Listening to Facebook Community Builds Big Rewards for Non-Profit

Norfolk Botanical Garden recently won a $125,000 grant from the Chase Community Giving philanthropic program. And by the time you read this, it might have received hundreds of thousands of dollars more. The most intriguing aspect of this windfall: The Garden received it by listening to conversations among its Facebook community and then taking action.

Chase is the retail banking division of JP Morgan Chase. Its Chase Community Giving campaign is a social media experiment that marries philanthropy with one-on-one social marketing via Facebook. This is the third year of the program in which $10 million dollars is given to charities with operating budgets between one and 10 million dollars.

Facebook users decide who receives the money by “liking” Chase Community Giving. Chase places a community giving logo on the voter’s Facebook page linking the voter and Chase. Through the two rounds of voting this year, Norfolk Botanical Garden ultimately ranked among the top-ten vote-getters nationally in each round, earning it $125,000 and the potential for another half-million dollars if a panel of Hollywood stars and business executives favors the Garden’s idea for how it would use such a sum.

For over a year, Norfolk Botanical Garden has been working hard to create and engage a Facebook community. More than 6,000 people “like” the Garden’s Facebook page. A separate Facebook page for the eagle nest counted over 6,000 “likes”. Garden staff learned about the Chase Community Giving program when they started noticing that members of the Facebook community were writing about it and encouraging other members to vote for Norfolk Botanical Garden.

Staff became curious, and after verifying that the Chase program was real, they quickly mobilized to encourage more voting. They kept the dialogue about the Chase program going on the Garden’s Facebook pages and sent e-mails to garden members encouraging them to vote and to tell their Facebook friends about it. As the voting rounds progressed, teachers around the world who have been involved with Garden programs or the Eaglecam were encouraged to mobilize support among their peers and parents. Eagle lovers across the globe were also asked to vote. Local media companies and businesses with Facebook pages were tapped to get involved, too. In the end, the garden received more than 12,000 votes and gathered additional “likes” on its Facebook pages.

This initiative has been exciting for Norfolk Botanical Garden’s staff, board, members and Facebook community. It should also be an eye-opener to charities looking to fund a key program next year or who are wondering whether social media can be important to them.

However, businesses that give philanthropically should take special note. Well before the advent of Facebook, Chase gave away money, but likely without this type of return. Nearly three million Facebook users agreed to allow Chase to place its logo on their personal pages. Hundreds of charities and their supporters sent information about the Chase Giving program to many millions more in an effort to get votes. Chase can glean research information about the Facebook users who have voted. And if Chase is smart about the process, it will engage these people in an ongoing way in its own Facebook community and encourage them in subtle ways to use their bank. After all, they are already predisposed to “like” Chase.