Upvote: How Reddit is Helping to Mobilize a Day of Community Service in PhillyBy Kate McGovern |
When a website challenged its users around the world to spend a day volunteering in their communities, they answered the call. And its story may have some lessons in volunteer retention for nonprofits.
Reddit, an online community where readers post and vote on content, discovered that users were getting together offline to have a beer, play a board game or see a movie. “We have local subreddits for almost every city in the world; the particularly active ones meet up offline quite a bit,” said Erik Martin, Reddit’s general manager. The get-togethers had nothing to do with the website, but that common interest was enough to keep people coming back to these “meetups” on a regular basis.
Hoping to give the less-active communities an extra push, Reddit began promoting “global meetups,” during which all the local groups would get together at the same time. “All we do is pick a day and help word spread,” Martin said.
Then, when users began clamoring for even more Reddit-promoted meetups, the company decided to issue a call for something more altruistic — and it worked.
On Saturday, users around the world will get together with other local users and spend a day volunteering in their respective communities as part of Reddit’s “dedicated day of service.” The individual subreddits each chose their own project.
“We said let’s pick a day, promote it and give communities free [reign] to make the decision that makes the most sense for them,” said Martin. And they’ve gone in “directions we never would have thought of.” Houston is having a fundraising concert; Seattle is cleaning up a lake, he said. “We left it pretty open on purpose so people could interpret it however they chose.”
The Philadelphia subreddit decided to hold a community service “scavenger hunt.” Users will complete as many tasks as possible by Saturday afternoon; the list includes activities such as playing with animals at a shelter, cleaning up litter, and donating items to a homeless shelter. Participants will then convene in Franklin Square to tally up their scores and share a meal.
Saturday is the first day of service, but according to Martin, Reddit will “probably do a big global one once or twice a year, depending on how it goes and what the communities want.”
Why “meetups” work
The company is leveraging the fact that it has a large audience who all have something in common — the use of Reddit — to encourage offline get-togethers and volunteerism.
Even though that common interest has nothing to do with happy hours or community service, Reddit is the glue that holds them together. “The key to getting people out is to find just one, even very small, thing they have in common,” Martin said. And newly formed friendships are what keep them coming back.
“[F]or a nonprofit, the same thing can be true,” said Martin. “It’s not just about getting people together to focus on an issue for three hours on a Tuesday night. That’s important but it’s not what’s going to get people out one night a week. What’s going to get people out is friends and meeting people and having a good time.”
Nonprofits also should consider targeting new residents as volunteers. Reddit has found that many of those who attend meetups regularly are new to their cities and looking to make new friends — and they’re willing to find them through community service.
“A lot of people in these local subreddits are new to a city or area,” Martin said. “A lot of our audience is fairly young and have moved to cities for jobs or for school. These people have more of a desire to go and use Reddit and other online tools as a basis to meet new people in their new town. I think that it’s harder to … find the right volunteer or service opportunity if you’re new to an area so I hope [the dedicated day of service] helps people to find that.”
If nonprofits can aid volunteers in finding common ground and becoming friends — especially people new to your city — “that’s a pretty amazing thing,” Martin said, and it will likely result in reduced volunteer turnover.
But if you’re thinking about jumping on the Reddit bandwagon, use caution. Martin says that while local subreddits may be receptive to hearing about events from local nonprofits, he advises against just signing up and engaging in self-promotion. “It’s not like Twitter and Facebook where you can just send out your messages,” he said. “Reddit can be a place to help drive activism locally […] but listen for a month, and get a feel for … the appropriate channels and ways to let people know.”blog comments powered by Disqus