Non-profits can profit from social media

How can non-profit organizations use social media to further their cause? Writing in Great Britain’s The Guardian, David Lawrance, head of development at The Clare Foundation, says that charities and other non-commercial organizations can boost donations and energize volunteers . . . if they adopt the practices of the business world.

“A recent survey showed that UK charitable organisations have doubled their supporters on key social media channels in the past year,” he writes. “Yet, for many charities, the vastness of the social media landscape is too daunting to venture into.”

The solution, he says, is “to bring established commercial methods, business expertise and entrepreneurism to the voluntary sector.” As PR and social media strategist for a U.S-based marketing agency, I work with for-profit and non-profit organizations to plan and execute their entry into the world of social marketing. Lawrance’s strategy can work for both sectors. I’ve condensed his approach into three key points:

  • Choose your network based on its audience. LinkedIn attracts professionals. It’s a great place to establish your expertise with key opinion leaders, including the media, who can spread your message. Facebook attracts a sociable audience eager to share personal information. With its punchy headlines and live links, Twitter can serve as a hybrid between those two, as well as a news feed for your organization.
  • Make an emotional connection. Show the people you’re helping. Their stories will motivate volunteers and sway donors. “Donations will be more forthcoming if [services] could help somebody just like them/their mum/their child/their pet/their friend,” Lawrance says.
  • Use supporters as ambassadors to amplify the message. Encourage supporters to “like”, re-tweet, send links, write blogs and upload photos and video. They have greater credibility with their peers. Let them tell your story.

Non-profits can profit from social media. They just need to get down to business.

Jeff Widmer is a PR and social media strategist.


Impulse writing

Writing that flows is often based on a solid structure.

Take the piece “Why impulse spending can be a good thing” by Katherine Rosman, who writes the Checks & Balances column about finance and marriage for the Wall Street Journal. The article is designed to read like a short story with comments, unfolding through scenes with increasing drama. We want to determine what happens between Rosman and her husband Joe, who in their struggles to mesh their opposites-attract financial styles have become persons of interest.

The article is structured in three parts. The first details a recent event, the second one that took place a while ago, the third the night the two met. All involve charity auctions. All create an orderly march backward in time, from a seemingly frivolous exchange to a defining moment. Each segment seems ordinary yet together they build toward a quiet but profound insight you’d see in the work of Anne Tyler or Anna Quindlen.

The parts consist of anecdotes, all of which bring to life the article’s theme—that contrary to popular wisdom occasional impulse spending can provide rewards to even the most budget-minded couples. Those mini stories also illustrate a greater wisdom: we can argue about spending but what we really value is not the behavior but the relationship. The real prize isn’t the money, it’s the person.

When I worked as a writing coach for a newspaper owned by the publisher of the Wall Street Journal I studied briefly with the great Roy Peter Clark. Now vice president of the Poynter Institute, Clark taught us to use the tools of fiction writers while rigorously adhering to the facts. Structuring a story that way is more than playing dress-up. It’s a process to present and order events with all of the immediacy and emotional resonance of direct experience.

It’s good to see other non-fiction writers have adopted the storyteller’s technique. Using those tools, Rosman ratchets up the conflict between spouses with a deceptive calm that shows rather than tells about their relationship. The story flows without effort. Even the ending feels natural, a surprising valentine to financial and emotional conservatives everywhere.

Talk about impulse control.

West End Rotary event to benefit Jackson firefighters

The West End Rotary Club will host its fourth annual Longaberger Basket Bingo on Sunday, January 30, 2011, to benefit firefighters in Jackson Township, Monroe County, PA. Doors at the West End Fire Hall open at noon and bingo starts at 1 p.m. There will be prizes, raffles and lunch available as well as. Admission is $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

Players have a chance to win dozens of retired and collectable baskets, including a 1990 tea basket with liner and lidded insert, a 1999 blue ribbon bread basket combo and a JW miniature apple and market basket valued at more than $135. The club will fill all of the baskets with additional prizes. Gift certificates to area businesses will be offered as door prizes.

Proceeds from this year’s fundraiser will help the Jackson Township Volunteer Fire Co. purchase a 4-Gas Sensor, an atmospheric monitor that detects health and fire hazards to determine if it is safe for a firefighter to enter the building. Proceeds will also benefit the West End Rotary Club’s Community Wish List. Funds from previous basket Bingo events have enabled West End Rotary to purchase ice rescue suits for Polk Township fire fighters, a thermal imaging scanner upgrade for the Blue Ridge Hook & Ladder Co., a new sign for the Kunkletown Volunteer Fire Co. and a public address system for the Western Pocono Community Library.

People who cannot attend but who would like to help Rotary and the fire companies can sponsor a basket in the name of their business or family. Contact Theresa Yocum at (570) 280-6476 or for more information.

Tickets may be purchased in advanced at Creature Comforts Veterinary Center in Saylorsburg, West End Happenings in Gilbert and Community Bank and Trust Co. in Tannersville. Tickets will also be sold at the door as long as there are seats available.

West End Rotary meets Thursday at 7:30 a.m. in the community room of the Western Pocono Community Library. For more information visit the club website.

Crowds enjoy West End Rotary's Longaberger Basket Bingo

Crowds enjoy West End Rotary's Longaberger Basket Bingo

A tisket, a tasket, a passion for the basket

It was a beautiful day in the mountains, bright and sunny after a monstrous cold snap. Old Sol sat in his heavens smiling down on the crowd, assembled in the West End Fire Hall to compete for prizes not normally thought to drive people to gamble: Longaberger baskets. Dozens of them, packed with food and music and culinary equipment, wrapped and tied with bows, some 3 feet high. Collectors’ baskets, retired baskets, even one signed by CEO Tami Longaberger herself.

Longaberger basketThe occasion was the West End Rotary Club’s Longaberger Basket Bingo, an annual event to raise money for local firefighters, and shortly after the doors opened at noon the hall filled with people who had prizes in their eyes. With Valentine’s Day only two weeks away, row upon row of people sat at long tables decorated with red and white cloths, flowered centerpieces, stacks of Bingo cards, plastic chips, self-inking stampers and stuffed animals the players would use as good-luck charms. Most of the people who attend these events are women but this year a few men and several children came out for the competition.

The activities room in the fire hall is long affair with wood-paneled walls and a kitchen off the back. The caller sat in front of a giant lighted board that displayed the numbers. There were two sets of 10 games, with four specials interspersed among the regular ones. In honor of Valentine’s Day, one of the specials was the letter “V,” where in order to win players had to match the numbers that matched the shape of the letter.

Bingo at this level isn’t cheap. Tickets were $20 in advance. That provided each player with two cards. Many bought more. Two women on the end nearest the kitchen were playing with 18 cards a piece. How they kept track of all of those numbers is anyone’s guess. Maybe they had great spatial perception. They’d plunk their plastic chips onto the cards and when the game ended, the hall filled with the click click of mating crickets. Yet the allure of winning a basket kept them going. A plain picnic basket with a wooden lid sells for $140 on the Longaberger website and a retired classic hostess file basket was going for nearly $290 on eBay. All of the baskets at the Rotary event were retired or collectors’ editions.

Longaberger Basket Bingo preview 2010Play started slowly, with the women at a table near the front racking up an impressive two-basket lead. Suddenly a man, one of six in a field of 94, raised his hand and yelled “Bingo!” The runner looked at his card and yelled out the digits. Once the caller verified the numbers, another runner brought one of the baskets to him.

After 10 games and 2 specials the MC broke for food, and the crowd came streaming past the kitchen. With hotdogs at a dollar and homemade barbecue going for a buck and a half, it was the bargain of the day. Last year the macaroni and cheese was the biggest hit. This year it was—are you ready?—filling and gravy (stuffing and gravy to world outside the West End). We served that with pierogis, shoofly cupcakes and diet cola. Mmmm. All the carbs you can carry.

After the break the crowd was fairly quite but the competitive spirit wasn’t far from the surface. The table nearest the caller racked up another basket. Then the lone male in the back won his second basket, then a third. A low murmur like a subway slowing for a stop passed through the crowd as they weighed the odds of this phenomenon in a game of luck, but to their credit they remained civil. After all, the raffle was coming up for the biggest baskets, priced on the open market in the hundreds of dollars. And these were filled, one packed beyond the rim with wine and other spirits. Plus the 50-50 had already shot past the $300 mark. Time to win back some of the day’s investment.

Longaberger Basket Bingo Crowd 2008In a last-minute sprint, the women in the front pulled past the men, besting them two-to-one. The MC queued up the final game, called a coverall, where players had to fill the entire card. When the smoke had cleared, they packed up their talismans and chips and grabbed a dessert for dinner, warrior wives lugging their trophies home after the big hunt.

It remains one of the great mysteries of life why we collect the objects we do. Some of us pile up figurines, dollhouses, beer cans, books, video games and, in the virtual world, batting averages and MP3 files, until we can’t possibly comprehend or move all of our stuff. Dust-catchers, one wag said. Valuable collector’s items, another countered. To display our wealth, we buy cases for the family room, shelves for the basement and plastic tubs for the garage, the family car relegated to the driveway because there is no more room at the inn. It’s a habit, an obsession and a questionable expense, an effort to show off, an attempt to organize the chaos of life.

And, for the most part, fun. Especially when the effort is for a good cause.