Social Networking Pitches in

Facebook Causes just received the official international stamp of approval.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees joined an online charity initiative at Facebook last week, agreeing to help raise money to provide shelter for the uprooted in Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan.

The campaign offers those who join a chance to buy a virtual tent for $10 or a $5 gift token, which will ultimately translate into shelter aid in the field.

"If 20 friends buy a virtual tent, they will raise enough funds for a refugee family to live in a real tent," said UNHCR Senior External Relations Officer Claudia Gonzalez-Gisiger. "That's the power of online social networking."

The "Gimme Shelter" campaign, complete with a video directed by Ben Affleck, is just one of dozens of international causes available at the wildly popular social networking site Facebook (200 million users and counting).

But it's not only Facebook that's helping build a better world. Twitter has jumped into the mix as well. A couple months ago, for instance, cities across the world held "Twestivals," in which people who Twitter got together for a good cause and raised over $250,000 for Charity Water. The first well from Twitter money was dug this week.

Now we know that it works, you may want to start up a campaign of your own. A few tips to keep in mind:

  • Create a new account for your cause, as distinct from your personal account, make it professional and obviously charitable. Note that Facebook causes require 501c(3) nonprofit status.

  • Send an invitation to your followers and friends.

  • Try to attract the backing of a foundation, nonprofit or another Facebook cause.

  • Search Twitter and Facebook for people near you who may be interested in your cause, and invite them to an awareness or fundraising event.

Beyond that, it's up to you to keep people informed and excited about your efforts.

About the author

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    David Lepeska

    David has served as U.N. correspondent for the newswire UPI and reported for several major newspapers, including the New York Daily News and Newsday. He was chief correspondent for the Kashmir Observer in Srinagar, India, and regularly contributes to the Economist, among other publications. Since 2007, David has reported for Devex News from Washington, New York, as well as South Asia.