It's MySpace, my charity, your money

March 04, 2007 -- Reid Sexton ONLINE networking site MySpace is revolutionizing the way Melbourne's small charities take on their better-known rivals.

Grass-roots organizations and those without ready-made markets beyond small communities are increasingly using the site to raise their profiles and gather information on potential donors, with successful results.

MySpace allows users to create online profiles which include personal information and which can be linked and displayed on other profiles by mutual agreement.

By creating their own biographies, charities immediately gain access to an unlimited amount of potential ''friends", a list of their interests and a forum in which the charity can be discussed and promoted by links throughout the network.

While the cost of such advertising and market research would have been too high for many charities a few years ago, the free membership offered by the site makes it ideal for those without corporate sponsorship or paid staff.

Edmund Rice Camps, which takes disadvantaged children on holiday, established a MySpace profile last year and has more than 500 friends.

Committee member Gerard Healy said the site and its electronic messaging system had changed the way the committee raised public awareness of fund-raising events.

"We can't afford expensive direct marketing," he said. "MySpace allows us to specifically target a market based on individuals' interests, something that would have been impossible five years ago.

"Before our last fund-raiser, we sent unique messages to people who had linked themselves to our site emphasizing aspects of the event which matched the interests on their profile. By aligning ourselves with other profiles we have seen more people expressing an interest in us which will ultimately equate to greater revenue."

Mr Healy said it was hoped that by having the charity's profile displayed on other profiles it would go "viral".

"Because we are a charity people are quite happy to display us on their profile," he said.

"The more people who display it, the more people see it and hopefully it might become viral if enough people add it to their own profile.

"It is some way off but the plan is to raise our profile to that of more-established charities through this."

Another not-for-profit organization using MySpace is OrphFund, which has volunteers in Melbourne and in Bristol in Britain.

The charity reported a 30 per cent jump in attendance at a recent event at a Brunswick bar to raise funds for a new orphanage in Tibet, something fund-raiser Miffy Wood attributes solely to the new community they have created online.

"While we still use group emails and SMS to advertise our events, they are quite random and faceless," she said. "There's no immediate interaction. You really can't see who else is involved just from reading an email.

"But when you are sent a message on MySpace you can click on the site and check out who else is involved in that particular project. It creates more of a community. And you're not scamming people, only (contacting) people who are interested."

She said it was not surprising small charities were turning to MySpace: "The latest way people communicate changes all the time … if you're not up with what's going on then you're not going to get your message out."

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