Crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe are an effective ways to raise money, raise awareness, and publicize causes through social networks. But this is never an easy job because people’s attention, empathy, and money are all limited resources.
Charity organizations need to convince people that a cause is worth giving our money to, and that their donations will make a real difference. This is becoming more and more challenging with all the big scandals and ‘faux-pas’ related to fundraising campaigns, such as questions about the $13.5 billion USD raised internationally after Haiti’s earthquake in 2010. The danger is that cynicism becomes the enemy of fundraisers.
With this in mind, a campaign hashtag caught my eye on Facebook recently: #LoveArmyForSomalia. It inspired me to watch a video posted by Jérôme Jarre, a young French Vine and Snapchat superstar, who has more than 1 million followers on Twitter and 8.6 million followers on Vine. In his 2-minute video, he explains how powerful we can become if we unite through social media to help those in need — this case, the deadly famine in Somalia.
Jérôme’s idea: Asking an airline company if they could use a plane and fill it with 60 tons of food, then ship it to Somalia. He says that only one carrier flies to Somalia: Turkish Airlines. Jérôme and his supporters asked for help on Twitter, and the airline responded a few hours later with an offer to lend one of their cargo planes for the project. Jérôme set up a GoFundMe page and as of now (6 days into the campaign) it has superseded its $2 million goal with more than 80,000 people participating. Turkish Airlines has also agreed to ship additional food containers on their commercial flights to Somalia as long as the famine lasts.
How did this happen so quickly? Why people became suddenly compassionate to the dying people of Somalia? This famine is being under-reported by global media, despite the fact that the UN said it was the worst humanitarian crisis in 70 years in that region.
What is the secret that made #LoveArmyForSomalia succeed in a social media environment crowded by competing campaign hashtags? SINCERITY, SIMPLICITY, AND PERSONAL TRANSPARENCY.
When I watched Jérôme speaking freely and passionately about this crisis, I felt connected and instantly trusted him. He is used to social media culture, speaking directly with no script, and easily connecting with his followers. The fact that he reached out to Ben Stiller’s Foundation was another good point for him. Bringing the Hollywood sense of solidarity can only help! Jérôme promised to give donors frequent updates with videos and via his GoFundMe page, and total transparency with how the money will be spent. He promised that donors will even be able to watch live as the airplane lands and the food is distributed.
What can NGOs and other not-for-profits learn from this spontaneous, viral, fundraiser? Creating a movement is never easy, and people are getting better and better at sensing authenticity online. Jérôme’s appeal worked because he is a successful social media native who markets himself and his cause with a natural passion and honesty that translates to a genuine promise of being able to make a difference. People like people who they can identify with, and organizations would do well to find their own Jérômes (either from within or among allies) who can connect with supporters and earn their trust on a one-to-one basis.
As well, using digital and social media not just to promise complete transparency, but also as a platform to allow digital natives to participate in the solution in real-time, as a community, is hugely attractive for Millennials and others like them.