Right now, I’m sitting in a hotel room connected to the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia. The red glow of the giant “CNN logo” across my room seeps through the drapes and into the room. My journey to help the poor in Bangladesh seems to be taking me everywhere… everywhere except Bangladesh.
I’m spending so much time away from my passion – not because I like time off, but because convincing charities to team up with me seems to be an uphill battle. Imagine my surprise, when I found someone here in Atlanta who felt the same way as I do. Her name is Beth Kanter.
Beth was holding a seminar on how non-profits should use social media. I was in awe, captivated, and nodding to her every word. Then she started talking about how charities are like fortresses when it comes to opening up to social media & online communities – and I couldn’t help but stand up and speak out.
Beth handed me a mic, I stood up, and – as if taking a weight off my chest – told the crowd full of non-profits & charity employees and directors: “the problem isn’t social media, the problem is that YOU are the fortress”. That got their attention.
“I’m coming from the opposite perspective,” I continued. “Social media is not my problem: I have over a quarter million followers on Twitter, 10,800 subscribers on YouTube, and 2.1 million views. Yet, despite that, I have a hard time having you guys take me seriously”.
I then turned to a lady in the front row. A lady by the name of Wendy Harman of the American Red Cross. Earlier in the seminar, Beth was praising Wendy’s admirable work for “breaking the fortress” at the Red Cross and for embracing social media for it’s operations with the Haiti earthquake.
While Wendy’s work is admirable, I had my own Red Cross story to share. “We need to talk” I told Wendy. “When the Haiti earthquake struck, I contacted the Red Cross. I offered to connect the community supporting my work with your efforts in Haiti. But I was dismissed as ‘just a guy on YouTube'”.
Taking a glance at Beth, I could see my time at the mic was coming to a close. “I know you have to move on in this seminar – but I want to give you two quick stories.” I pleaded. “Basically, whenever any charity does give me an inch – and does open their doors and doesn’t act like a fortress, amazing things happen”.
I told the story of how the Los Angeles Food Bank opened their doors for me. How I was able to not just donate thousands of dollars, but was also able to make a video on my YouTube channel that was seen over 300,000 times on YouTube. The story of my work with the Los Angeles Food Bank was also featured on CNN.
I told the story of how Save the Children, although a far more “fortress-like” charity, gave me the opportunity for me to help them with the Cyclone Sidr & Cyclone Aila relief operations. The results? More people learn about Save the Children through my videos than any other online video source on the internet.
I’ve struggled for the past 3 years and have consistently proven that – if a charity out there gives me an inch – I can do amazing things for them. Yet, despite that, to this very day and to this very night – no global development-centric charity has concretely agreed to team up with me in a consistent and sustained manner.
Why? Because they are a fortress. There’s no other way to put it. They would rather be a fortress than help more people, engage more supporters, or be a leader in a newly emerging form of interaction. A form of interaction that’s not going away, that’s not a fad, and is the future.
My time had ran out. Beth took the mic back. And the discussion continued to how the UN Foundation got great online exposure by bringing some American Idol celebrities to Haiti. I facepalmed and tried to grab the mic again (because I have thoughts on that too) – but there wasn’t enough time.
But, even if I had more time, I don’t know how long it takes to break a fortress.