The story began Aug. 11, when Jenni Ware of Redwood City lost her wallet at Trader Joe's, and a woman standing behind her in line — Carolee Hazard of Menlo Park — offered to pay the stranger's $207 grocery bill. The two exchanged addresses. Ware found her wallet later that day and repaid her grocery "angel" $300 - with $93 extra to perhaps get a massage.The result for Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, where it all began? Nearly $10,000 raised for Silicon Valley's hungry in a week — the most raised in such a short period of time, according to the food bank.
But Hazard asked her Facebook community what her friends would do with the bonus amount. Swift electronic responses urged Hazard to give the money to charity - the local food bank, since the act of kindness began in a grocery store.
Hazard, a green activist and former Genentech biochemist, loved the idea, and she not only sent in the $93 that Ware had given her as a "thank you," but matched that amount herself. So did a Facebook friend. And another. And another. Kids have pitched in 93 cents. And since the story has been pushed out on Facebook's own site, others are donating what they can, too, even $9.30.
Hazard has since started the "93 Dollar Club" on Facebook, where people across the globe can easily read the story and comment on the good karma phenomenon. There are links on that page where people may donate to their own food banks close to them. And commenters say they are reading - and giving - from Iran, Israel, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Australia, Hungary, Sri Lanka and beyond.
So, yes, it is quite possible to raise large amounts of money using social networking sites. This is not the only such success story I have come across, and they come from Facebook, from Twitter, MySpace, and beyond. But - and it's a huge but - the secret to nearly each of the success stories I have read is giving up control.
An old expression about good press coverage is that it's like "advertising you can't buy." Well, good viral fundraising is pretty much the same. To be truly "viral" it has to come from your supporters, not your staff, and it has to come on their schedule, not yours, and it has to be their ideas.
Now, that doesn't mean you should be doing absolutely nothing. You should be setting up your Facebook fan page and cause page, and have a Twitter account, and each should be linked and pushing content to your official web site (well-equipped with donation buttons).
Start using these tools as extensions of your current campaigns and to bring in new donors who prefer electronic methods of communication and participation. But don't expect dollar miracles overnight. The magic comes when one of your supporters (or potential supporters) has a "grocery angel" experience of their own and decides to launch their own campaign.
When they do, you'll want to be ready, and easy to find, with an established online presence that they can point to. Because, if you're not online, in place, and ready to receive those donations, another organization will be.
Visit the $93 Club on Facebook (may require Facebook login)