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social media: what's the voluntary sector up to?

It's fascinating seeing how different sectors approach the changing landscape. There's some excellent innovation in charities and volantary groups.

by Honey Lucas

From large international charities, to tiny voluntary groups comprised wholly of volunteers, the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in the UK is extremely varied - but whatever their size, voluntary and community organisations and charities are increasingly adopting social media to help connect with their followers and supporters, spread their messages, and encourage people to take action.

Here are just a few case studies from the VCS that showcase the innovative thinking and friendly approach that is making the sector's use of social media such a success.

1. Twitter

Charities try to be very rooted to their supporters, service users or donors, and for many organisations this includes not only providing information, but also connecting with people through conversations. Twitter's microblogging format has proved to be a very useful way to encourage this dialogue - either by searching and responding to hashtags relating to the charity's work, answering direct questions, and by providing a friendly ear to people in very difficult circustances. 

A good example of this can be seen in this tweet sent by the Meningitis Trust in response to someone speaking of the tragic death of a family member (the name of the original tweeter has been removed):

Responding to tweets in a human and not corporate way makes it more possible for people to see the charity as made up of dedicated and concerned people, rather than a faceless organisation. And recent research has shown that people are more likely to donate to charities with whom they've already built that trusting relationship.

2. Facebook

Facebook has attracted the loyal following of over 900 million people in the world - and over 30 million of those are in the UK. The social networking site has already become a provider of news and information for many people, and charities are recognising  it as a way of augmenting their traditional websites.

By opening their Wall to others' posts and pictures, charities can invite their supporters to co-create their Facebook presence. Posts which showcase fundraising efforts, ask questions or promote events all contribute to a feeling of a shared community. Children and Young People's hospice, Helen and Douglas House, used its 30th anniversary to invite people to share photos of loved ones who had been cared for at the hospice, and by so doing provided a supportive space for those families to share memories in a meaningful way, and with other people who might have had similar experiences.

3. Mobile

With a smartphone in many hands, anyone can upload photos or video or comment on what's happening in the local area - just look at the exponential spread of the #riotcleanup hashtag across Twitter in 2010, which mobilised thousands in a grass-roots action to clean up their local neighbourhoods.

Use of smartphones can not only report problems or propose solutions in a local area, they also provide quick access to information - either by going online to social media sites,  or via QR codes. Oxfam used QR codes to great effect in its Shelflife campaign, where people shopping in its Manchester stores could scan labels on donated items to find out more about their backstory. The QR code here was a neat way to not only make the contents of its charity shops more interesting, but also  recognised and applauded the act of donating the item in the first place.

Those charities with physical locations are also able to appeal to supporters with smartphones by encouraging them to 'check in' via Foursquare. Shelter Scotland used this online game to great effect in 2011, with special prizes and offers available to those people who 'checked in' to their chain of charity shops, and Sussex Wildlife has registered its nature reserves as a way to boost the information provided online and drive more people to visit.

This has just been a quick canter through some of the work that the voluntary sector has been doing with social media and there are loads of other fantastic exampes that I haven't been able to squeeze in: The WhizzKidz Facebook page, some inspirational uses of YouTube or the Water Aid Pinterest board to name but three.

Keep up with the latest news about how the voluntary sector is using social media by following my blog at

Honey Lucas works as an Information Officer for a charity in the West Country, and is the founder of The Very Tiger's blog for social media news for the voluntary and community sector. 

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Reader Comments (2)

I'm just coming to the end of working on the ITEM3 ( project with a number of (mainly Infrastructure) VCS organisations across the East Midlands. I've found they are the ones who can struggle the most with social media. They are trying to manage competing priorities imposed by national or local authority funders with that of offering a quality support service to their local community ... . Social Media is seen as 'just one more thing' and gets neglected.
I have examples of organisations who were too busy producing printed newsletters to set aside time to look at Mailchimp (yes really!) and who genuinely thought Twitter was for just for sharing pictures of your breakfast!.
However, we are also in the process of assembling a set of positive case studies of organisations that are using Twitter and Eventbrite or have set up Social Media Surgeries.
As they say - "we're getting there"!

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Webster

Many thanks for this Paul - do share more info on your successes when you are able

best wishes


August 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterDarren Caveney

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