I’ve been back in the states for almost two weeks, struggling with what words to send you in closing of my Africans for Africa new media training project. I’ve started about a dozen posts and letters, and have scrapped them each time. I’ve been crouched under the weight of so many emotions from this trip: gratitude, humility, pride, reflection, exhaustion, relief.
So where do I begin?
No words can amply describe what my #africansforafrica project has meant to me; no report could show you just how much *your* support of my –one single person’s — work has impacted so many others. But here’s an attempt to give you at least a glimpse:
A group of South African lesbians, who were virtually invisible online are *thriving* after my visioning, organizational development, and content strategy session with them. As a direct result of one of our discussions, they even changed their name to better reflect their philosophy and target audience. I’m in awe of their hard work and dedication to create a space for African Lesbians. Check out HOLAA (Hub of Lesbian Loving Action Africa) at http://holaafrica.org/
Sister Namibia (one of three Namibian feminist organizations I worked with), whose challenge was nurturing a wider audience for their magazine is now in the process of going digital and sharing some of their print articles online in order to engage an international audience. Check out Sister Namibia on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/sisternamibia
A gender justice activist and educator in Jamaica, who’s been following my #africansforafrica updates, reached out to me to help plan a media and gender conference for women of African descent, a project that will no doubt reach hundreds more women’s rights individuals and organizations, but also create a visible pan-africanist network of social media experts.
In addition to a number of small towns and villages, I visited 7 major African cities — Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, Johannesburg, Windhoek, Gaborone, and Accra; I trained over 60 different organizations working on a wide range of issues, including women’s rights, LGBT advocacy, youth empowerment, media and the arts for civic engagement; and, I trained ~400 activists, artists, and non-profit professionals in new media communications, including branding, blogging, and online fundraising.
On top of all this, I’ve spoken at schools, colleges, youth programs, and community events about the empowerment of marginalized communities via new media, afrofeminism — my spiritual approach to social justice, the ethics of philanthropy, and, of course, the power of storytelling, re-writing history in our own voices.
Despite all of this, I’ve been waking up every day since my return, wondering how the hell this happened, and then recalling, almost instantly, that I didn’t do this; we did. In fact, you did. You helped me prove to the world that anything is possible with Love on your side, with Community on your side. And, I am humbled to have discovered, this year, that I’d earned both.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much, for giving me one of the best years of my life, for trusting me with our collective mission to empower communities through media, for your continued support and solidarity of my work, and of course, for your Love.
Happy New Year.
ps — some of you should have already received postcards, T-shirts arriving in January! :)
Among people I hadn’t yet met were three brilliant, inspiring young men from Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, including Emile Bela (@ebelak), who began his presentation with a memory of being stuck in a room with a few others in the middle of a war; his interest in blogging came from the sudden realization that if he died that day, there’d be no record of his life, nor accounts of what he’d seen. Today, Emile is a prolific writer at his own blog, and contributes commentary on sustainable development, electoral politics, and governance to other sites. It was truly an honor to be among such trailblazing, inspiring company.
My biggest takeaway from the conference was that there is still much to be explored and uncovered on the continent when it comes to how African NGOs are using new media for advocacy. But judging from WACSI’s dedication to equipping African changemakers with information and resources they need to succeed, any projects seeking to leverage new media for advocacy will not be lacking in support.
Even as young Africans are dispersed across the globe, in our mission to create alternative pathways to change — one that side-steps our corrupt governments, subverts barriers to capital, and taps into the crowdfunding potential of 475 milliion mobile connections on the continent, we’re already charting and covering new territory.
7 Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa
Researching Africa’s Social Media Landscape
More research is needed on how African NGOs specifically (including organizations based on the continent, managed by its residents i.e. not managed by some gap year volunteer from Holland) are using social media. As I sat and listened to a presentation on tips for increasing engagement on Facebook pages, which was based on Facebook data from companies all across the globe, I questioned its relevance to Africa; the insights that drove the suggestions were based on data heavily driven by internet- (vs mobile- ) connections, yet the vast majority of Africans are connected to the web via mobile. What would social media insights (i.e. the best time to post, how long each update should be etc) based on African-based, mobile-sourced data look like? Also, how does culture influence the way we build relationships online? Until Africa 2.0 defines its own benchmarks, our strategizing and planning, whether for advocacy or other purposes will be based on models that don’t necessarily reflect Africa’s tech landscape. Luckily, organizations like WACSI and Indigo Trust are committed to supporting such initiatives.
Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide through Cost-and-Time Effective Tech Training
For a continent booming with mobile innovation, much of it still experiences limited to no cell phone signal or data services of any kind. Moreover, the speed and costs of internet services varies widely between regions, creating further barriers for non-profits / activists wishing to use social media for advocacy. Hence, I particularly appreciated, participant @sourceadam’s presentation regarding his work at @sourcefabric, which implements open source, cost-effective tech solutions for NGOs, making it easier for them to optimize their time on the web. In my own work with Africans for Africa, I’ve found, also, that comprehensive social media training for people living in remote areas must include time management training; it’s not enough to tell small organizations with low capacity (and limited connectivity) that they constantly need to tweet and update Facebook without showing them a feasible way they can brainstorm and share content, in a time-efficient, cost effective way.
Fighting Government Censorship and Privatized Data Control
Using Pop Culture to Engage “Social” Users, Politically
A recent study shows most Africans use social media for games, fun, and entertainment. Yet, we often hear complaints of how difficult it is to get youth to engage, coupled with emphases on how there’s a strong need for civic engagement around “serious” issues. Clearly, in order to increase engagement among the majority of Africans who prefer to use social media for fun and entertainment, we’re going to have to find a way to make the political issues we care about fun and engaging. We can take a cute from Enough is Enough (EIE), a civil society organization based in Nigeria that featured Nigerian celebrities and humor-driven campaigns to engage youth around their #occupynigeria campaign. As EIE’s mission is to encourage youth to become more responsible citizens, they’ve made pop culture a core element of their media strategies to ensure that the tenor of their messaging resonates with their target base, which doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea to me. If anything, activists could use with a little bit more communication 101 practice. How often must we resort to blaming the audience for not listening or “doing anything” as a way of disguising our own failure to captivate and inspire?
Nurturing (More) African Social Media Experts
Beyond the same ol’ recyclable twitter lists (e.g. twitterati assumed to be “African social media experts” simply based on large numbers of followers), Africans need to identify and nurture a network of legit social media experts and strategists, one which activists, non-profits, and/or campaigns could call upon for advice, expertise, and most importantly, training. Ghana Decides’s model of offering social media trainings to their civic engagement partners (including NGOs that work with marginalized communities such as women, youth etc) is a movement-building model worth replicating; investing in the social media capacity of their partners essentially duplicates their outreach efforts, and of maximizes their chances of engaging a wide, diverse audience overall. When considering the potential political power (both online and offline) of African communities were social impact organizations to be trained to more efficiently engage their social networks, there is no limit to what we can achieve together, as individuals, as countries, and as a continent. We’ll need more trainers to train more trainers to train more trainers. Thus, nurturing an elite class of social media experts is critical.
It’s not every day that marginalized groups experience the thrill of connection, especially as intensely as they happen at conferences where there’s shared interest (and in this case, identity). At the WACSI conference, many of the participants commented on the importance of staying connected. Being able to support each other across issues and across borders, and count on the signal-boosting power of a global network of Africans online could make a huge difference to local organizing efforts. There are certainly smaller efforts being made in this area: The Guardian African Network, African feminists (#afrifem) on Twitter, region-specific efforts such as Blogging Ghana and the Nigerian Blog Awards, and issue-based sites such as Identity Kenya and Dynamic Africa. But there remains to be seen a large, robust network that connects the vast number of African bloggers online. Many questions remain: Given the diversity on the continent, and how dispersed Africans are around the globe, is such a network even possible? Who would lead (and house) such an undertaking? Would an informal network (such as a dedicated twitter hashtag for African bloggers) work just as well? There’s no doubting the collective power that could be harnessed from a formal network of African activists. However, till such a space exists, African bloggers are going to need to create one virtually; linking to each other where possible, learning how to position ourselves so that we are (more) visible to each other, and intentionally supporting each other’s initiatives in our various capacities, are all important principles of activism we should be practicing, online or offline.
My 10-minute presentation includes a brief introduction to crowdfunding and some popular crowdfunding tools. Additionally, using my Africans for African new media project as a case study, I share 5 quick tips for running a successful fundraising campaign. The main points from my presentation are outlined as follows, with the actual presentation embedded at the bottom of this post.
Feminist Cyborgs: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns
Overview of Crowdfunding
Sometimes referred to as Crowdfunding
“Funding via a networked group”
Using social media networks to raise money for projects
Collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources
Connects people who have needs to the people who can meet those needs
A Few of My Favorite Crowdfunding Platforms
IndieGoGo: Flexible fundraising rules i.e. you can keep funds you raise even if you don’t meet your goal; permits multiple types of projects (creative, small business etc) to raise funds via the platform
Kickstarter: Strictly creative projects; if you don’t raise target funds by deadline, you don’t get any of the money; features include powerful social media marketing tools
Africans in the Diaspora (AiD): Raises funds for projects based in Africa; includes community philanthropy tools e.g. blogs and resources about fundraising, development, etc, targeting the diaspora.
234Give: Nigeria’s first online fundraising platform for charities based in Nigeria (Note: I have not used this platform personally, so this is not an endorsement. Just think it’s cool that African countries are tapping into crowdfunding.)
GlobalGiving: International fundraising platform; NGOs across the world can register and raise money from top donor countries on this platform, including US, UK, Singapore, India.
PubSlush: A crowdfunding platform for authors, agents, and publishers. (Note: I have not used this platform personally, but plan to in early 2013).
ProBueno: My MIT classmate’s startup, crowdsourcing volunteers who donate the cost/value of their services to charities. Neat setup, actually e.g. rather than donate money, I offer (via the platform) my new media consulting services to someone who will pay for them, I donate money earned (e.g. $100/hr for 2 hours) to charity of my choice on the platform. #watchthisspace #itmaychangethegame
There are many other easily accessible and efficient fundraising platforms available all over the world; but as with all social media innovations, you must choose the platform that makes the most sense for you — for your project and for your target audience.
Introduction to Online Fundraising
A little money goes a long way
By pooling smaller amounts of money from a groups with common interest, larger financial goals are achievable
Social media makes it easier for people with similar interests to connect; great potential for raising capital for projects
Large capital is reduced as a barrier to doing good due to growing popularity of online fundraising in philanthopy sector
In 2011, online giving grew in double-digit percentages across ALL sectors (so, not just NGOs working with orphans who could show cute photos — everyone is benefiting)
Things to Remember
Social media = media that is social, period.
Don’t confuse the tools (social media, which is technical) with the task (asking for money, which is human)
Having a Facebook Page does not guarantee you money.
You (a person) must raise funds from your network (people)
The quality of your network = The quality of your relationships with individuals in that network
Offline fundraising principles apply online.
Africans for Africa Project: A Case Study
Independent project training African-women led NGOs to use new media
Raised ~$15,000 in 30 days via online fundraising campaign
Focus on Women, Youth, Gender & Sexuality Issues
South Africa, Namibia, Botswana
One-on-One Consulting and Team Sessions for Organizations
Online Fundraising Workshops (Open to the Public)
Over 400 workshop participants, 60 organizations
5 Tips for Online Fundraising
Tip 1: Learn to “Ask”
The most important element of any campaign is the “ask.”
You must ask before you can receive. (Note: The most popular reason cited by people as to why they didn’t give is “No one asked me.”)
For Africans for Africa: In addition to bulk emails, I sent personal emails, FB messages, text messages, and phone calls to individuals. In world 2.0, going the extra mile to personalize communications to individuals will achieve better results than “mass”/public calls to action.
Lesson: Practice and test your with different (trusted) audiences; don’t play with live money.
Tip 2: Know Your Audience
You wouldn’t ask your best friend for money in the same way you would ask a professional colleague, would you?
Different audiences require different messages.
Don’t speak to everyone in the same way — you don’t know all of these people in the same way.
Africans for Africa: “MIT Classmates” received different messaging from “Activists”, who received different messaging from “Feminists” and “Fellow Social Media Gurus”. Also, I bombarded my brother with requests to donate (cause I can do that) but only sent an email per week to more professional contacts so as not to “annoy” people.
Lesson: Segment your list, create messages and themes for each before you begin sending communications. Make sure frequency reflects the relationship.
Tip 3: Trust Your Inner Circle Power
People give money because they trust you.
People will give to organizations and individuals with credibility, that they trust will use their donation towards the states goals.
Study shows that number one factor influencing trust is actually recommendations from friends and family.
Africans for Africa: Bulk of my donations came from close friends, who encouraged others to contribute as well. I found that I didn’t have to ‘sell’ my project to friends of friends. Here’s what happened, a lot: “You’re __’ friend, which means you must be awesome. Here’s _ dollars.”
Lesson: Don’t ignore your family and friends. They’re you’re biggest advocates and can help you raise even more money (if you “ask” them to).
Tip 4: Set (Realistic) Goals
Fundraising isn’t about luck. You must set goals to meet.
People (yourself included) are more driven to give by public benchmarks.
Africans for Africa: I asked 15 people to contribute, every day, to increase chance of meeting goal of 10 donors per day. I also declared my goals publicly every day, to make sure I was also putting pressure upon myself to deliver “success” stories and momentum.
Lesson: Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Make them public. People want to help. And if they see mini-goals as possible, they’re more likely to give. Also, if you set daily goals for yourself, you’re more likely to brainstorm creatively when you see you’re at risk of not meeting them! (e.g. 4 pm, I said I’d have 10 donors by 5, I only have 8 — eeek! *Proceeds to call everyone and their mama*)
Tip 5: Recognition and Gratitude
There’s a reason you always see “Thank You” on a sales receipt.
People need to feel appreciated in order to stay engaged.
Africans for Africa: Different perqs came with encouraging titles and levels of recognition, such as “Ally”, “Champion” etc. I also always sent immediate Thank Yous and social media shout-out to new donors. I didn’t wait till the end of the campaign to thank them, and it worked; a few of them, now that they had already donated, helped me raise more money from their networks because they felt included, and appreciated.
Lesson: Come up with creative ways to recognition, before and after the “ask” in order to nurture repeat-givers and advocates.
Most Important Tip: Be Human
Connect with people’s hearts. Facebook doesn’t make campaigns successful; people do.
Your story matters; why you care about this project matters
Lesson: Reflect on why this project really matters; avoid some regurgitated version of your organization’s mission statement — toss that immediately. Reflect and communicate why this project really matters — to you, and to the people you care about. Be honest. Be vulnerable, even, and people will rise to the occasion to help you succeed.
Interested in New Media Consulting? If you’d like to schedule a full or half-day workshop on online fundraising for your organization or individual campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “Contact Me” button on the sidebar.
Alternatively, if you’re thinking of launching an online fundraising campaign and would like some feedback on your current online fundraising efforts (including social media audit, list preparation, messaging, and engagement strategy), mention this blog post to receive an online fundraising consultation via Phone or Skype at $75/hr for the first hour, and $100/hr thereafter. If you’re seeking a social media campaign manager for a longer, fixed period, we can chat about that, too! Use the “Contact Me” button to send me an email. Please allow at least 48 hours for me to respond to you.
Note: I offer lower rates to grassroots groups whose primary targets include either of the following groups — Women, LGBTI, Africans/POC.