I’ve been working with one of my coaching clients, Children of the Nations, on their fall fundraising campaign, which they call Hope for the Children.  In addition to the direct asks for financial support, I suggested that they come up with several “engagement” asks to pair with the ask for money throughout the campaign, which runs from October – December (an idea I picked up from the smarties at Big Duck).

This year’s campaign is about keeping the children they serve, who are orphaned or destitute, in school. Donors will be asked to help with food, clean water, mosquito nets, and other items that help keep children healthy and therefore ready and able to learn. One idea we discussed was using Facebook to collect words of encouragement about staying in school from U.S. donors and then sharing those words with COTN in-country staff to pass on to the children. It’s important to COTN that donors see their work as long-term with these children, and not just crisis relief, thus the emphasis on education.

We talked about this kind of ask specifically because it was something that U.S. donors could easily relate to, even if they have never been to the African or Caribbean countries where COTN works. While the reasons children miss school may be different there (e.g. malaria) versus here (e.g. low self-esteem), U.S. donors can still relate to the idea that kids can’t get an education unless they are actually in school day in and day out.

COTN staff ran with the idea, and the results were wonderful . . .

On October 1, they posted the campaign launch on Facebook and asked supporters to “leave a comment encouraging a child to stay in school.” Many of the comments left on the page were directed to specific sponsored children by name, while others were more general words of encouragement.

 COTN Facebook Request

On the same day, COTN also sent out an email with the same ask to help drive supporters to the Facebook post and to provide a participation option for those without Facebook accounts.



Over the next several days, encouraging words came pouring in on Facebook and via email. Staff at COTN headquarters in Washington emailed the responses to the in-country staff, who shared the supporters’ words with the children in their care in a number of different ways.

In Uganda, Hadrine printed out the comments and read them out loud to the students. In Malawi, Chikondi printed the messages with blank space underneath where the students wrote replies. In the Dominican Republic, Reymon posted the comments outside each of COTN’s schools. Older students read the comments to those who can’t read yet.

On October 11, COTN reported all of this back to its supporters with a blog post full of pictures, which was also shared on Facebook, as well as through another email encouraging people to read the blog post.

COTN Results Blog Post


Did this work? You bet. 

Cassia Burke, a staff writer for COTN, shared these open and click-through rates for the original email:

Open rate: 16.1% (compared to the average last quarter, 13.7%)
Click through rate: 3.0% (compared to the average 1.33%)

On Facebook, COTN averages 2.1 comments and 1.7 shares per post (2012 data to date). The original Facebook post where people could share words of encouragement is the single most shared update on COTN’s page this year. It is also the third most commented on post (after a photo album about the Run for Africa 5K  and another asking, “If you could travel to one country for free, right now, where would you go?”).

While those other two posts are certainly related to COTN’s work (the 5K was a fundraiser and COTN encourages country visits), this is the first post specifically about the children served to do so well.

Here’s what I would take away from this example:

Give people things to do that are both easy and meaningful. Posting words of encouragement on Facebook is easy, and because you can envision sharing the words with a child, even if just one in your mind’s eye, it’s meaningful.

Make the ask something that they can relate to in their own experiences. Each of us can recall words of encouragement we heard while in school — or remember the pain of not being encouraged. So it’s easy for supporters to see themselves in this story.

Get your ducks in a row. COTN thought through the process of getting the words of encouragement to the in-country staff and then asking those staff to share back with the U.S. communications staff how they had shared the comments with the children, and how the children reacted, both with stories and photos. That kind of coordination and internal communication doesn’t happen by accident.

Close the loop by sharing results. The blog post provided a huge emotional payoff to anyone who left a comment — and even those who didn’t! The children’s responses are irresistible.  COTN could have just said, “Trust us, we delivered your messages, and it was great.” But instead, they proved it, providing a subtle reminder that COTN is trustworthy and dependable. If they go through this level of effort to deliver words of encouragement, you can only imagine how responsible they must be about delivering food and other vital supplies to the children.

Get it done, fast. The messages were asked for, delivered thousands of miles away, and responded to on the blog in under two weeks.

Integrate your communications channels. COTN made this happen with a combination of email and Facebook communications with supporters, which the in-country staff then took offline to share with the children.

Has your organization tried something like this? I’d love to hear your example too!