A Swabbing Photo is Worth 668 Words

I don’t know Nevin very well. We are friends on Twitter and Facebook and I’ve read her posts on Tumblr, but we’ve never met face to face. She’s a wonderful person – smart, funny and warm, and because of her influence, I some day might be able to help save someone’s life. She’s the person who introduced me to the need for donating bone marrow. Because of her, I’ve signed up for the National Marrow Donor Program on Be the Match. I’m not the only one. Nevin shared her story and her need for a bone marrow transplant on the blogging site Tumblr and a significant number of people were moved to sign up with the registry.

Nevin’s story brings to light how Social Media has the ability to transform the way nonprofits and individuals can interact with donors and volunteers. Traditionally, these sources inundate us with communication that tells us that one person can make a difference. One person can make the world a better place. One person can save a life.

But we easily get lost in the numbers. The sheer number of requests and amount of time or money needed often removes the immediacy of need from the impact. We donate food at Thanksgiving and buy gifts for families at Christmas. We donate to victims of natural disasters. We are moved to act by stories of pain and suffering. Then once the cause drifts from the public eye, we don’t think about it again until the next news cycle or the next postcard in the mailbox. With social media, there’s immediacy to helping and an opportunity to keep the success stories fresh in the mind of people who’ve expressed interest in a cause.

After Nevin’s Tumblr post about her situation, people stepped up to be tested as potential bone marrow matches. What’s interesting is people didn’t just sign up for Be the Match. After completing their sign up packet, they posted pictures of their registration, or more comically, photos from swabbing their mouth for their sample. Every few days, there would be another picture and post to Tumblr of a new person signing up. So instead of reading a compelling post and maybe acting on it, or forgetting a day later, active Tumblr users were getting a weekly or sometimes a daily reminder of the importance of donating bone marrow.

Angela Helga shows off her Be The Match paperwork for Tumblr

Angela Helga, another person I’ve never met but am pleased to call a friend, responded to me when I reached out to ask people about the relationship with Tumblr and the National Marrow Donor Program. She said, “When she [Nevin] decided to use Tumblr as a forum to educate people about donating bone marrow, I thought it was so wonderful that a group of random internet people jumped right on it and registered.” Not only did they jump right on it, but people continued to sign up and continued to post their photos and messages on Tumblr. With a few minutes of effort, it becomes easy to keep the message alive and not contingent on a quarterly marketing cycle.

The ongoing immediacy of the interactions on Tumblr illustrates the value for nonprofits to be engaged with social media in a variety of ways. While the National Donor Program organization isn’t the one driving this on Tumblr, Nevin’s one post has helped to jump start a successful social media donor campaign.

One emotional and important story and some simple pictures posted on a blog site have created a compelling reminder that one person can do good. That one person can make a difference and save a life. This example stops the traditional cycle of marketing and allows for an ongoing message. In this situation we have a typical sense of urgency about how we can help, but it transcends the holiday stories or the quarterly mailer.

And that’s a great thing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just got my kit in the mail. I need to fill it out and post my picture to Tumblr.

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