03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

This Season, Holiday Giving is Online

Bell-ringing Salvation Army volunteers are always a telltale sign of the holiday season, and although they certainly still have their place, this year holiday giving has turned to a new outlet: social media.


Organizations such as the United Way, Salvation Army and the American Red Cross are using Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to reach younger volunteers and donors.

Facebook fans of the Salvation Army can create virtual kettles on their pages and ask their friends to make donations without ever visiting a real storefront kettle. The United Way and Red Cross are tweeting their latest news of families helped and fund drives launched.

No one can yet say whether the new social media approaches are effective ways to raise money, but that's the goal, charities say. "We're hoping to get this new audience, and we hope in the end there is a fundraising component with it," said Amrit Dhillon, communications director for the United Way of Central Maryland.

But for organizations that seek out donations online via social media channels, there are plenty of success stories. Take Passports With Purpose, a campaign to raise funds to build a school in Cambodia. Having already reached their goal of $13,000 thanks to many efforts on blogs, Facebook and in the Twitter-verse, the initiative's co-founders upped the stakes and doubled the donation goal to $26,000, which will help to cover costs like providing a school nurse and building a garden.

Matador Network is raising money for the Brave New Travelers Youth Scholarship Fund, which will send as many as 15 inner city students abroad for the first time. Knowing that not everyone that wants to give has an extra pile of cash lying around, they allow donations to be as little as $1 and Matador Network has already raised 10 percent of its total goal.

International charity organizations are also seeing the benefits, like charity: water. The organization has a whole section of their website devoted to Twitter backgrounds that users can download and put on their Twitter pages to help spread the word as well as facts about water on the micro-blogging network. At the beginning of this year charity: water also hosted a Twestival (Twitter + festival) to bring communities from all over the world together. The result? They raised $250,000. Is social media a helpful tool for nonprofits and charities? Most definitely!

But why are social media tools so helpful to causes like these? Because it helps spread the word, quickly and efficiently, without the need for large investments in labor time or printing and sending out letters asking for annual donations.

"I'm a huge fan of Twitter for instant concise communication and it's been a great place for people to ask us, "How can I help?" It's not the be-all end-all, but it's an excellent place to initiate conversation and to help spread the word," says Passports With Purpose co-founder Pam Mandel.

Now all you have to do is go decide which of the many online holiday campaigns to donate to!

This post has been cross-posted from Under Solen Media's blog.