Are Memes Really Just Slacktivism?

New memes get started everyday. Some stick and go “viral” while others just get shared with a small community of friends, and some go nowhere. Remember the Facebook meme challenge that asked women to post what color bra they were wearing that day? Many thought the meme was connected to raising breast cancer awareness, but that was not the intention behind it. After some research, it turns out that this meme was started in December of 2009 in Canada. Here’s the original meme:

“Right girls let’s have some fun. Write the color of the bra you’re wearing right now as your status on fb and don’t tell the boys. They will be wondering what all the girls are doing with colors as their status. Forward this to all the girls online”

By 2011 the meme evolved a couple of times.

“We are playing a game…… silly, but fun! Write the color of your bra as your status, just the color & texture, nothing else!! Copy this and pass it on to all girls/Females …… NO MEN!! This will be fun to see how it spreads, and we are leaving the men wondering why all females just have a color as their status!! Let’s have fun!! Pass this on LADIES”

“List the color of your bra in your FB status, just the color, nothing more. Then send this mssg to your girlfriends’ inboxes, too … no men. The point is to see how far we can spread breast cancer awareness … and make the men wonder what’s up :) "

The meme then spread to France and the US, and was picked up by media such as Mashable, Huffington Post, MSNBC, ABC, etc. On January 8, 2011 the meme ranked number 11 on Google Trends search queries and the Susan G Komen Foundation said that their Facebook page grew by over 100K “likes” in 24 hours. 

Can You Build a Base of Supporters with Memes?

This begs the question - should a breast cancer organization have been the one to have thought of a meme like this as part of a larger campaign to raise awareness about breast cancer? Could they have leveraged this opportunity to build their email list, and raise money? Should they have taken that new list of supporters (whether it was on Facebook, email, or Twitter) and focused on a ladder of engagement plan to build real relationships these new people? Yes! At the very least, breast cancer nonprofits could have quickly jumped in and leveraged this opportunity.

What’s a Facebook “Like” Worth?

Some nonprofits may look at the Komen data and say "Wow, we should do a meme too, so it can go viral and we can get over 100K FB likes."  Wrong! First, most memes don’t go viral. Second, don’t place too much value in Facebook “likes.” Just because a breast cancer organization like Komen received over 100K “likes” in 24 hours does not mean they leveraged this meme in a meaningful way. “Likes” are the equivalent of thumbs up. It’s a vanity metric – not a metric that is connected to furthering your advocacy goals.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Fast-forward to one of the latest viral memes – the ice bucket challenge to raise money for ALS, a disease that most American’s aren’t very familiar with. 5,600 new people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS (also known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease”) yearly. “The incidence of ALS is two per 100,000 people, and it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time,” according to the ALS Association. 

As nonprofit strategist Ted Fickes said on a nonprofit listserv, “the ice bucket challenge has been going on for a while now among golfers and many others donating to the charity of their choice, law enforcement groups raising money for police charities, etc.”

But the ice bucket challenge did not really spread until Pete Frates, the former captain of Boston College’s baseball team, repurposed the meme by challenging Steve Gleason to throw a bucket of ice over his head to raise awareness for ALS, according to The Times Picayune. You may remember Steve Gleason from his former Saints days. In 2011 he was diagnosed with ALS. He started Team Gleason, the ALS foundation after he was diagnosed.

Challenge Accepted

The duo then asked other friends, including major sports superstars, to join the challenge. Check out Gleason’s touching video here. 


It’s an impressive campaign that has not only raised awareness about a disease most American’s did not know much about, but it has also raised over $7 million versus $1.4 million from last year for Team Gleason, said Paul Varsico, the Executive Director of Team Gleason. Facebook reported yesterday that 1.2 million unique videos related to the ice bucket challenge have been posted on Facebook.

Now What?

ALS organizations have seen a surge in email sign ups, Facebook “likes”, and donations, but now comes the hard part. Since most of these new donors are brand new to the ALS community and are learning about the disease for the first time, ALS organizations will need to quickly come up with an engagement plan. They are going to need to go beyond the traditional welcome series. And they cannot simply just fold these new people into their regular email and direct mail communications. They will need to develop distinct messaging that shows people how ALS could impact them and their families. For example, finding a cure to ALS could unlock the cure to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and more. ALS organizations will need to test and experiment with different messages, campaigns, and ways to get people involved.

Many national organizations that have experienced this type of viral success admit that this is a tough road because the majority of people who participate or donate at these times do it to be part of a viral movement. Once that moment fades, it’s difficult to grab these people’s attention again and mobilize them.


Effective Online Onboarding Strategies

Here is (yet another) compelling reason for your organization to leverage digital channels:  the next generation of donors are engaging more on digital platforms and are increasingly looking for a way to support and donate through these channels.

The data is in, but how can you acquire and “on-board” these digitally savvy people and convince them to donate to your organization?  Care2 and Parachute Digital teamed up to create a White Paper explaining just that! The report’s Six Stages of an Effective On-boarding Strategy guides you through and answers these questions:

Some of the key points that resonated for me were:

  • You don’t have to target everyone.  Your audience should be those people who connect with the work that your organization does and actively engage with you.  Find out what is important to them and what would trigger them to support you.
  • Use email, online petitions, and web or video content.  Get your advocates to take action, and then guide them through a timely set of communications that could start out by asking for a call to action and warm them up for a donation ask.  Your supporters will embark on a “journey of discovery” where they can become invested in your vision and goals.
  • Use each piece of communication as a measuring tool.  You can track and monitor your progress through what you send to your supporters.  Is there a higher Click Through Rate in one email vs another email?  Are your supporters responding to specific content?

With these questions in mind, you are primed to start thinking about digital in a new, hopefully more positive, way.

Good luck on launching your digital strategy!


Are You being Smart With Online Fundraising?

In the ever-changing world of online fundraising, it is easy to get distracted by the newest thing that promises instant success.  We are so concentrated on the next big thing that we may neglect what really works!  I recently wrote an article for The Nonprofit Times outlining exactly what makes up a fruitful digital fundraising program.

The key piece of a digital strategy is (drum roll please) list growth! Because email drives the most significant portion of online fundraising, it is important to continue to maintain and grow your list. Why? Because the average yearly churn rate for most nonprofits is about 16%. I suggest that 10% of your digital strategy budget should go to testing new, fun tools, but these tools are no replacement for your email list. The best channels to raise money are still direct mail, telemarketing, and email for most nonprofits. Most organizations still aren't raising dime on social media. 

5 key Key Ways to Ramp Up Online Fundraising

  1. Understand your target market (the size and make up), so you can acquire the right people to support your organization.
  2. Plan out your goals and KPIs for your email program.
  3. Create your email schedule based on when your target market would be most responsive.
  4. Tell your story via email to engage and cultivate donors.
  5. Test your current campaigns with paid list growth like we do for thousands of nonprofits at Care2.

Once you know your audience, you can build an online fundraising strategy around them, grow your base of supporters, advocates, and donors using your mission and story. 


Infographic: 57% of American's Don't Trust Social Media 

If you knew that your donors and activists were very concerned about their privacy online, what would you do to better protect their personal data that you have stored in your databases? Well you better start thinking about it. Today, a new national poll was released that showed almost three-fourths of Americans worry about how much personal information is available online.

More than half of Americans also feel that they can't trust social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to keep their personal information, buying habits, and political beliefs confidential, according to the poll that my firm Rad Campaign, Lincoln Park Strategies, and Craig Newmark of craigconnects released.

According to the survey of 1007 people 18+, mistrust of websites and social media and concerns about privacy increase as people get older. People over 65 expressed the least trust in social media, and were most certain their data was being sold. It was this demographic who felt most strongly that privacy laws need to be strengthened.

As a nonprofit, it's critical that you're aware of these issues when collecting and using the data of your constituents.

The data from the poll shows very clearly that Americans feel manipulated and exposed by the websites they frequent. While that may not stop them from using Facebook and Twitter, or your website, for example, they are clearly calling for more safeguards around their personal data.

If you're collecting your audience's personal data, it's important that you're aware of how you're using it, the capacity in which you're using it, and clearly disclosing how the data is being used. It should not be buried in some legal jargon that real people can't understand.

Here are a few ways you can make sure you're respecting your constituents' privacy:

  • Fully disclose what you plan on doing with their data. How will it be used? Will any of the data be shared with 3rd parties?
  • Disclose what you will do to protect and secure their data.
  • Make sure you're honoring your Terms of Service, and make the language accessible to your audiences.

What else can you do to make sure that you're protecting your constituents data and respecting their online privacy?

Check out the full infographic, and survey data at


How Can You Maximize Your Digital Impact, And How Can Funders Help?

What do nonprofits need to get more comfortable and adept at using digital fundraising and engagement tools? And how can funders help build their capacity to do that?

These are the questions that the Public Interest Projects—an intermediary that works with hundreds of donors and their grantees working on social justice issues had in mind when they conducted their survey with more than 400 nonprofits and 100 grantmakers.

The survey dug into how (if at all) grantees are using digital fundraising and engagement tools and strategies. It looked at ways that nonprofits can maximize their impact, as well as how grantmakers can actually support capacity building.

Here are a few of the key findings:

  • Nearly every small social justice nonprofit is experimenting with online giving. 
  • Four out of five organizations — about 82% — said they’d never received funding to strengthen their abilities to raise money or mobilize supporters through digital tools.
  • The top 2 barriers groups cited in using digital tools to raise money and rally supporters were lack of funding and too few staff members VS. time constraints and limited knowledge.
  • The staff member most likely to oversee digital activities is the Executive Director, though most ED's are busy actually running organizations that are overburdened and understaffed. A digital director is a full time job....
  • Nonprofits actually said that if they had financial resources for this work, they would use the money to hire more staff members to oversee digital efforts. Of least importance was hiring consultants to develop digital strategies. But, if a nonprofit wants to really move people up the ladder of engagement and develop digital constituents, it's so important to develop digital strategies.

Oftentimes, nonprofits find themselves in a catch 22 position: There aren't enough staff or financial resources to hire staff, but grantmakers don't want to provide grants to organizations until they're doing something, but it's difficult for a nonprofit to do things without staff or funding.

Asked what would sway their decision to give, grantmakers said they wanted to know that digital strategies would be integrated into organizations’ larger organizing, fundraising, and civic engagement efforts and that the money would help expand a group’s reach. They also wanted to know how technology could help strengthen a group’s financial sustainability and reduce its need for continued foundation aid.

A key reason foundations said they didn’t make more digital capacity grants was simply because they didn’t receive enough requests for it.

What barriers have you noticed in your own organizations? And what would help you to overcome these barriers?

You can read the full report and survey responses here.


How To Track Your Twitter Engagement

Nonprofits have been able to track gather important data about their audiences interactions with their website via Google Analytics. Facebook pages have also offered some insightful data on audience engagement. Twitter has been a bit late to the party, providing very limited data unless you invested in their ad platform. Just recently however Twitter rolled out their new Analytics platform, making it accessible to everyone. What will this mean for the nonprofit world, and will this change how we're communicating on Twitter?

Now people will be able to see what tweets are being seen by how many people, and how frequently their tweets are actually being clicked on, retweeted, or favorited.

If you haven't had a chance to look at the different analytic options, we'll give you a short rundown...

For your tweets, you can track:

  • overall impressions

  • engagements

  • engagement rate

  • link clicks

  • retweets

  • favorites

  • replies

For your followers, you can track:

  • growth

  • interest

  • geographical location

  • gender

  • the people your followers follow

While you're tracking your tweets and gauging what's resonating with your audiences, it's important to remember that vanity metrics aren't everything, and quite honestly, they shouldn't be your top priority. Your top priorities on Twitter should be about genuinely engaging your audience and moving them up the ladder of engagement. Social media isn't a broadcasting system, it's meant to be social, like a cocktail party.


Some people are concerned that Twitter is not what it used to be. This past January, Jenna Wortham said that social media "is fueled by our own increasing need for attention, validation, through likes, favorites, responses, interactions. It is a feedback loop that can’t be closed, at least not for now."

Do you think that the new analytics will only add fuel to the fire that we call validation?

Here are 3 ways that nonprofits can use the new analytics without giving into the vanity metrics:

  1. Don't obsess over every piece of data. Looks for overall trends.

  2. Use the analytics to determine what sort of content is resonating with your audience. What sort of content are you putting out to the Twittersphere that your audience really needs from you? Try to produce that sort of content once a day or a few days a week depending on your capacity.

  3. Use the analytics to supplement your realtime engagement, but don't get stuck in the numbers. Use the analytics to test how campaigns are running, or how hashtags perform, but then remember # 1.

What are your thoughts about Twitter's release of analytics to the public?



Dear Nonprofits, Be Fearless

This is our final installment of Nonprofit 2.0 keynotes. In the last couple of weeks, we were able to recap Majora Carter and Craig Newmark. And we finally have the workshop session notes up for you to check out.

Michael Smith, the Director of the White House's Social Innovation Fund, spoke to the Unconference after lunch. His topic? Be Fearless. He encouraged every nonprofit and strategist to embrace being fearless.

Michael stressed the need for social change in our country. He had some really important points:

  • Make big bets, experiment often, make failure matter, get out of your bubble, and let urgency conquer fear. Be a fearless changemaker.
  • It's imperative to make failures matter. Don't be afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes.
  • Nonprofits need to cultivate a culture of evaluation, to learn what is working and what is not.
  • 1 in 8 nonprofits devote $0 to evaluation. That needs to change ASAP. It's imperative to evaluate your impact.
  • Nonprofit innovation and disruption is less about being fearless, and more about having the courage to move forward in spite of fear. Let your urgency conquer your fear.
  • If we are going to get the right solutions, we need the right people in the room, not just the elite. A room full of decision makers must include a representation of the demographic being served.
  • “We need to be cathedral builders” - that is, we are part of a greater story that will long outlast us.
  • We need to get rid of 1/3 of nonprofits. It’s turned into the Hunger Games. Most of the time, what we don't need is another nonprofit.

Michael's advice can be applied to both nonprofits and individual social change makers. It's important to innovate, disrupt, and evaluate to reach our goals and objectives. What inspires you to lead fearlessly?