When the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015, Action Against Hunger (ACF)-UK raised 50.000 pounds with a word published on Twitter. In that opportunity, ACF fundraising department decided to go beyond the traditional methods for raising money and use their network of restaurant and chef supporters on social-media channels. They approached this base of supporters, and more specifically, one of their prominent chef supporters, Gary Usher, a well-known chef appreciated and trusted by the food industry on social-media channels in the UK. When Usher asked his Twitter community ‘’Can any restaurants help fundraise for Action-Against-Hunger in Nepal?’’ (ACFINTERNATIONAL, 2015, p.48), the national food industry listened. A huge number of restaurants that ACF had never been in contact with before got enthusiastic and talked to the fundraising team (via Twitter) expressing their interest to donate.
This case represents an interesting example of how new media can be used strategically for fundraising, and an opportunity to know why an INGO, through this new technology, is able to get in contact with potential funders that it doesn’t even know or has never been in contact with before. According to Granovetter’s theory, ‘’weak ties between individuals are more important than strong ties for the broad dissemination of information’’ (Rettberg, 2014, p.66). In our case, ACF realized that limiting the circulation of information about its need to collect money for Nepal with the nodes (restaurants and chefs) that it had strong ties with in the network would not be adequate. It sought a strategy to reach new nodes in the food industry network to help disseminating this information as far as possible and help ACF collect the money that it looked forward to collect. ACF approached Usher to talk on its behalf. He communicated (via Twitter) with the so many groups of restaurants and chefs that he knew, and who in their turn circulated the same information within their networks using their Twitter accounts; helping ACF to raise funds from nodes in the food industry network that it didn’t know. This was possible due to the distributed nature of the network on Twitter – there is no ‘one’ central hub connecting to ‘many’ individual nodes, but there are ‘many’ nodes connecting with ‘many’, though not equally powerful or popular (Rettberg, 2014). A huge number of these new restaurants and chefs who got informed about ACF’s need and who ACF itself had never been in contact with before (representing the weak ties) joined the organization’s network and supported with their donation.
Realizing the power of Twitter as a medium for rapid spread of information and interactive communication, ACF team dedicated 3 weeks of work for the Twitter campaign #RestaurantsuniteforNepal. Big attention was given to the new supporters, believing that they could become potential funders for future events. This motivated the team to map a social network in-order-to explore further opportunity for fundraising.
Hashtags, (#) followed by a keyword(s), are one of the most splendid innovations on Twitter; they indicate that a message is connected to a particular topic. This innovation facilitates easier searching and gathering of information regarding a specific topic, as well as rapid circulation of information during disasters (Guo & Saxton, 2014). In our case, #RestaurantsuniteforNepal was adopted to easily disseminate and find information about the campaign, and speed up the process of fundraising.
Exactly as ACF collaborated with an influential and famous person in the food industry in UK as Usher, to talk on its behalf, any other organization can follow the same path by investigating its supporters-base and trying to find an influential voice among them that can open up the opportunity for new supporters to get involved. It is even possible to go further; Twitter provides an interesting tool to its users called ‘’celebrity pocking’’ through which organizations can attract the attention of any celebrity -regardless if they know him/her personally or not- to any specific cause they have, if this celebrity responds, then ‘’the payoff in terms of geometrically increasing the diffusion of an organizational message or call to action is enticing’’(Guo & Saxton, 2014, p.71). Celebrities have ‘’network’’ powers and one tweet from them can reach millions of followers in seconds (Guo & Saxton, 2014, p.71).
Social media offer these organizations and all other humanitarian actors an effective way to disseminate information as well as communicate with others; the word published on social media has the potential to be read and responded by millions.