Followers and Philanthropy: Harnessing the Power of Social Media

You jump on Facebook and mindlessly scroll down; you see a fundraiser or charity trying to do good – do you take action or scroll right by? What makes you stop, think twice, and take action? Is it the catchy graphic? The well thought out headline? Or maybe it was because it was posted by someone you admire?

Why bother helping at all? The short answer? Because it makes you feel good. From my personal experience, people want to help, it’s in our nature, but we want to be able to do it easily and without too much effort. We want to do our part and feel good doing it. 

Today I will bring you through my journey of The Women Helping Women Purse Project and how social media took a good idea, a way of helping those in need, and brought it to a level I never could have imagined. 

Let me take you back to October 2015. I was sitting in my new apartment scrolling through Facebook, probably not even reading the status updates as I scrolled on, until this picture and headline stopped me dead in my tracks, What It’s Like to Get Your Period When You’re Homeless (Moore, 2015, p. 1), and the picture? A young girl in a hoodie sitting on concrete steps, slightly keeled over, from what I can only assume was pain from period cramps. I clicked on the link and begin to read about how difficult it is for homeless women in the United States to access sanitary products. I was shook. 

Not long after reading this article, I shut everything down and went to bed, but my brain wouldn’t shut down. I could not stop thinking about these women, and women in our very own communities who were likely facing the same problem. I work for the church, and we oversee a few shelters and day programs, I know women in our communities weren’t likely facing these challenges, they were facing these challenges. 

The next morning came, and off I went to work, still thinking about this article. The next time I logged onto Facebook, like a message from a Higher Power, someone had posted the idea of filling purses with things for homeless women and keeping the purse in your car to hand out next time you crossed paths with one (Nnamdi, 2015) – not the first time I had seen this idea, but certainly something I needed to see in this exact moment.

So launched The Women Helping Women Purse ProjectThe idea sparked and I quickly got busy making a poster, asking people to fill purses with feminine hygiene products and get them to me to bring to the local women’s shelters in Ottawa. I emailed the poster out to women in my life, and posted it on my personal Facebook page, with a goal of donating 50 purses by Christmas. 

Source: Danson, 2015

The idea was great! I made a purse, my mom made a purse, my close friends made purses, and within a week and a half I already had 10 purses! I thought this was wonderful, for sure I was going to make my goal of 50 purses by Christmas. 

As someone who believes in philanthropy, I was also volunteering with a youth program with the Ottawa Police. I guess I should have known that word of my project would quickly spread. But I never expected it to spread like the wildfire it did. One day, I got 25 purses from one department! But even better than that, I found a partner who believed in this cause just as much as I did. 

My new partner Sylvie and I met, discussed the goal of the project, made a public Facebook page, and almost overnight the goal of 50 purses, became 500. We opened drop off points around the city, our Facebook page likes, and shares were growing at rapid speeds. Our Facebook posts were even being shared by The Ottawa Police Facebook page, and the Ottawa Police Chef was tweeting about us on Twitter. Our project was being shared and re-shared faster than we could follow. We started getting picked up by the local media – articles were being written about us, and those were being shared too. With the increased presence on social media, we continued to increase our goal, to 1000, to 1500, to 2000, we thought for a minute, did we get in over our heads? Finally, we stopped putting a number to it, and just focused on doing good and raising awareness. Access to feminine hygiene products was now on people’s radars – let’s make the most of this opportunity!

Over the course of about two months, we collected and sorted purses, spoke out about the issue of access to feminine hygiene products, contacted shelters, drove countless kilometres picking up purses, and updated our ever-growing Facebook page daily. We were also being contacted by people across North America about how they could start this project in their towns. Still today, our Facebook page has a following of over 900 followers. (Women Helping Women Purse Project, 2020).

The Piles of Purses: On December 17, we loaded up a donated van and police cruisers with purses and started making our rounds to countless shelters around Ottawa. On that day, we closed out the Purse Project for 2015, donating well over 3000 purses to women in need, and additional boxes of supplies to shelters around Ottawa. (Reaney/Women Helping Women Purse Project, 2015).

Source: Fisher, S. & CBC News Ottawa

The Following Years: While emotionally the 2015 Purse Project feels like it was our biggest success, we cannot forget our future campaigns either. Each June we held a much smaller version of the campaign focusing on just the products. In the Falls of 2017 and 2018 we held additional large campaigns; they were all equally successful. The rest of year, when these campaigns were not happening, we continued to focus on raising awareness, and asking people to take donations directly to shelters as feminine hygiene products are needed year-round. In 2019 Sylvie had retired from the Ottawa Police Service, and I had taken on new opportunities; we decided it was time to pass the torch and leave the Purse Project to the Ottawa Community. While each campaign was very successful and the rush of running the campaigns were just as euphoric, nothing will compare to the Fall of 2015 when we launched it all.

Why were we successful? Some might say it is because we had a great cause, positive personalities, and we knew a large network of people. While all those reasons are certainly true, I think we can credit a lot of the success to our access to social media, and how easy we made it to donate. Though we had existing connections to many of these people, we never would have been able to bring them all together without the use of social media platforms.

Do you know any women who do not have a closet full of unused purses, and a drawer overflowing with extra feminine products? I sure don’t! We used social media to put the call out: 

✅ Fill up a Purse 

✅ Drop it off

✅ Feel Good!  

We also asked people share our status updates or pictures of themselves filling a purse. What do people love doing on Facebook? Sharing a status of themselves doing good, which all leads back to the success of our project! Yes, you have to leave your house, but you do not need to drive downtown, go to a shelter, schedule a drop off, or financially commit at all (most of these products can already be found in your own home). 

We were not a registered charity, we had no paid staff, we had no formal social media training, and we used our vacation days, evenings, and weekends to manage our cause. We were two women, with a great idea, and access to a free platform that made it possible to reach out to an entire community that supported this cause. We used every networking chance and opportunity we were offered, and one purse at a time, we gave these women not only life necessities, but hope. (Danson/Women Helping Women Purse Project, 2018).

Do you think we would have reached our goals and created so much awareness without the help of social media? What causes do you support and did their social media encourage you to give or help? Tell us about your philanthropic experiences in the comments below!

Sources:

Danson, H. (2015, October 16) Personal Initiative [Facebook Status] Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/heidi.danson/posts/10153082640756965

Danson, H./Women Helping Women Purse Project Facebook Page (2018, December) Today has been a wonderful day of picking up donations and bringing them the shelters. [Facebook Status] Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/WHWPP/photos/a.1079066235437383/2214616885215640/?type=3

Fisher, S. (Reporter), &  CBC News Ottawa (Producer). (2015, December 17). Purse Project Distributions. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/WHWPP/videos/1090000917677248/

Moore, L. (2015, October 13). What it’s like to get your period when you’re homeless. Cosmopolitan. Retrieved from https://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/news/a47596/what-its-like-to-get-your-period-when-youre-homeless/)  

Nnamdi, N. (2015, October 13). Got a purse that you don’t use at home. [Facebook status], Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/nneka.nnamdi.7/posts/10208207868781061

Reaney, S./Women Helping Women Purse Project Facebook Page (2015, December) Woohooo!! 3000+ [Facebook Status] Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/WHWPP/posts/1090308704313136

Women Helping Women Purse Project Facebook Page (2020, June) Personal Initiative [Facebook Page] Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/pg/WHWPP/

Promotion

Facebook: Have a great cause, but unsure how to use social media to your advantage? Read about my experience here: https://bit.ly/3gJ1Sd1

Twitter: Read about how to harness social media for philanthropic efforts:  https://bit.ly/3gJ1Sd1 #Philanthropy #MyExperience

11 thoughts on “Followers and Philanthropy: Harnessing the Power of Social Media

  1. This was you? Wow! I love this cause and it was so good to hear how it started. I feel very much that the best of our ideas come from compassion. As a big believer in philanthropy myself, I love this post! My friend and I had a similar experience with regards to losing sleep over the ongoing racism crisis, and have started a few petitions online, and signed, donated to others. Absolutely social media is essential for creating awareness in ways people can help! Really informative, I definitely feel inspired to continue finding creative ways to help!

    • Thanks for your kind words! I am really glad you enjoyed this post.
      As much as we all hate to loose sleep, I find it is helpful in us finding a way to help make a change. When you can’t stop thinking about it, action usually occurs! Thanks to social media, it is easier than ever to make a change!

  2. This is such am amazing initiative. I think it is great that this kind of thing can be done through media platforms. If you had only sent out flyers or reached out in more traditional means it may have reached lots of people but probably would have taken more time. The ability to have people share your project at a click of a button is fantastic. Also, it allows for people to see the idea and start up a version for their own community. Keep up the good work!

    • I completely agree with your words! It’s hard to believe that posters and word of mouth was how most causes used to be supported, but I suppose that’s why local support was so much stronger, and now we can see global support in our causes so quickly. I think we should all be thankful for how easy social media has made it to support the causes we believe the most in!

  3. Wow! What a wonderful project!
    I think you are completely correct about the fantastic impact of social media on raising awareness and getting information to people about projects and how they can help. Thank you for posting about this, it is a wonderful initiative, I’m glad to have read about it.

    • Thank you for reading my blog and for your nice words. It is really amazing what social media can do for us, and our causes!

  4. WOW! This is awesome! I did remember seeing the purse project on the news back in 2015! I cannot believe that was you! Way to go! Philanthropy can really achieve some amazing things. You found yourself in a position to do a lot of good because the problem nagged at you! Seeing action on this kind of scale is awesome! Well done!

    • Thank you so much for your encouraging words. The whole experience was really surreal. I hope the Purse Project inspires others to do good when they find a cause that keeps them up at night too!

  5. Pingback: COM0014 – Blog #6: Do People Know Your Story? – Algonquin College Social Media Certificate Program

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