March 14th, 2009


On Friday morning, I had the opportunity to listen to Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, talk about his company and the shoes it gives to children in need.  Blake spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service as part of the Clinton School Speaker Series.  TOMS Shoes started in May 2006 and has since given over 130,00 pairs of shoes to children in need around the world.  The company is able to do this by selling shoes to consumers under the agreement that for every pair of shoes purchased, one pair of shoes will be given away.  Through this model, TOMS Shoes has become a sustainable company that is both profitable and philanthropic.  The story of TOMS Shoes success is fascinating and inspiring, but the thing that interested me the most was that–according to Blake in his presentation on Friday–they have never spent a single dollar on advertising.  The company grew solely on word-of-mouth.  Granted, fashion publication editors became enamored with the TOMS Shoes story (rightfully so) and took it upon themselves to get the word out to those they influence.  Without that help, would the company be as successful now?

Many philanthropic start-ups struggle to get the funding they need to do the giving they set out to do.  The TOMS Shoes story is the exception rather than the rule.  In 2006 when TOMS Shoes was founded, social media was prevalent, but not to the extent we are seeing it used today.  The next “TOMS Shoes” will need to leverage the online social media space in much the same way the Obama campaign did to see a similar success.

How does a fledgling organization present itself as legitimate and use the online space to generate interest and raise money?

  1. Establish a professional-looking website.  This will take a considerable investment, but the payoff is enormous: a website is a first impression.
  2. Create a voice for the “brand.”  People interact with brands just like they are people online.  In the social media arena, the brand will need to speak through blog posts, Twitter posts, online video, social network fan pages, and whatever the next new channel that pops up.  Someone will have to manage all of these communications in a consistent and timely manner.
  3. Be everywhere online with the official brand voice.  Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Twitter, blog, YouTube channel, Flickr, etc.  And have links to all these online spaces on your website.
  4. Offer interesting information on a regular basis.  And deliver it to your priority participants first: those that sign up for email or text message updates.  Use this data to build your database, then use it to make requests.  Remember when Obama announced his running mate?  The announcement was sent to those who had signed up for text message announcements first.  He later used this database of mobile phone numbers to ask for $5 donations to the Red Cross.
  5. Allow donations to be given online in small increments of the donor’s choosing.  This is a duh, but with some many young people interested in participating, you must allow for as little as $5 donations at a time.  As they grow, so will their donations if they have already established a relationship with your organization.

While I am not the expert on this topic, I have an interest in helping organizations that give back, so I am trying learning more.  They are several books on the market now that I will be checking out.  The two I am looking to read next are People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities and Digital Giving: How Technology is Changing Charity.  In Blake Mycoskie’s presentation, he specifically mentioned Bill Clinton’s Giving as a starting place for those that want to contribute.  I am ashamed to admit that I bought Giving a year and a half ago, yet neglected to read it until today.  Even more shameful is that I gave this book as gifts to all my friends two Christmases ago, without having read it myself. The combination of hearing the TOMS Shoes story and reading Giving have inspired me to give more and I hope to use this space to help those that want to change the world for the better.

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Link to book on Amazon