Everyone buzzes about social networking, so much so that it's become the new buzzword that verges on the annoying. Remember synergy? Anyway, sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and the rest have become the primary way some people communicate. That's a good thing. It's great to be able to trade a casual comment with someone you went to high school with, and have an online discussion as though you just saw each other yesterday. I love talking to my childhood friends' parents, whom I haven't seen in 20 years. Facebook in particular is great for remembering the person you talked to at a party when you'd both run out of cards (or in my case just hadn't printed any) and want to get in touch.
Beyond the social aspect, there's business being done too. When I was laid off earlier this year, the initial contact for my new gig with luxury consignment company Second Time Around came via Facebook -- it's the way to find people when you don't have their number. When it's someone in the creative field who has a portfolio or a design studio, they have a built in audience with the newsfeed for their work. As many celebrities, corporate entities and PR firms have pages too, it's a way to redefine guerrilla marketing, although as site owners figure this out it may one day come at a cost.
So people are reconnecting and entrepreneurs are being more proactive. There are opportunities for charities too. It's no secret that my husband Simon and I do quite a bit of charity outreach. Typically we support causes we believe in, or research for diseases that have affected members of our family. This week, I became involved in a kamikaze fundraising project for a school that one of our children attends, and we harnessed social networking to help us.
With budget cuts being made left, right and center, schools are forced to make hard choices. At this school there's a long tradition of hiring outside artists to come in and do residencies. A chess master comes to teach the kids how to play, improving their concentration and math skills. A dance instructor is brought in every day for a week to begin a program and train the teachers, who then continue the unit throughout the term. Exposure to opera, foreign languages and so much more really enriches the educational experience of the children. It's also not free. What do you do when a big chunk of money just goes away?
When budgets get cut, you panic and wonder how you're going to keep everything together. The last thing you want is to tell the kids they can't play chess next year, or the instructor that they are losing a client. It's also unfair to ask any one person to shoulder the burden, particularly when the numbers needed are in the thousands.
A web designer friend and fellow parent had a great idea. She created a site called 5days4arts.org, and we ran a five-day program of online fundraising. She filmed each specialist with a camera from a film editor parent who also helped cut the pieces together with slideshows of still photos I shot. Each day a different program was highlighted, with a price tag. IE: "This program costs $10,000; please help us keep it." She added a big donation button. Her husband, the school webmaster, emailed every parent about it. We asked every parent to update their Facebook status about it so that friends and family members would see it. Remember reconnecting with distant family and friends? Facebook and Twitter are the new way to get your relatives on board to help out the school. Instead of cold-calling your cousin Bob to buy cookies or magazines for the PTA, you can Tweet it. You can link it, and your newsfeed will be seen by those who love your children.
I'm pleased to say that as of today, 5days4arts.org has raised over $20,000 in less than a week. We're halfway there, and it looks like we'll be able to keep the programs in place. To all of you PTA presidents and parents out there who are worrying about budget cuts in your schools, I am here to tell you: go forth and get online!