Social networks and philanthropy

For the past 18 months, I have been an active participant on Twitter and Facebook. Some view this as "who cares what you had for dinner" or "what's the big deal about tracking every moment of your day . . . who cares!". What I have found is that over time good stories emerge, people become real and approachable and connections are made.

Much is being written about social media and trainings, webinairs, seminars promise that entering these networks will bring customers and increased interest to businesses and organizations and even perhaps enhance your own life. We'll see how all this transpires. I can remember a time when web portals, having a "presence" on the internet, and such things were the hot topics. The fact remains, things change at lightning speeds. You have to keep up, all the tech savvy folks proclaim, or you will be left behind.

Will books be the thing of the past in a few years as digital products are introduced? I'm sure GRCF board chair Cecile Fehsenfeld, co-owner of Schuler's Books, along with her husband Bill are tracking this carefully and have developed long term strategies to stay in the loop! Will philanthropy take off in the cyber world as was predicted nearly a decade ago? Will our lives become more focused on relationships only accessed on our iPhones and other devices?

A great deal to ponder! One thing I'm really pleased about locally though is the interest many people who are connecting through social media networks who have a clear charitable perspective. A few weeks ago I wrote about the obsession to attract people who are under the age of 40 seemingly at the expense of those of us who are a bit north of 50 years old. However, the up and coming generations do seem to be very committed to Grand Rapids and giving of themselves for various causes.

What I'm noticing is that as gatherings are put together quickly communicated through Twitter, Facebook or other networks, that in addition to connecting and having fun, a philanthropic aspect is often included. And many of these events are being planned by people who are in their 20's, 30's and early 40's! While munching on delectable food at the Turkey Throwdown which took place prior to Thanksgiving, a collection was underway for warm accessories to help the homeless and others who are suffering through the recession. This particular activity was promoted almost exclusively on Twitter. No TV - no newspaper - no radio ads or announcements.

A huge event took place this past Friday to celebrate the 40th birthday of local chef and frequent TV show guest Tommy Fitzgerald. Tommy has a magnetic personality that lights up any room and makes all in his presence just smile, laugh and feel good. PLUS eating his delicious food. Weeks ago he started to promote the "Juiceball" held at the J.W. Marriott Hotel which pulled out all the stops in making this an event that was not only a "seen and be seen" event, but attractive in terms of cost while helping a local organization shine in the spotlight as well. Most of this was communicated on Twitter and Facebook.

A blog entry by Todd Ernst chronicled the success of this event and why Tommy used the celebration of this milestone birthday to bring awareness to the Kid's Food Basket and raise needed dollars for juiceboxes and other food items. More information on KFB can be find here and is run by Bridget Clark Whitney a leader in her 20's who has been lauded locally and beyond for her skills, talent and passion.

Tommy could have had a birthday party without the charitable purpose and all would have had a great time. The Turkey Throwdown could have happened and old and new friends could have enjoyed a meal together and connections made without giving back to people in need. However, as the next generations are coming up, I find that a strong giving spirit prevails, a more inclusive pattern emerging and an increase in civic engagement.

Is this different than in previous generations after all we have had "events" for decades to promote charitable causes and organizations? It does seem to be more inclusive and seems that people want to actually attend these events and not view them as another obligation. And it appears as if the purpose behind the organizations is embraced. In other words it isn't just about the organization but the reason that created these organizations. As in the case of the trends noted regarding the cyber world, we'll see. But I couldn't be more pleased and hopeful. Keep it going!