Technology, especially social media, is changing how charities do business. A successful entrepreneur turned philanthropist digs into the opportunities and pitfalls. 

By V Cheryl Womack (Entrepreneur & Philanthropist) 

Ready or not, the conversation has started – are you part of it? Technology is driving and enhancing our business experience with new ideas that enable the return of service and engagement with the customer. It hasn’t been this easy or this hands-on in years! Are you participating?

I have taken a personal interest in how non-profit organizations are putting these new capabilities to use. I recently reviewed Forbes’ list of the ten largest charities to see who they are and how well they are conversing. Five out of ten of them are actually doing very well; they are engaging, communicating and enticing their partners to keep coming back. I also checked out a few prominent retailers, some with great social media presence, who realize that they can use this tool to share and exchange both charities, experiences, stories, problems, the full gamut with their clients and customers. I encourage you to go to some of these sites.


When it comes to charities and social media, the opportunities are boundless, but there are some pitfalls as well. The biggest mistake that I see charity sites making with social media is making assumptions that the public understands what they are doing. They don’t personalize their offering. They don’t use real-life examples of how they are accomplishing their goals. Also, there’s a lack of planning and many one-off posts and activities. If you haven’t thought through how you are going to use social media, making short- and long-term plans, you shouldn’t be using it at all until you do so. A poor social media presence is more damaging than none.

Crowdfunding Done Right

Social media and technology have also brought about new words like crowdfunding and gamification. (Before you can even attempt these other strategies, you must master your conversation in social media.) Using crowdfunding can channel resources for the good of a cause. However, you have to clearly identify a unique cause, more concrete than an organization’s greater cause. It is not ongoing, it is a very specific initiative and is done over a short time frame.

Let me give you an example, The American Red Cross could partner with Wal-Mart for back to school supplies for children in need across the United States. Both the American Red Cross and its selected partner would put a Back to School Scavenger Hunt or Back to School Partner Program on their mutual websites, Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else that they communicate. This campaign would last about 30 days from when it was announced to the delivery of the goods to the kids who need school supplies. Every time your customer comes to the store and buys a back-to-school item, you either donate one of the same item or half of an item to the cause. It makes the public aware of and involved with one more thing that The American Red Cross does and positively aligns Wal-Mart within their own community. It allows both to tell stories, take photos of customers and recipients, and keep their constituents engaged. There are many winners. It is a general “feel good” for everybody. There are dozens of these types of things that could be handled and shared through social media on an ongoing basis.

Don’t Forget Feedback

These types of engagements allow you to not only partner with your customers but also get feedback from them. What did they like about the experience? What else would they like to see you do or do differently? Both the charity and its partners can learn and benefit from this input. Being a charity doesn’t mean you know how to do everything and don’t need feedback. More importantly, one bad experience with a charity can cost untold losses in futurecontributions, so don’t think what the general public thinks doesn’t matter. What you think and what they think doesn’t always match. The challenge and the benefit of social media is to work toward making those images match.

Learn to use your voice. Learn how to have ongoing conversations and interactions with current and potential clients.  And, like any conversation, don’t be a hog. A conversation is an exchange. Share your thoughts and ideas, and encourage your customers to do the same.

What charities are using social media and tech in interesting ways?

Cheryl WomackAbout the guest blogger: V Cheryl Womack is an entrepreneur who founded  the Kansas City-based VCW and National Association of Independent Truckers, Inc. which became a $100 million a year business selling insurance to independent truckers. She has since became a major philanthropist in the Kansas City area.