Socialize Your Cause Turns Social Media into Social Good for Non-Profits

[Editor’s Note: This article was originally written for BostInnovation]

Sometimes the best ideas are the simple, seemingly obvious ones sitting right under your nose. That was the case for the founder of Socialize Your Cause, David Wells. Wells, as he will tell you in the interview below had an “ah-ha!” moment when he realized that the non-profit market was sorely lacking social media marketing skills, and furthermore that this type of marketing could be crowd-sourced in a sense.

Socialize Your Cause is an interesting startup – one that BostInnovation profiled recently from Podcamp 5 – that allows non-profit organizations to tap into its social graph for optimized exposure. Socialize Your Cause also provides social media consulting and, with the help of a dedicated team, a bit of marketing and social savvy.

I took some time to talk with David Wells about how he got his idea, the process behind launching the company, current practices and future goals.

BostInnovation: How did you first gain interest in the world of nonprofit organizations?

David Wells: I was working at an agency in Charlotte, helping out some B2B clients. It was a good learning experience. I started seeing a lot of non-profit organizations that were missing the boat on a lot of social media trends, because it was still relatively new to a lot of organizations. I saw a huge opportunity for growth in this space. I could use my powers for good. It would be more fulfilling for me, and I’d be able to help the world in general. I still do some work with for-profit companies, but I mainly try to stick to non-profit work.

BostInno: Once you had the idea for Socialize Your Cause at its base level, how did you go about getting the company up and running?

Wells: I had the idea when I was a senior in college. I was laying in bed one night, and I thought about making a Twitter account that advocated for non-profits. I woke up, got out of bed and created the Twitter account, @YouCanHelp. I started by tweeting about non-profit news, got a following up to about 7,000 people.

Then in January of this year, I made a New Years resolution to get myself in gear. I bought the URL youcanhelpcharity.org, and that’s what it was going to be, because it lined up with the Twitter account. But I learned from some people that charity limits you to one thing, when I really wanted to go more in a cause marketing direction. So I came up with the name Socialize Your Cause, bought the domain name while I was at a conference in Tampa, and just started building out the website from there.

It started as a blog that I used for writing about best practices in social media for non-profits. I got some guest writers that wanted to post, and as we went along we built the other pieces of the business. There’s other non-profit, social media blogs out there, but not too many. I wanted to make Socialize Your Cause the hub of non-profit social media space. I wanted to make the site stickier to have people coming back overtime – so that’s how the social media marketing platform came about. I partnered with a company, Converse, in London for that.

BostInno: When building partnerships with the non-profits, do you proactively seek non-profit organizations or do they come to you?

Wells: I’m fortunate in that we’ve built up the website enough that companies are now coming to us because, we have the name recognition. So I don’t have to do as much outreach these days, which is good.

BostInno: That is good. Do you tend to accept all organizations, or are you more scrutinizing?

Wells: We don’t have the bandwidth right now to help everyone that comes to us. However, every week we cover a new organization as our Cause of the Week. Basically, when someone submits for that, we look for an organization that we feel needs some exposure. In addition, one of the perks to being the Cause of the Week is that they get access to our free Twitter accounts, which means they get an audience of about 11,000. So they get to tap into our social graph to spread the message about their organization. We also will work on some consulting for them to highlight best practices.

BostInno: Are there certain achievements that you and Socialize Your Cause are still striving for? What sorts of goals have you set for the future?

Wells: Yeah, yeah! I’m 23, and this is my first company. Most of the people who are involved in Socialize Your Cause are all volunteers, and I also pass off some consulting work to people who have an expertise in social media. Where I’d like to see it going is to have Socialize Your Cause become the hub – the go-to place for non-profits to get a handle on everything social media.

I’d also like to grow out a network of Internet marketing professionals who’d be willing to donate time to help some organizations. Certain organizations will pay, but much of the work is pro bono. I’d like for non-profits to be able to submit for help, and reach a network of professionals who are willing to lend time and marketing expertise.

BostInno: What has been the most rewarding experience thus far, as the founder of Socialize Your Cause?

Wells: One of the organizations we worked with early on was WTFLungCancer, which stands for Where’s The Funding, Lung Cancer? It’s cool because it has a personality to it. We featured them as a Cause of the Week. They’re raising great awareness around Lung Cancer using social media.

Another great organization that we worked with is Friends Like Us. They help kids fighting cancer by arranging visits to the hospital to help improve the kids’ spirits, among other activities. By giving them exposure to our social graph, they were able to gain exposure. When they were the Cause of the Week, they grew their combined Facebook and Twitter networks by more than 500 people.

Lastly, Photographers for Charity is a group of photographers who donate their services to non-profit events. They were trying to figure out where the next step would be for the organization. They are based in New Zealand and at the time, they weren’t getting much traction. So we covered them as Cause of the Week, and since then they have expanded to five other countries. People have latched onto that idea and helped them expand their network.

BostInno: If you could give one piece of advice to people aspiring to start their non-profit organization, what might you suggest?

Wells: First of all, you must have a homebase. You need a website. Having a Twitter and Facebook is good, and I’m not saying those services are going to go away, but you never know what might happen. Your account could get hacked; it could get shut down for whatever reason. If you have your own website and blog, it’s much more secure. You can leverage a core website to build an e-mail list as well. E-mail marketing is definitely not dead – it still holds some great marketing power.

Second of all, many organizations are doing lots of great things, but not documenting it – there are no photos, videos or before and after interviews. Getting behind the scenes to really share a story is tremendous. You can post the content to your organization’s blog. It brings back repeat readers because there is fresh content, and it’s engaging too. It shows the readers where their donation dollars are going – you can show the direct effect of donations paying off.

After those two steps, it’s all about engaging with the community through various distribution and conversation platforms. But before you begin to reach out, you must have a solid base of content in order to find success in social media.

To learn more about Socialize Your Cause follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

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