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Study: Offline Fundraising Bests Social Media Efforts

Rob Manuel, Antonella Weyler and Denise Keyes

Antonella Weyler (G'10), flanked by Rob Manuel, dean of the School of Continuing Studies, left, and Denise Keyes, associate dean of SCS’s Public Relations and Corporate Communications program, earned an "Outstanding Student" award for her work on the cause engagement study.

June 1, 2011 – Raising money for causes through social media hasn’t caught on the way some had predicted, according to a newly released study from Georgetown.

Conducted by the Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC) at the university’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS) in partnership with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, the study explored whether online tools such as Twitter and Facebook have changed the way Americans engage in causes and issues they care about.

“Going into the study, the hypothesis was that the digital revolution had perhaps changed things,” says Julie Dixon, deputy director of CSIC. “But what we found in the study is that it really hasn’t changed things yet – it’s still in process but it hasn’t been fully realized.”

Role of Strategy

The findings showed that while 18 percent of Americans indicated their first involvement with a cause was through social media, 64 percent of Americans first donate their time or money offline.

“This was illuminating to us,” says Denise Keyes, associate dean of SCS’s Public Relations and Corporate Communications program, who worked on the study. “We focus a lot in our program on the role of strategy. That’s particularly relevant when one is considering how to use social media.”

Keyes says social media is only as good as the strategy that drives it, and it has to be part of an integrated communications plan that also uses traditional strategies that work.

Planning Crucial

“Everybody wants to use it, but they don’t always use it effectively to advance their mission,” says Keyes. “That requires more thinking and planning, and that’s what our students know how to do.”

The study surveyed 2,000 Americans ages 18 and up. Its key findings were broken down by gender, ethnicity and age. The research showed that women are more likely than men to engage with causes via social media, as were African Americans and Hispanics as opposed to whites.

As expected, younger populations use social media tools to engage in causes more than older populations.

 Outstanding Student

“Now we know that for certain demographics, social media can play a greater role, so you can really target your activities and tap into this new source of information for people to get involved with causes,” says Antonella Weyler (G’10), an SCS Public Relations and Corporate Communications graduate student who worked on the study.

Weyler says working on the study gave her the opportunity to put into practice skills she learned in the classroom.

After graduating from the program in December, Weyler became a fellow at Ogilvy, where she is continuing to work on the project.

Keyes awarded Weyler an “Outstanding Student” award this past May for her work on the cause engagement study, among other contributions to the program.

“This study is so symbolic of what our program stands for,” says Keyes, “in terms of giving our students that tie with industry and then using the power of communication to create social good – that’s what we’re about.”

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