Hear the Cheers!

Strategic Social Media and Fundraising

A Little Background

For several years, I served as the Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications at Chicago Hearing Society. While the Director of Marketing & Communications handled most of the print and traditional media needs, I was charged with most of the digital needs of the organization, including handling all the social media channels. During a span of just two weeks in 2013, I ran a digital fundraising campaign that raised a little over $20,000. Here’s how it happened. And more importantly, why it was so successful.

Sarah and Eliza. Photo courtesy of www.sarahspain.com

One day in 2013 Sarah Spain, an ESPNW sportscaster contacted the organization out of the blue to ask about partnering to fundraise money for young female athletes in need of hearing aids. It turns out that Sarah had been mentoring Eliza Peters, a young girl who had a hearing disability. The two of them signed up for a fundraising challenge but had no organization to work with. After deciding to raise money for young female athletes with hearing disabilities, Sarah found Chicago Hearing Society from a simple Google search.

When Sarah and Eliza came to us, they had a goal, a campaign name, a due date, and a desire to help. With zero budget and not much time, we decided to create a digital donation campaign. True to the digital world, our meetings were online and through email as we fleshed out the idea and got to work.

Hear the Cheers!

The Hear the Cheers! campaign itself was quite simple. I created a campaign landing page on Chicago Hearing Society’s website and a started an editorial calendar, which is an invaluable tool for planning any social media campaign (Charest, Bouffard, & Zajmovic, 2016). Facebook posts were made several times a week and Twitter posts were made multiple times a day from Chicago Hearing Society, Sarah Spain, and Eliza’s family members. Sarah Spain’s social media presence was a boon to Chicago Hearing Society. It exposed the organization to thousands of people with every post. Several emails sent to Chicago Hearing Society’s established email lists supplemented the social media posts and engaged the organization’s current donors.

Two key factors combined to make Hear the Cheers a success. Sarah Spain’s social media reach and Chicago Hearing Society’s digital resources.

Using Twitter to create dialogs works better than trying to create the same conversations on websites (Lovejoy & Saxton, 2012). In other words, we were able to get people talking about Hear the Cheers more easily when engaging with them on Twitter rather than passively waiting for them to come to the website. Further, the campaign had a built-in influencer. Leaning on Sarah Spain’s extensive following on Twitter (160K followers as of today) and Facebook allowed Chicago Hearing Society to have vastly more conversations than we would have been able to using only the organization’s website and social media channels.

Combing the online communication methods of Chicago Hearing Society, Sarah Spain and the Peters family created a new, larger social network that was able to have a much greater impact than one network could accomplish alone (Melillo, 2008).

The campaign’s reach was further expanded when a completely unconnected person running a blog about doing good deeds every day came across Hear the Cheers, donated to the campaign, and then wrote about it. When the unexpected happens, emergent strategy is needed to fold the new event into the greater narrative (Bodwell & Chermack, 2009). More simply, I adjusted the editorial calendar on the fly and included posts highlighting this.

Former news anchor Dan Rather. Photo courtesy of Dan Rather’s Twitter profile.

Although Chicago Hearing Society only serves people the Chicago area (not surprising given the name of the organization), the Hear the Cheers campaign drew donations from all over the country. The biggest coup de grace for the relatively unknown organization was a donation from Dan Rather. Yes, we verified it was THE Dan Rather. There was a social media connection between Dan and a family member in the Peters clan.


One of the biggest advantages social media offers nonprofit organizations is that it is cheap to use. I won’t say free, because you have to pay a person to manage social media accounts effectively or they can become a cheap waste of time.

Although Return on Investment (ROI) for social media is often measured in audience reach, engagement, and sentiment (Lipschultz, 2017), it was easier to calculate the ROI of Hear the Cheers! Because it was linked to a donation campaign. With the volunteer help of Sarah Spain and Eliza’s family, the only cost investment to Chicago Hearing Society was my time. The return was over $20,000.

In subsequent years, we were able to build off the success and showcase the children who benefited from Hear the Cheers! with short success stories told on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

I haven’t worked at Chicago Hearing Society for several years. But as far as I know, the campaign lives on and continues to be successful.

Closing Thoughts

Hear the Cheers! remains one of my most accomplished social media success stories. I’ve had horrible failures as well, but that’s another post. Comparing what has worked for me against what hasn’t, it’s easy to see that this particular social media fundraising campaign was successful because it utilized proper planning (with an editorial calendar), adjusted messages on the fly, and created a broad social network to reach thousands more people that we would have been able to otherwise. To top it off, it was a campaign for children with disabilities led by local celebrity. All these aspects integrated perfectly and made for a relatively easy and massively successful campaign.


Bodwell, W., Chermack, T.J. (2009) Organizational ambidexterity: Integrating deliberate and emergent strategy with scenario planning. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 77(2), 193-202.

Charest, F., Bouffard, J., & Zajmovic, E. (2016). Public relations and social media: Deliberate or creative strategic planning. Public Relations Review, 42(4), 530-538.

Lipschultz, J. (2017) Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Lovejoy, K., & Saxton, G. D. (2012). Information, Community, and Action: How Nonprofit Organizations Use Social Media*. Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17(3), 337-353. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2012.01576.x

Melillo, S. (2008). Making Networking Work for Youth Media. Youth Media Reporter, 2(1-6), 30-34.

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