Connections among causes, consumers, and companies

Social giving has the possibility for becoming one of the greatest enablers of social change.

Social giving has the possibility for becoming one of the greatest enablers of social change. I attended an engaging panel at South by Southwest Interactive entitled “21st Century Giving: Social Philanthropy's Rise.” I was intrigued by the topic since I often hear clients struggle with the strategic alignment of their corporate philanthropy program to both their business and the needs of the community.

Lots of great insights were shared from a fantastic panel including: Claire Diaz Ortiz from Social Innovation at Twitter; Michaelyn Elder, the director of online communications at the United Nations Foundation; Ramya Raghavan, the nonprofits and activism manager from Google/YouTube; and Robert Wolfe, the co-founder of Crowdrise. The panel was moderated by Cheryl Contee of Fission Strategy.

While the perspectives would help make any company's corporate philanthropy program more effective, I found the insights to be relevant and valuable to brand communications in general. I've categorized the discussion and the insights under three primary themes.

Build and sustain relationships
The panel described that one of the biggest challenges facing non-profit organizations is creating sustained relationships following a donation. For example, a person may make a donation once, but never returns to a website. This is a situation not unlike what we face as brand marketers in attempting to establish sustained engagement post-transaction. One where we strive to move the customer relationship from one of transaction to one of loyalty, driving not only repeat purchases, but active consideration and advocacy.

Raghavan highlighted the clever video thank-yous created by Charity Water as an excellent example of personalized engagement with donors that not only reinforces a relationship but also generates viral buzz in its own right. Online video response at the individual level is so captivating because it's so unexpected. More often, brands use it as a mass-broadcast medium, not in a one-to-one dialogue. It is the same reason consumers, and marketers, expressed such enthusiasm for the Old Spice campaign. Not only can it be delightfully unexpected to have a brand want to have a conversation with you, the fact that that it would be more than just a response on a Facebook wall or an @reply on Twitter gives the consumer a special experience. This in turn makes them want to share the content and that connection with the brand across their social graph. The brand creates a memorable moment that encourages loyalty.

Incentivize behavior
Wolfe attributes the success of Crowdrise to putting the fun in fundraising. Now I promised myself I would try to escape SXSWi without using the phrase “gamification,” since I feel like it does a gross disservice to the power of social media as a tool for behavior change (that's a post for another time), but Crowdrise has implemented a badge system in the form of “crests” (like Foursquare) that provide special designation and community status for fundraisers who are particularly active on the platform. But Crowdrise takes it a step further by adopting an incentive model more frequently seen in customer loyalty schemes, applying points to a user's account based on how successful he or she is at raising funds. These points can then be redeemed for other charitable contributions. This model is effective because the incentive structure goes beyond meaningless badges, instead providing tangible rewards that reinforce the behavior and the motivation behind their involvement in the cause in the first place. Our opportunity as marketers is to look for both the motivations and rewards that will reinforce customer behavior and to develop social incentive models with meaning and value.

Create relevance and demonstrate tangibility
Creating relevance is one of the greatest challenges in communications. It is how we vie for the attention of our audiences. In the case of nonprofits, it is an immense obstacle to get people to understand how they can make a material difference in the human condition of a person a half a world away. There is the constant urgency to describe the need in a context that can be easily understood, to be clear about exactly what a donor, and the intended recipient, is getting for his contribution. Beyond basic clarity about purpose and value, the message here is to communicate in a relevant context that people can understand relative to their life experience, not the context that we think we need them to understand.

While the panelists contended that the social giving space is still in its infancy, the non-profit model and its challenges effectively illuminate some possibilities for brands as well as powerful premises for building better connections between causes, consumers, and corporations.

Chad Latz is president of the global digital practice at Cohn & Wolfe.

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