Charities Use Social Sites to Boost Holiday Cheer

Online and offline retailers are waiting and watching to see how the recession impinges on their business this holiday season. They’ll certainly feel the effects, but most will likely still enjoy a lucrative fourth quarter.

The same can’t necessarily be said of charities that rely heavily on the generosity (and discretionary income) of consumers this time of year. Consumers won’t be nearly as quick to make a donation if their primary focus is scaling back their own family’s holiday spending.

Some charities are hoping that marketing themselves on social networks and online communities will boost the desire to give and stem meager holiday proceeds. As a vertical, charitable and nonprofit organizations aren’t new to the space. Countless charities have experimented on social sites, where the development of groups, pages, and applications to support them is often manageable and inexpensive.

On Facebook, charitable applications are categorized as “Causes,” and themes range from increasing breast cancer awareness to protecting natural treasures like local rivers and forests. Site users can apply pink ribbons, logos, virtual objects, and the like to their site profiles to demonstrate their dedication and encourage their online friends to do the same through the viral invitations attached to each application. For the charities, such applications can lead to useful online petitions, tangible offline goods, or the ability to raise funds by selling virtual symbols of their organizations.

It’s an advertising model that Child’s Play, a global community of gamers that raises goods and funds for hospitalized children, adopted to promote its own cause this year. The charity partnered with Makena Technologies, creator of virtual world and social site There, to devise a distinctive holiday-themed promotional campaign.

To raise funds for Child’s Play, site users can adopt a holiday tree in a Charity Tree Park that was developed specifically for the cause. There members can bid on, purchase, and decorate virtual trees for the park, which other site users can view. Proceeds from the effort go to 45 hospitals that Child’s Play works with in a fundraising capacity.

In another example of charitable work through social sites, nonprofit philanthropy group UniversalGiving is using social and storytelling community Tokoni to spread the word about the virtues of “spending less and meaning more.” At, consumers can share personal stories about the importance and satisfaction of giving holiday donations or volunteering for a cause. It’s a chance for the charitable organizations and efforts Universal Giving works with to get some much-needed and deserved attention and for the group to promote its charitable gift packages.

Creativity in sourcing and customizing inexpensive online advertising opportunities couldn’t come at a better time. Charities or not, goodness knows our clients’ businesses aren’t immune to the recession and victim to marketing cutbacks. Adding value to an existing media buy with a campaign that doesn’t require much additional investment is bound to be greeted with applause.

The charity social media model can (and has been) applied to other products and services. But given the economic climate and season, it might be best used to promote the spirit of giving that these campaigns showcase so well.

Instead of pushing a product proper, center your campaign on the cause or humanitarian effort your business is associated with (think United Colors of Benetton’s various social advocacy campaigns). The positive affiliation will have the same warm-and-fuzzy PR effect as always and possibly reach a new or broader audience of potential brand advocates through the social sites.

‘Tis the season for saving. And while we hope this mantra isn’t applied quite so heartily to charitable donations, charities are wise to use social media to expand their media reach and attempt to drum up some holiday cheer. Media buyers would be wise to explore how they could do the same.

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Join ClickZ Expert Dave Evans for Conversational Marketing: How to Develop a Successful Social Media Strategy on December 15 at 3 p.m. EST. This free Webinar will teach you practical steps to developing the social dimensions of your overall marketing program.

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