Last month, an anonymous donor used a Twitter account to encourage people to sit in the lobby of the cafeteria at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and commit “random acts of kindness
.” People showed up. They brought gifts for children, small cash donations and snapped pictures with the patients. Heartwarming, right?
It is no secret that social media has changed the way we help out causes. From crowdfunding websites such as Kickstarter to the viral videos of Upworthy
that leave us with a lump in our throats, we are now more engaged and more connected with our communities, or at least it seems that way. We certainly are sharing more videos of police assisting Alzheimer’s patients
and Pope Francis blessing a disabled woman
. The Twitter account @HiddenCash
gives away money in envelopes hidden around cities.
There is something about “random acts of kindness” that is appealing. Something that makes us want to click that share button or perhaps start a Twitter account that enables us to hand out money to strangers. They makes people feel good. But do they actually do anything? Shouldn’t we spend our time, if we actually cared as much as we say we do, planning a bit more?
In the case of asking people to show up at M.D. Anderson on a whim, people actually had to be turned away because it could possibly put patients with compromised immune systems in danger. Random acts of kindness may make you feel good, but the power of social media can be used to create real change and make everyone feel good. All you have to do is be a bit more considered.
1. Find out who needs help.
Social media can be a great starting point to dig in to what organizations or causes need assistance. Many nonprofits and social organizations will ask for help or donations through Twitter and Facebook, and their websites should have areas with information about volunteering. The worst thing you can do is try to help an organization that, well, simply doesn’t need your specific type of help. Focus your attention elsewhere. Time is precious.
2. Reach out to the organization you want to partner with.
This seems like a no-brainer, but for some (see the M.D. Anderson example), it just isn’t. Many organizations will have restrictions on how you can help, some of them legal. For instance, you shouldn’t gather a group of people to show up at an elementary school unannounced to give away free school supplies. You would run into problems with laws meant to protect student information, and volunteers often require background checks. Look for a point of contact at the organization you want to help. Many of these groups need your help, but the help will be much more successful if there are open lines of communication.
3. Ask the organization what its needs are.
If might be great that you want to show up at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday to donate teddy bears for the children’s charity, but guess what? They are closed on Tuesdays and they just received a lifetime allotment of teddy bears from Toys R’ Us. Beggars can’t be choosers, but there are ways you can help more efficiently if you work with the organization collaboratively on what help best suits their needs. Approach the organization with an idea and your efforts will be 10 times more effective than going at it alone.
4. Use social media to spread the word and gather volunteers.
Once you have met with the organization, assessed their needs and developed a collaborative game plan, the real magic of social media can come into play. Social media, in many ways, has become the new community bulletin board. Using the proper channels to gather a group through your own personal network is how social media can becomes useful. You’ve got your plan, now assemble the troops and activate.
We realize that “random acts of kindness” have their place. They remind us of our humanity, inspire us and, on occasion, initiate change. But we shouldn’t rely on the, dare we say it, lazy, attitude of simply posting an inspiring link or tossing a few quarters in the donation jar at a gas station counter.
It’s time to get working. It is time to seek out inspiration. And it is time to plan some acts of kindness. Only this time, those acts will be a little less random and a lot more powerful.
Aimee Woodall is the founder and leader of the flock at The Black Sheep Agency, a Houston-based creative agency specializing in non-traditional public relations, social media, and experiential marketing. Check out the agency's blog, where a version of this story originally appeared.