First Independent aids charity via social media

Bank raises money for 5 local groups by tapping into Facebook, Twitter

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor



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Eighty-five percent of American consumers have a more positive image of businesses that support a cause, and 83 percent are more likely to buy products and services from a business that supports a cause they care about, according to a report released Monday by Cone, a marketing firm based in Boston. Those percentages increased during and after the recession as consumers were more careful with their money and choosier with the businesses and causes they support, according to the report.

With the launch last week of its new charitable giving campaign, First Independent Bank has also started an experiment in fundraising online through social media.

The bank’s “Ready to Give” program aims to raise money for five Clark County charities each year by tapping its customers’ Twitter and Facebook networks, in addition to using traditional print and online advertising, said Stacey Graham, chief strategy officer at First Independent Bank. For every dollar raised online, the bank will donate $1, up to $5,000 to each charity or $25,000 total for Evergreen School District Foundation, YWCA Clark County, Innovative Services NW, Columbia Dance and the Clark County Food Bank.

First Indy set up a website for each nonprofit to collect donations using Facebook Causes, a tool that allows Facebook members to “like” the cause and spread information about the charity and their donations to their friends on Facebook and on other social networks. The viral marketing tactic allows the bank and the charities to reach donors well beyond their immediate connections.

Such a strategy is risky in a community that hasn’t yet completely embraced social media. Many local businesses, including banks and credit unions, have adopted social media tools to reach a growing subset of customers that are active and engaged online. But most have so far stuck to traditional marketing and customer service.

First Indy’s campaign is among the first locally to attempt fundraising for charity using online social networks, said Noland Hoshino, founder of [B]Cause Media, a social media marketing firm in Vancouver.

“(First Indy) has been in the social media world for a while, now they’re making that next step,” Hoshino said. “It’s a good thing to partner with a nonprofit, especially a local one, to show people they’re a viable part of the community. The generation of today is smart, they’re more connected and they want to know their money is going (to local causes).”

Not just a fad

A charitable fundraising campaign is also a good way to help measure a company’s social media success, which is usually difficult to quantify, Hoshino said. The results are measured in dollars raised instead of an intangible “buzz” effect.

To increase the program’s chances for success, First Indy chose five charities already engaged in social media marketing. Each charity will receive two months of focused attention from the bank in an effort to drive traffic and donors to the fundraiser site.

The Evergreen School District Foundation is the first to be featured, raising money for its Principal’s Checkbook fund to help low-income kids pay for small expenses such as backpacks, coats and school supplies. In its first few weeks, the site has attracted 14 “likes” and raised $135 in donations.

Evergreen Schools have been using social media tools for about a year now and the district has more than 1,700 Facebook followers, said Carol Fenstermacher, a spokeswoman for the district. Partnering with First Independent gives it another way to raise funds and to reach beyond its own network of parents and teachers, to the bank’s customers, including businesses and people who don’t have kids, she said.

Stand-alone social media fundraisers aren’t effective in the long term, however, cautions a report released Monday by Cone, a marketing firm based in Boston. Businesses should use the tools mostly as a way to deepen engagement among supporters and promote offline activities, it said.

First Independent doesn’t want its social media campaigns to be a passing fad, but part of a long-term effort to raise the visibility of charitable organizations in Vancouver.

“Part of our mission is supporting a growing vital community,” Graham said. “This (new campaign) seems like a real opportunity for everybody to learn something (about social media) and for us to help nonprofits gain new donors.”