August 19, 2022

Charity Goes Mobile to Appeal to Young

Never one to miss a party, Ms. Lublin stepped outside to learn that minutes earlier, the staff had sent a simple text message to 500 teenagers — “Santa Cause says run a food drive in ur community 4 Tackle Hunger” — an annual food collection that benefits the network of local food pantries affiliated with Feeding America.

The messages went to teenagers who were more or less “defunct,” meaning that her organization, Do Something, had not heard from them in some time. For this appeal via text, some 20 percent returned to the fold in nine minutes. “It was nuts,” Ms. Lublin said.

Right then and there, she decided Do Something, a national nonprofit group that works to involve teenagers in civic activities, had to go mobile. No longer could it rely on its Web site to motivate young people to take part in social activism. Instead, it would rely on mobile technology in the hopes of substantially increasing its reach and impact.

“I want us to be the AARP for the 13- to 18-year-old set,” she said recently.

The goal is to use mobile technology to sign up 3.8 million members by 2014, up from 1.2 million in 2010 who were involved in at least one of the more than 50 “campaigns” Do Something runs each year. Recently, for instance, teenagers ran drives that collected roughly two million books that are being donated to public schools in New Orleans. “It has to be things that don’t require money, an adult or a car,” Ms. Lublin said.

Teenagers become members by completing a project suggested by Do Something or one they have created themselves and uploading photos or other evidence of their efforts to the organization’s Web site.

“Teens receive, on average, over 3,300 texts a month, and their phones are part of their social tissue,” said Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn and a new member of Do Something’s board. “I’m convinced this is the best way to move teen philanthropic action to a new level in terms of scale and effectiveness.”

Many nonprofit groups are testing ways of using mobile technology to advance their mission. In the developing world, organizations have used it in hopes of improving health care, agriculture and finance.

Several charities here have used text messaging to rally people for demonstrations, protests, town hall meetings and other activities, but most nonprofit groups see it primarily as a fund-raising tool. “I don’t think very many social change organizations, even the well-funded, sophisticated ones, are paying nearly enough attention to the technology available for engaging support and enhancing their missions,” said Alberto Ibargüen, chief executive of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which made a $1.5 million grant to Do Something to support its mobile strategy.

Do Something does not raise money from its members — it does not even collect information on the sex of its members — and Ms. Lublin insists it will never sell its membership list the way that charities sell the names and addresses they have collected for direct-mail solicitation to one another. “Never, never, never,” Ms. Lublin said. “It makes my skin crawl.”

Although many schools around the country require students to devote a specific number of hours to a community service project, Ms. Lublin said Do Something members did not seem to be volunteering because of an educational mandate.

“We want to be more like shopping at the mall with your friends or playing soccer, something you choose to do, something you love, something that doesn’t involve your teacher telling you to do it,” she said.

As for the teenagers themselves, texting does not feel invasive as it sometimes does when adult donors receive messages from charities.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=65add4026105427089b4f5d607630f4c

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