Following is an article I solicited from Youth Journalism International. After Jackie Majeurus “friended” me on Facebook, I noticed how successful YJI is at raising funds via social media. — Michelle Harmon
By Steve Collins
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – Youth Journalism International exists because the web makes it possible for a small public charity in Connecticut to create a worldwide classroom that draws together students from countries all over the world.
None of them pay a penny to participate.
So the obvious way for YJI to raise money is, of course, online.
While we’re a long way from funding the staff needed to handle the crush of young people seeking to join, we are, haltingly, discovering how to tap the power of social media to pull in some badly needed cash.
The first necessity is to create as strong a presence on the internet as possible.
At YJI, we have a website, a blog that we update frequently, a Facebook page that is often changed, two Twitter accounts, a Tumblr page that merely shows what appears on all the other sites, a presence on LinkedIn and more. We try to interconnect everything so updates anywhere lead to fresh material everywhere.
Our main goal is to use all of this to showcase our students’ work, to haul in readers and get the attention of the world for some of the terrific material they churn out.
But a secondary, and important, goal is also to create places where we wind up with followers and “fans,” formerly known as “readers.” On Facebook, for instance, we have 1,295 people who have “liked” YJI’s page. On Twitter, LinkedIn and other places, there are many hundreds of others who also regularly see our stuff.
In addition, we have socked away the email addresses of everyone who has any reason to care about YJI, from alumni to people who have been interviewed. There are probably 5,000 email addresses on our lists.
Using all of this to round up donations is the tricky part.
In all honesty, we haven’t yet made a direct appeal on email, partly because we want to create an ongoing email effort that looks professional and incorporates the best practices of charities that are completely above board. We don’t want to look cheesy, ever.
But we have found several online campaigns that have brought in funds.
We signed up for a GlobalGiving.org challenge that required we raise at least $4,000 from at least 50 people during one month. We pulled it off by constantly promoting the challenge on Facebook, Twitter and a few rounds of email appeals.
Then AOL.com picked us to be its charity of the day on a slow Sunday in July, promoting us on its home page. It found us through a partnership it has with GreatNonProfits.org, a website where people can review nonprofits. We have a lot of glowing reviews there.
But the AOL Daily Impact proved a bust. We could do little ourselves to bolster numbers – and it showed. Even though thousands of people clicked through to a special page for YJI, we got no donations at all.
That may be because our website’s donation page is subpar, but it’s also an indication that the best people to reach are ones who already care about what we do. Most people, after all, are never going to donate to a youth journalism charity, no matter how great it is.
We also asked Groupon.com to be one of its featured charities and got selected. That gave us the chance to raise money from Groupon’s many customers in the New York City area recently.
To wind up with any money, we had to attract at least 60 donors forking over at least $10 each during a three-day period. We made it, boosted no doubt by our incessant Twittering, Facebook messages and emails pleading for assistance. One thing that we asked everyone to do, whether they could give themselves or not, was to share the Groupon link on their Facebook walls so that even more people would see it. People are much more apt to give if a friend asks than if a stranger does.
We are trying to raise money the old-fashioned way, too, from foundations and individual donors who like what we’re doing. We need their help.
But social media is growing fast and we are aiming to grow even faster by jumping on every trend and trying to keep up with the fast crowd. It’s not easy.
Heck, even now, without an iPhone, let alone an app for YJI for smart phones, we know we’re losing out already. But we can’t do everything – at least not yet.
We have a hard time raising money because we devote every minute we can to the students who want their voices heard. That’s the fun, important part of YJI. Fundraising is the drudgery we slog through in the hope that someday soon we won’t have kids stuck on a long waiting list to get in the door.
Those young voices are what it’s all about.
To see what YJI is doing, follow the links from its home page at youthjournalism.org.
Steve Collins, an award-winning professional reporter, is board president of Youth Journalism International.