Orlando “Can” Care Challenge: Friends Made, Lessons Learned

A guest post from Shari Orr, communications specialist for the Central Florida Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.

In December 2008, Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida officially entered the social media ring. We have been blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, and uploading content to YouTube and Flickr ever since. We love being a part of something so timely, with our primary goal being to build open relationships with each tweet, blog post, and photo set. Through these developing relationships, we hope to change perspectives on homelessness, encourage volunteer involvement, and garner much-needed donations. The “Orlando ‘Can’ Care Challenge” would allow us to see if we were meeting our goals.

Recently, we’ve noticed a drastic drop in food donations from individuals and in the food supplies available from local food banks. To help meet the shortage we are facing, we decided to launch a bold Challenge to our local community: the “Orlando ‘Can’ Care Challenge.” We even had a prize for our winners (a rarity in the nonprofit world!). We decided to test the waters of social media by challenging only our Twitter, Facebook and blog friends to help fill our cupboards. We were a little nervous, but our action-oriented social media friends did not disappoint us.

After several Facebook and Twitter teasers about an upcoming contest, we issued the Challenge on our blog “Hope for the Homeless,” including all the details participants would need to know. The premise was simple: we needed large quantities of food, and whatever social media friends helped us collect the most would win a guest blogging opportunity. The Challenge ran from Thursday, May 7 until Friday, May 15. The time frame gave participants a chance to make a weekend shopping trip, but was short enough to maintain a sense of urgency.

Over the next week, we tweeted and Facebooked updates as new donations were brought in, uploading Flickr photos of each donation or group. During the Challenge, we wrote a blog post about the prevalence of hunger in America to keep the topic fresh and to actively challenge poverty stereotypes. By Friday at 5 p.m., with only a few hours of staff time invested in the Challenge, we were rewarded with 1,000 pounds of food! Needless to say, we were thrilled.


An interesting aspect of the Challenge was that several of our participants had never donated or volunteered with the Coalition before (@MLTV and @cherylp3 are examples of our wonderful new donors). This confirmed that we are establishing strong new relationships through our social media sites. Also, all but one of our participants found out about the Challenge from Twitter (Workscapes, the grand winner, learned about the Challenge through our blog). So, we learned that for now Twitter is the most efficient site for quickly mobilizing our friends to meet a need. (We also experienced Twitter’s usefulness when we requested blanket donations in February.)

Looking at the half-ton of food we gained from the Challenge, the new donor relationships we established, and the information we received about our social media presence, we vote that the Challenge was an outstanding success!

And you know what that means: watch out for the next Challenge. We can’t wait!


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