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Nonprofit Spotlight: The International Rescue Committee
Posted on March 4th 2013
The International Rescue Committee turns 80 this year, but they wield social media tools as deftly as organizations a tenth their age might. This is due in large part to the efforts of their online community builder, Ruth Fertig. An award-winning documentarian, Fertig made the transition to nonprofit communications when she realized that social media and documentaries, “…are all just storytelling. A 140-character tweet can tell the same story as a two-hour documentary.”
It was this storytelling that led to Fertig working with the IRC more than being naturally adept at social media. She described her process for growing into her role: “First, I had to learn the platforms and how they functioned. Second, I had to start broadcasting our messages. And third, I had to listen to what’s coming back and then respond.” She feels the biggest value of social media is when it’s a two-way dialogue. “When it becomes a conversation,” she said, “There are opportunities there that are really rich.”
One such opportunity came on October 11, 2012, when the UN marked the first “Day of the Girl Child”. Three months prior, South Sudan had been created from Sudan, an area where the IRC had been working for over 20 years. To mark both historic occasions, Fertig and the IRC came up with the idea to ask, “What’s it like to be a girl in the world’s newest country?” First asking their supporters on Facebook and Twitter, they then took the questions to girls living in South Sudan. The girls were asked questions ranging from, “What are your favorite foods?” to “What are your hopes for your country in the next 5-10 years?” South Sudanese supplied answers to local IRC staff, who then shared them with the rest world.
Fertig said this in particular was an especially successful program because, when asked, the IRC’s supporters said, “They want to hear directly from the people we’re serving. They want to be shown impact (from) the IRC programs.” Another well-received program was their New Roots initiative. In New Roots, refugees the IRC helps bring to the U.S. are given the support they need to create community gardens, agricultural business, and other related projects that draw from their agricultural expertise learned from their original countries to literally put down “new roots”. Primarily using Pinterest as their way to share content, the IRC relies on the intersection of both supporters and foodies who can see the content they share and become more aware of the IRC’s work.
Fertig finds that visual content like that and their popular pictograms do well because, “(they) lend themselves to social media because they’re visual.” And while the awareness sharing content affords is crucial, Fertig also said, “We received almost four times as much in donations referred via Facebook in 2012 as in 2010,” as well as 2.5 times as many individual donors. Which can be taken as proof that, as Fertig put it, “What works best for a nonprofit that’s active in social media is expressing passion. By doing that, and being authentic about it, they can connect with their supporters.”