Exploiting the scope of social media for community outreach
New Delhi: The not-for-profit sector is not known to be digitally savyy. However, the social media explosion and the expansive reach of the Internet, transcending physical, social and economic boundaries, has forced many organizations to upgrade their online presence.
One such organization is not-for-profit Oxfam India, which declared two years ago that it will adopt a digital first approach in all its work.
“The online push came about with the need and desire to increase awareness about causes and programmes of Oxfam India among the urban middle-class,” explains Gopal Jain, manager fund-raising events at Oxfam India.
Walking the talk
Working with grassroots organizations, Oxfam India attempts to address socioeconomic concerns of the poor. Today, the majority of its activities—from raising funds to creating awareness about issues to even highlighting its 115 grassroots partners—first find mention online.
The not-for-profit says that online engagement and integrating different tools have helped increase its reach and support base. For example, Oxfam India created a Nepal Earthquake Facebook page in 2015, which drew a record 4.37 million visits. This, the organisation claims was a eight-fold increase in terms of Facebook reach and also resulted in 2,830 new Twitter followers.
Among the organisation’s various online campaigns, one that stands out is the Trailwalker event. It involves teams of four people walking or running 100 km within 48 hours. Oxfam calls it the “world’s greatest team challenge to overcome poverty and injustice”. The walks have raised more than $100 million for Oxfam, globally.
In India, each team walks for a cause and signs up for this through Oxfam India’s Trailwalker website and mobile application.
The teams raise funds for their respective causes from their families, friends and supporters through the customized payment gateway of the Trailwalker digital platform.
Jain says the use of the social media-integrated website and mobile app has increased community participation.
In 2012, the Trailwalker event in Bengaluru saw 80 teams participate and collect Rs.124 lakh, while in January, at the eighth Indian edition of the event, the 166 teams collected Rs.305 lakh.
“The attempt has been to simplify complex problems and provide easy access to information, which in turn increases support for fighting these problems,” says Tamseel Hussain, manager digital communication at Oxfam India.
This platform was nominated for the category of best use of e-commerce and enabling environment at the Manthan and mBillionth awards.
The digital advantage
Over the last two years, the digital platform surrounding the Trailwalker event in India has evolved from cause-driven content to more experiential content and features like weather updates, fitness tips, GPS-based tracking, and communication within and between teams.
It has been converted into a gamified platform, which increased engagement by 50%, increased site visits—94,000 visits in six months, reduced complaints by 95%—leading to increased fund-raising, according to Hussain.
“It is largely based on user experience and we try and take in as much feedback as possible through both online and offline service teams of Oxfam India,” says Hussain.
Looking to further enhance the digital platform, Hussain adds, “The biggest takeaway for the digital team has been the popularity of the test trail and tracking teams feature, where participants can virtually see what the actual trail may consist of and track other teams during the event.”
The going has not always been easy. “The priority of not-for-profits has always been the on-ground programmes, campaigns and events and not the digital world,” Hussain explains, adding how this department has a limited resource allocated for digital promotion.
Hussain is optimistic of the future. “Not-for-profits are learning and adapting to the scope of disruption through the online world—be it through petitions, awareness campaigns or fund-raising events,” he says. Citing the 2014 general election campaign, which was largely dependent on the use of social media, Hussain believes personal-public engagement is only enhanced through the use of the web and technology.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.