

We're not there yet. But the tools to get us there are growing.

Christine Egger

Great post, Beth. I agree wholeheartedly with Tori's observations, and am encouraged by Ben's attention to impact and the importance of delivering meaningful, detailed feedback.

Katrin, the question of a theory of change is one I enjoy grappling with, too. Here's one I just proposed in a quick blog post ( drawing attention to conversation going on here:

Invite people to participate directly in "being the change they wish to see in the world" in a way that's 1) phenomenally decentralized and 2) embedded with points-of-entry along the entire spectrum of shallow-to-deep engagement, and they will start to demand more information, more transparency, more proof-of-impact -- more evidence that what they're participating in having the desired change-effect.

The key question of course, as you wrote about, is how to put that into practice in a way that empowers rather than exploits? One suggestion would be to make sure that the invitation to participate is

1) created and extended by those who will be most impacted, and
2) extended to everyone who will be impacted.

In other words, put the people who's lives are being affected in the center.

This is extremely difficult to do for those of us who are in the business of "creating social change" or "development" or whatever you want to call "making the world a better place." It's difficult because as soon as we dip into that business -- whether formally as a staff member of a nonprofit, or informally as an individual creating a fundraising campaign or other gesture -- we've created a reason to pay attention to ourselves. We've created a reason to have a conversation about how we're doing it, whether we're doing it well enough, how well we're telling our own story.

Those are all OK conversations to have but in the end they have absolutely nothing to do with the people whose lives are being affected, with the people who should be at the center of our attention.

The conversation about social media is of course going to be about those using social media which -- for the time being, anyway -- is NOT about the people who would ideally be at the center of a "social change" conversation. This is changing slowly, but we're looking at many many years before a real paradigm shift comes about, where you'd immediately think "Hey, I don't have to take anyone's word for what the impact of this campaign/program/whatever is having. I can find out myself just as easily by going straight to the person who's showing a need for some kind of assistance."

As that becomes more the norm, THAT's when we'll see less of the exploitation Katrin writes about above. There will be less of "US showing YOU how YOU can help THEM." It's those divisions that cause the exploitation, moreso than any media tool used for "showing." And there'll be more of "US showing YOU how YOU can help US." Still a division there, but much more likely to engender empowerment rather than dependency/exploitation.


Look what I came across in my bed-time reading last night! From Muhammad Yunus' book "Creating A World Without Poverty" (p115):

Charity Is Not Always the Answer

The importance of charity cannot be denied. It is appropriate in disaster situations and when helping those that are so seriously disabled they can do nothing to help themselves. but sometimes we tend to overdo our reliance on charity.

In general, I am opposed to giveaways and handouts. They take away the initiative and responsibility from people. If people know that things can be received "free," they tend to spend their energy and skill chasing the "free" things rather than using the same energy and skill to accomplish things on their own. Handouts encourage dependence rather than self-help and self-confidence.

Even in disaster situations, Grameen Bank encourages borrowers to create their own disaster funds rather than rely on donations...

Handouts also encourage corruption. When aid monies are donated to help the poor, the officials who are in charge of distributing the free goods and services often turn themselves and their favored friends into the first beneficiaries of the program.

Finally, charity creates a one-sided power relationship. The beneficiaries of charity are favor-seekers rather than claimants of something they deserve. As a result, they have no voice, and accountability and transparency disappear. All such one-way relationships are inequitable and only make the poor more vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation.

To strengthen the capacity of the poor to create, expand, and improve their own communities, I would emphasize the creation of democratic institutions for local self-government... Paternalism, however well-intentioned, leads only to a dead end. When the poor have the ability to control their own destinies, they can achieve a lot more, a lot faster."

I realize that Yunus is speaking about direct charity to the poor here - and the discussion has focused mainly on charity campaigns for organizations... but throughout the book, Yunus makes parallels to the poor and organizations who are also asking for money. In the book he outlines a type of social good organization - a "social business" - that does not ask for money and is self-sufficient. In sum, he approaches organizational doing-good just like programs for the poor - and leans away from charity in both cases. (although not as an absolute).

James Young

I find it disconcerting that almost everyone seems to be missing one very critical point: social media tools can be used for more than simply fundraising. The power of these tools is that they can spread a call to action very quickly and with a high degree of appropriate context. What is stopping someone from using a facebook application to sign people up to travel to a country that needs help? Or congregate in a certain place and help clean up disaster relief? Or lobby legislators to vote a certain way?


So we can use these tools to do drive other worthwhile activities that can drive change.

Ben would seem to require quantifiable impact from these tools. Well, the impact isn't made by these tools, but by the people taking action based on these tools. We can measure the number of people who signed up via one of these tools, or we can attempt to do so, but the real change in the world comes from the people receiving the message taking action.

The mobile world is not that different. So you drove a bunch of people to text a certain code, or make a certain call. This seems awfully similar to calls to actions via twitter or Facebook.

Now, I do agree that vehicles like Causes lend to the decentralization of change because anyone and everyone can start a cause and the connection to the actaul non-profit can be really hidden. I would rather see the surrounding the individuals who start a cause. "parenting" them through their support and activism. In this way, we can be more systematic about what is said and done.

James Young

I'm looking forwad to posts by Katrin and possibly Ben, with some ideas to go along with their criticisms.

Lina Srivastava

This is a great debate. Beth, thank you for setting up this forum and the questions that spur on this discussion. Since I seem to have initiated some of this, as well, I'll dig into some of what you all have said. Pick the topic you want to read about and/or debate below:

Definitions: I agree with Katrin about the lack of a coherent and shared definition of “social change.” Over the past two years, coinciding with the intense activity brought on by “change” efforts in social media, I’ve had discussions with people on the activist side of the equation about the corruption of terminology in the social change sector. (Giving attribution where it’s due: This question was first raised to me by Michaela Walsh, the doyenne of women’s economic development and microfinance (Founder of Women’s World Banking—if you don’t know her, see: and someone who has devoted her entire life to digging deep into issues of sustainable development for women. She asked me what exactly does anyone mean anymore when they say “social change”? It’s an undetermined and overused term and we need to redefine it.) Admittedly, many activists start with the position, “Who really cares what we call it, we just have to do it.” But then you start to look around and realize that the corruption of terminology leads to the unintended consequences that Katrin mentions above. I don’t want to create some kind of caste system within the social change sector, where activists are the only ones who can “do it.” And I’m not interested in creating vocabulary that closes off avenues of participation by anyone who has a contribution- particularly because everyone has a stake in the outcomes of social change efforts, and because everyone can make a difference, even by singular action. (Though I’d argue that the audience member who was cheered because she raised $100,000 for her friend was doing what a good friend should have done and was particularly successful at using the tools available to her. But a supreme act of friendship is not social change. Social change is to reform the system that prevented a dancer, a treasured member of society, from lacking health insurance in the first place. Or, I don’t know, to fund a program in India linking music for coma patients- using raised funds to mail her MP3 player to her is not social change.) Charity/fundraising definitely has a role within the social change context as we currently conduct our business (at least for nonprofits as opposed to social enterprises)- and social media is particularly well-suited for fundraising. But to actually be a “change agent,” you need to know what you’re doing or you cause more harm than good.

In terms of creating a definition and providing an example of idea-generation for systemic change, a colleague (Sean Howard) and I have been prototyping a model to use design tools and storytelling to move NGOs and activists toward systemic change. We’ve set forth a draft prescription, which I’m paraphrasing below (from our program brochure), and I welcome comments:

Systemic change results from: (a) ground-level innovation that moves beyond point solutions, connects root causes and is replicable across regions, issues or societal influences; (b) applying knowledge from a variety of diverse approaches to enable shared platforms for collaboration and communication; and (c) creating a shared understanding across sectors on how we harness innovations and how root causes and change agents within a system are interrelated.

Storytelling, images and perception: I’m don’t mean to pick on tweetluck, either, but Stacey’s story of Glory was condescending. I’ve checked out EpicChange’s stated methodology and it appears that it could be an effective model. But Stacy and her business partner (who was there and who I engaged with in a short exchange in the audience) didn’t lead their story with their model or their effected changes. When presented with the opportunity to describe how Epic Change uses social media to implement its model, Stacy went back to the paternalistic and exploitive images that have plagued social good efforts for far too long. When are we going to stop seeing images of poor African children smiling because some organization swooped down and gave them some “thing”? It isn’t as bad as Sally Struthers and her milk-stained, mosquito-covered, swollen baby images. But it’s closer on that continuum of storytelling and imagery than it is to stories of partnership, effective resource acquisition (whatever the mechanism, by for-profit or social enterprise investment, NGO grants or peer-to-peer fundraising) and effective action. When you James, with your position of authority as the CEO of Convio, urge nonprofits to treat their constituents as parents treat their children, it sends an odd message. Can you explain what that means further? The statement seems paternalistic-but I might be wrong and I’d like to know what relationship you’re proposing. As Ben pointed out by quoting Yunus—and as Jon Gosier so effectively stated in his sxsw panel Appfrica-- aid and charity sustain the power imbalance in disfavor of those in disadvantaged circumstances. Add to that the call for upper class westerners to feel “lucky” and donate for the poor African children, and then perhaps (?) the call to nonprofits to build paternalistic relationships with their communities, and that imbalance instills further. I’m not trying to call anyone out for being “western,” because I think that’s a ridiculous and insulting charge to level. I’ve had to deal with that charge when I’ve worked on the ground, and when I’ve worked with documentaries where the protagonist is non-native, and I’ve always thought it was a useless argument. But there is a point buried there and I think we have to clarify, again, how we do our business before we move into communities and situations to change them. In terms of storytelling specifically, we need to engage in needs assessments, to create a dialogue with constituents and beneficiaries, and to provide avenues for voice to be heard. This is not the same as “providing voice”: People in disadvantaged communities are not voiceless. But they don’t always have access to the tools that will broadcast their voices in the same volume as we in the blogosphere do. And that’s something we can use social media to tackle, perhaps?

What’s wrong with fundraising?: Nothing, in the abstract. Shannon asked: Since when did fundraising for nonprofits not be seen as social good? Well, my answer would be that fundraising for nonprofits isn’t itself “social good.” Fundraising is one way of financing efforts to move toward social change- and it’s still necessary. But I do believe the nonprofit sector needs reform. I’m not making the facile “nonprofits need to be more like businesses” argument, because that doesn’t quite capture the problem. But there are too many npos (1.6 million in the US alone)—I’d argue we should look at merger, formal collaboration and dissolution-- and our outdated funding models aren’t adaptive to this current financial crisis. I’ve said before that fundraising as we know it, is going the way of dinosaurs (I do think peer-to-peer fundraising, particularly through social media, is a viable mode of fundraising) and I think we as a sector need to work on alternative, effective financing platforms. (This is also because issue fatigue is real. The discussion on socialedge followed my discussion on cause fatigue at and my website that arose from Global Grassroots’ work in trying to move through obstacles to Darfur activism efforts and from Nick Kristof’s “Darfur Puppy” article in the NY Times. Sometimes people don’t want to hear about it anymore…)

On the other side, James says “I find it disconcerting that almost everyone seems to be missing one very critical point: social media tools can be used for more than simply fundraising.” Sure they can. (That’s not the message that was sent by the Porter Novelli panel, but I understand Beth’s point about how difficult it is to contextualize in that format.) But, what exactly do social media tools accomplish in social change? There’s a rather large group of activities that we currently cram into social change- from cancer research to genocide, from disaster relief to education reform, etc. Also, the difference between social media and mobile in this context is that most people on the ground don’t have access to social media. But they have access to mobile. So what is possible with mobile applications is ground-level innovation and ground-level information transmission within communities with a lower price of entry. This isn’t as possible with social media such as FB, Twitter or blogs.

To this: Another thing we’ve created is a tool to map activity and issue against levels of engagement. We’ve not done this specifically for applying social media tools to action or issue, but I’d be willing to talk to any of you about doing this.

So I propose two other things: The first is that we, anyone privy to this discussion and whoever else we can rope in, move forward on Beth’s questions in a formal debate (I think Katrin and Beth already discussed this?) to explore our terminology and tools and come up with adoptable, instillable definitions. And I propose secondly that we dig deeper into questions of access, participation and ground-level solutions-building. Because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to talk about social media and social change if the communities we’re trying to help change aren’t talking too.

Beth Kanter


We agreed to a discussion and that's why I put forth this blog post so that we could unpack this issue.

Agreed that we shouldn't be talking to ourselves ...


Charity is a kind of industry. Fundraising is an activity undertaken by individuals and organizations in this industry. Social Media is a communications medium.

None of those things is necessarily "Social Media for Social Good".

Using social media to bring about concrete change in the world is something which everyone in the field sees constantly; it's an often-spontaneous action taken by a wide variety of organizations and individuals, not all of whom are charity or nonprofit. The #tweetupheatup in Vancouver (which spread to cities around the world) during this past winter is a terrific example of that: it was put together by a business consultant and a realtor, in response to a perceived need, warm clothing for the poor, and resulted in a disparate (and normally West Side) group of strangers coming together to do what they could to solve a problem, right then and there.

They knew they couldn't clothe every homeless person in Vancouver. They knew there was no money in it. They knew that a hunger exists in modern society, a hunger to take action, to make the world a better place, if only for one homeless dude and if only for one winter. And they knew they didn't need anyone's permission.

The step of researching which official-status charities or nonprofits are in the business of clothing the homeless, then organizing some kind of fund drive, is something people who make a living in the charity industry strongly recommend. And it may be great advice...


These steps and the time they take and distance they create alienate the individual of good will from the act of changing the world. And we want (do we not?) MORE people to have experience at changing the world. One action like this is the little spark that starts the big fire, and it would not be unreasonable to expect taking that action to have repercussions in those participants' future life choices.

"Social Media for Social Good" is far larger than a certain industry using social media to raise money. The title of the event was misleading; it should have been "Social Media for Fundraising."

And I say all of this as a member of the nonprofit industry who's used social media, quite successfully, to generate donations.

James Young


First, let me say that I am flattered that you think I am the CEO of Convio. My real CEO will get a laugh out of that.

My point at the panel was this: NPOs need more feet on the street to affect the kind of change they want, whether that is more asks for money or more asks for action (define it as you like, it can be anything that helps the NPO fulfill it's mission). Social Media is a great way to enable people to be feet on the street because it simplifies communication across networks of people. To make sure the message that is being delivered is effective, NPOs can not simply say, "Say This." Like parents do with their children, NPOS need to empower constituents by educating them on the realities of their particular cause, and practical tips on how to use the social media tools at their disposal. Then, passionate people can communicate with their friends and neighbors with real information (not misinformation) and inspire action.

I am not prescribing any particular kind of message, e.g. storytelling of the kind Sally Struthers has used. That is up to the individual NPO. What I am prescribing to NPOs is that social media is an effective tool to drive action.

I also keep harping on the notion that fundraising is only one action that can be requested. Everyone seems to agree that social media can be used to drive other actions, like political activism and volunteerism, yet the conversation keeps going back to fundraising, perhaps because for many NPOs, the need for money to fund the programs is critical. And this was one of the messages that was sent by the panel. I specifically talked about several social media tools that drive action of the non-fundraising type.

Separate the tool from the result. We all want to see the world change for the better, and we all have different definitions of what the required change is. Let's recognize that social media is a tool that can be used to drive change of any kind. Mobile phones are another tool, and yes, they are more ubiquitous, but they are still a tool just like social media.

I get the sense from a lot of the comments made here that there is a distinct disillusionment with non-profit organizations in general, that they are not activist enough for some. If so, then let's call this conversation something different. As the panel suggests, we wanted to talk about how social media can be used to drive greater social good, in all of its forms.

James Young


Also, I agree with you that we should get the same social media tools into the hands of the people the NPOs are directly trying to help. No one is saying we shouldn't do this. Just look at as an example. But the decision to do that is again up to the NPO to push.

Bottom line: the tools exist and they can be effective at driving all kinds of change. If you are not seeing them being used to drive the kind of change you want, then do it. I'd love to hear your plan, or if you don't have one, I'd love to help you figure it out.


I can't agree with that last point, that putting social media tools into the hands of the marginalized is up to the NPO's. My company is not an NPO, because the rules around the structure are far too constraining, but that's exactly what we do. I'm not tooting my own horn here. Organizations of all kinds, as well as individuals of all kinds, can step up and do this. I've made it my life's work, and the sum total of my time working for official nonprofit organizations is less than a year.

James Young


Goop point. What I mean is, each NPO has to decide if they want to do it. I'm saying it is a good idea. Of course, it not ONLY up to the NPO. Individuals and other organizations can also put social media tools into "the hands of the marginalized."

Lina Srivastava

Apologies to James and Stacey: It seems I've mischaracterized organizational roles. So James, you are the social media evangelist for Convio, is that correct? And Stacey, I understand now that the man standing next to me who said "What *we* do" in reference to EpicChange may or may not have been associated with your organization (but at any rate, he was a passionate defender). Thanks for pointing out the need for correction.

Regarding a plan, James, before we even get to a discussion of what social media can do for social change, I think we have to agree what "social change" is, as Beth said above. So I'll pull out from my post above the summary of what I think I can do in the context of this discussion: 1) second Katrin in calling for revisiting definitions of theories of change and adopting definitions; 2) invite comments on the prescriptive language for "systemic change"(above, in my previous post); 3) explore questions of access, participation and integration for people "on the ground" and in disadvantaged communities. After that, 4) work to map the use of social media tools against action and impact, taking into account issue, context and goals.

(Regarding NPOs- Good point from @raincoaster- reinforces the fact that the terms "nonprofit" and "social change" are not interchangeable. Change is effected across sectors and across disciplines.)

Christine Egger

Count me in on joining the 4-step process Lina outlines above. Google Group anyone? Or is 75-80% of this conversation already happening elsewhere?

Christine M. Adolf

Thanks for the thought provoking post and all the great comments! I’ve always thought of “social media for social good” as an all-encompassing phrase referring to the use of social media to make a difference, whether we use the phrase “social good” to refer to a charitable fund-raising event or to organizing a community with the aim of systemic social change. I think that raising awareness and funds for a charity on Twitter with campaigns such as the Twestival and the International Rescue Committee blogging about their humanitarian efforts are both good examples of using social media for social good. However, I think they are different in that the Twestival campaign was organized entirely through social media, while the IRC is an organization that uses social media as part of their overall outreach efforts. One of the most significant benefits of using social media is that it provides the tools for campaigns and non-profit organizations to be more effective in their communication and engage in conversations with their community.

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