Pan-Mass Challenge: 3-Year Fundraising Review & Thoughts on Doing Good, Well

For the last three years, I have raised money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston as one of 5,000 riders in the Pan-Mass Challenge. Due to the fact that many people in my city (Newton, MA) also ride the PMC, and the fact that I do a lot of online social networking for fun and for work, I have conducted the bulk of my fundraising online.

While raising money to combat a disease that has affected most of us in some way is an experience fueled by emotions, I thought I would take a more clinical look at how I used social networks for fundraising.

First, a look at the numbers. As you can see, fundraising totals have risen each year:

Meanwhile, the number of donors each year has increased as well:

As has the average donation:

Importantly, repeat donors- and the percentage of those repeating- has gone up each year.

So how has my fundraising been increasingly successful, despite a lingering recession and competition from other cause-related fundraisers?

Social Networks Have Increased Exponentially

When I first rode the PMC in 2008, I was approaching 4,000 followers on Twitter. That was not bad at the time for the young service, but that number is over 25,000 now, and the reach of my appeals has increased correspondingly.

My Facebook network is much more modest. Also, in 2008 I don;t think I had many Facebook friends who were not also on Twitter. By 2009 that had changed drastically, as high school and college classmates, as well as family members and other friends, streamed onto Facebook. Starting with that second year I felt I was reaching  different crowd.

My use of social networks to raise money in the first place was born from the fact that hundreds of people from my home city, Newton, MA, ride the PMC. I knew I couldn’t count on neighbors alone to raise the minimum amount. Plus, my work as it related to social media meant that I should experiment as much as possible to see what works.

Media Helps

Early on, I recognized that using video would help make my fundraising appeal more entertaining. So, I found ways to attach video camera to my bike and took training videos to share with my friends.

Here’s an early one, from 2008:

Personal Touches Help

One thing I made sure to do was to keep things personal- always thank people as I should, respecting privacy but doing so publicly as appropriate. In year 2 (2009), I asked permission to profile sponsors, in a series that created a bit of interest (or at least some appreciation).

Also, I found it important to send hand-written thank you notes. I cannot tell you how gratifying it is to see people remark how pleased they are to receive notes. I overcame a little shyness to include a picture of myself from the ride in each note- to bring a little bit of the event, and proof I participated- to the people who opened their checkbooks for me and the PMC. Also, I hope it inspires others to remember these traditional, offline methods of giving thanks.

Edit: Adding a photo to emphasize the point that visual media help draw attention to your most important content.

Photo by Adam Cohen

In the end, I believe that creating goodwill, while being insistent and not forgetting to ask for the donation (and not being afraid to do it frequently), has been important. That’s pretty old-fashioned, but coupled with the increased reach that social networks afford, it creates a pretty effective way to do good.

Facebook Asks Too Much Just to Have a Little Fun

I thought the latest (UK-based) Skittles campaign, where they ask fans to bury some guy named David Phoenix in Skittles, was amusing enough to check out. However, when I tried to take part, Facebook, as it does with any app, asked me to give it permission to access my profile info. While I have no illusions of privacy on Facebook, there were two major things wrong with this:

  1. It is a reminder of that intrusion into my account info, giving me a feeling that every time I use such an app it adds more digital flotsam to my Facebook account for what may be a one-time chuckle (much as I may like Skittles)
  2. It is an extra click I have to make ( a major sin in any Web marketing, yes?)

The problem lies not with Skittles or any other marketer, but in how Facebook apps work. We’ll probably have to wait for Facebook to be motivated to change this before it does change. That said, as obnoxious as Mr. Phoenix seemed in the introductory video, I shall deny myself the pleasure of watching him drown in candy.

A Side Effect of Using Location in Tweets; Credibility

I noticed in a Wall Street Journal Tweet that they included location, which of course was the WSJ headquarters. My reaction? That it further legitimized the Tweet, showing that it emanated from the real HQ, not some random place. As you can see in the exchange below, another Twitterer, Josh Chandler, suggested that reporters could turn on location from where they send Tweets as well (a little map showing a reporter is actually in Kabul – or wherever – adds a whole new flavor of authenticity, doesn’t it?).

I guess you’ll never know where geo-location will actually stumble on to a practical use. sometimes it’s just the little things.

Josh Chandler’s Input:

[blackbirdpie id=”27443728208″]

Social Network as Research Base: NPR Polls Twitter & Facebook Followers/Fans

This month, National Public Radio released the results of a study of their Facebook and Twitter followers. Rather than prattle on about the results (which you can read here for Twitter and here for Facebook, or see embedded below), I was more interested in the fact that they used their social network base for market research.

First off, this is a great concrete example of the notion I have held for years now: that social media presents an unprecedented opportunity to conduct market research. The hardest part of research (as I learned in my days working for Kathryn Korostoff), whether quantitative (surveys etc) or qualitative (focus groups, etc) is always finding the people to populate your sample.

The first step in this new social media phase was trying to collect opinions among the public blogs that started popping up in the mid-2000’s (through the still-evolving monitoring tools). Now, self-contained social networks have made it even easier, not least of which because anyone (or any company) has their own group of people following them.

That said, there are still major caveats – people who follow you on Twitter or Facebook have expressed an affinity, and are likely to be a biased group. In the case of NPR’s surveys. this was not an obstacle, as the survey was about why people follow them and how they use online media to follow NPR content. If you are surveying people to find if they like your brand, you are probably best served going outside (not to mention, remembering that Twitter, and even Facebook, is not representative of all the population – at least not yet.

NPR Facebook Fans Survey – Findings Overview

*Note: this segment appeared as part of a “Social Media Top 5” post, but I have since decided it makes more sense to split these topics up a bit. I am interested to see what the reaction is.

Social Media Top 5: Welcome to the Hotel Cali-Facebook

Welcome to the Hotel Cali-Facebook

“You can opt out any time you want….”

When Facebook Groups came out, it intrigued me (ok, partly because it’s my job). I was also pretty miffed pretty quickly, for reasons that have been well-documented:

  • People can add you to groups without your knowledge or permission. The “opt-out/your privacy doesn’t matter because we think you don’t care” attitude of Facebook has risen again, just as it did with the emails for Fan Page admins and countless other FB “features.” Forget that I didn’t mind the particular groups people added me to (unlike,say, Jason Calacanis, who was quite hilariously added against his will to a joke NAMBLA group); I’m waiting for Facebook to do something that involuntarily adds me to something I absolutely want no part of. Opt-out isn’t good enough. Facebook Places is bad enough, but at least Facebook asks permission when someone wants to “out” me on Facebook as being in a certain location.
  • Opt-out part II: I instantly started getting emails – dozens an hour – for every single notifications for all the groups I was force-added to.

I think you get the picture. There are certainly other gripes, many of which are easy fixes. The worst I can say about those is that perhaps Facebook could have dealt with them after some Beta testing, before we all had to deal with bugs and then a universal constant-changing of the interfaces as Facebook fixed them in real-time. Oy.

That said, I wondered, in the back of my mind, if my hyper-connected social media self was being a little too critical too quickly. That was one reason I held off on this post. Then Augie Ray of Forrester Research wrote this post that captured, in a way, what I was thinking: we “social media professionals” may jump on perceived bad features, but in the end we are not the intended audience, particularly for Groups. If the general Facebook audience uses them, then great. We need to decide if these features are interesting or useful for clients or ourselves (jury is out), and that’s fine, but it’s irrelevant to so many Facebook users.

Just fix the privacy-invading crap, and we’re good.

And one other thing- kudos to my friend Christopher Penn for cutting through the mess to acknowledge those who thought he was worthy of inclusion in Groups (apparently the NAMBLA jokesters left him alone.

My Avatar is Sacred (Mind the Gap)

I noticed some friends change their avatars on Twitter to some weird, generic-looking logo. Then I realized they were protesting The Gap changing their logo to well, a weirdly generic-looking logo (they used this site to deface their own Twitter presence).

My avatar is sacred space; I have an identifiable picture of myself so that if I meet people at events, they recognize me. That’s important. Whether or not the Gap wants to be boring is not. This is not to say the “greening” of avatars, or adding pink ribbons for breast cancer, etc, is not honorable, but still…

If you see me defacing my own avatar, it will definitely be for something a lot more substantive. In the meantime, can someone tell me what “Morrison Fit” means for Gap jeans? I tried some on and I didn’t look a thing like Jim Morrison

URL Shortening is an Unholy (not to mention Un-Islamic) Mess

It always struck me funny that Libya controlled one of the more popular Web domains, the “.ly” domain. Now that the Libyan government has actually shut down one of the domains (, apparently because of objections to the content, based on Islamic Law.While we have all gotten used to services like, especially due to the convenient “adverby” sound of the domains, I suppose it should not surprise us that there are some hiccups. Perhaps we should be surprised it took this long for a small country to try to exert some control over its country’s domains. (Hat tip to Andy Sernovitz).

Lessons From an Online Cause Marketing Fundraiser

A nice, brief case history (via Beth Kanter’s blog) of lessons learned from an online fundraiser. Read all the points, but the heart, to me, is the first: “Build the base first.” no networking without a network, true.

History of Social Media Boo-Boos

A bit of same-ol same-ol, (and probably posted already by many of my friends) but if you want them all in one place, here you go:

Freeing Up Ideas From Fear

How do we write and where do ideas come from?

That’s too big a question for me to solve, but it was the topic of a recent Six Pixels of Separation podcast, in which host Mitch Joel interviewed Mark Levy. Levy went on at length about free writing, reminding me that some of the best ideas come from writing down…anything, and finding the good ideas come out best when they are forced out with all the crap. I won;t say I necessarily practice free writing exactly as Levy espouses it, but I embrace the higher concept.


As I listened, in my mind I applied this to the idea of brainstorming, reminding myself that the best brainstorms in which I have participated consisted of a “no wrong ideas” policy– later we would cull the ideas for the ones we would actually use. Thinking of “anything” helped shake loose the “big things.”

In the early days of movies, I have heard- and seen depicted in the Peter Bogdanovich film “Nickelodeon” – that filmmakers would bring a sort of ringer – an “idea man” – to story sessions. This ringer, quite possibly a crazy person (in some fashion), was hired specifically for his propensity to spit out the most ridiculous ideas that anyone- well, actually nobody else- would think of. the result? None of those ideas would show up in the films, but it loosened up the other writers to the extent that they could come up with ideas on their own that might otherwise be hard to reach.

So, with lone “free writing”, or team brainstorms, I would recommend bringing in- or manufacturing (or becoming) that “crazy” who makes it alright for others to unearth their wilder ideas.

Also, one thing I say often: who are you to say your ideas are stupid? You’re truly not qualified. Let your audience decide.

What Are You Afraid of?

The primal directive of this whole rant brings me back to the “just do it” notion of writing, or creating any media. Free flow of any ideas to break brain lock, but also letting go of the fear that your ideas suck.

They don’t.

I have written here before that “Chris Brogan is not smarter than you.” Of course, that depends on context, but what I really meant is that you shouldn’t be afraid to do something just because someone else is pretty successful at doing something well. Everything has a bunch of practitioners. David Ortiz doesn’t stop trying to hit home runs for the Red Sox just because his career will not measure up to that of, say, Ted Williams, or, to name a contemporary, Albert Pujols. That doesn’t mean he cannot be a good hitter, and it certainly doesn’t mean there is no place for his talents, just because we already have a Pujols to watch.

Free writing and “crazy” brainstorming are means to open up the idea flow, but the notion that you simply need to do it is also important.

This brings me to a slight digression, but not really: Amber Naslund’s post in her “Brass Tack Thinking” blog, “Four Reasons the Social Media Industry Has a Credibility Problem.” Clearly, she is fed up with the propensity for many of us in the social media industry to tear each other down. The premise of that argument is that people rip each other over jealousy of success. I think a lot of that is a reaction to the opposite; building up some people over others, not necessarily on the basis of talent or merit, but on perception and opportunities taken by the “rock stars.” So, have at it and criticize when you think something is wrong. I for one, believe it is healthy, and that when you get held up to a standard you simply need to develop a thick skin.

Oh wait, where was I going with this? The “rock star worship” pretense that has arisen out of some social media circles, I fear, may make some people think their ideas are unworthy. They aren’t. Just share them, and don’t worry about how they stack up, because they probably stack up better than you think.