is a social news website where users (called redditors) submit content. Other redditors then give each post an upvote or a downvote depending whether they like it or not.

A post with plenty of upvotes will find itself on the front page where thousands of people get the chance to see it.

Redditors aren't the type of people that you would normally see on many charity lists. The audience profile shows the average user is likely to be male, under 25 and browsing whilst at school.

Screen shot 2012-01-27 at 17.12.01But that didn't stop them from giving when a two line post appeared on Reddit, accompanied by this picture…

"Meet Omari. Two days ago he returned from the hospital after being hacked in the face by a machete defending an orphanage of 35 children by himself. Think we could raise the $2,000 need for the remainder of the cement/barbed wire to keep both him and the children safe?"

Omari is the son of the female carer who looks after the Faraja Orphanage in Ngong, Kenya.

The Orphanage had been broken into a few times and Omari was expecting another burglary. He woke in the night to hear some men trying to get through the door. As soon as the door opened he threw a hammer at the first person he saw and chased three thieves away.

The next night they returned for revenge and though he put up a fight, Omari was outnumbered, hit in the face with a machete and woke up in hospital.

It was clear that the attacks would continue until the wooden fence protecting the orphanage and the small vegetable garden could be replaced with a high wall and barbed wire.

There were few donors to ask for help, so this simple appeal went out on Reddit. No branding. No case for support. No registered charity number. No celebrity involvement. No simple, one click donation form. Gifts were received by the US based Longonot Education Initiative.

Within a day, $65,000 had been donated (a few hours later the total had risen to $79,000). The wall could be built many times over. But Redditors still carried on giving.

So why did this appeal work so well?

First off, Reddit is a community. When members vote on which posts they like, the people who put the posts up receive karma (or lose it on downvotes). The higher your karma, the more trust and kudos you get in the community. In short, redditors (to varying degrees) care about what other redditors think of them (just like the rest of us!).

Take a look at the comment stream and you'll see hundreds of redditors talking about their gifts. How much they gave and why. 

One gift of $10,000 was given by Weebly (who happen to host the Longonot Education Initiative's website). The result was an outpouring of love for the company on Reddit and Weebly's Facebook page – accompanied by offers of new business.

Second, it was authentic. A number of redditors questioned if the appeal was genuine. Within a few minutes, posts had begun appearing from other redditors who either knew of, or had undertaken research into, the organisation.

Third, it was a story people (particularly redditors) could relate to – one man trying to protect an orphanage from a group of thugs. He was a hero and people could show their support and actually become part of the narrative by donating.

But it didn't stop there. In addition to gifts, redditors also offered their time and skills. Within a few hours, this had grown into a new group called Redditors Without Borders where hydrologists, web designers, medics, journalists and a whole host of different people with different skills volunteered to help out the Faraga project and others.

Finally, donors were connected to the cause with rapid feedback. As the gifts came in, the story unfolded online. The wall was going to be built but so much more could be achieved – the school could employ two security guards to protect the children and Omari. And it was going to be done tonight!

A second photograph soon appeared with Omari thanking donors and before long a second post appeared detailing what else was happening as a result of redditors' generosity.

I think this is a fantastic example of effective fundraising which offers five important lessons to those of us working for more established charities on how we can improve our appeals..

  • Make the content appropriate for the audience. Feature work in your appeals that donors are interested in funding. Remember that this isn't always work that your organisation deems the most important.
  • Move quickly. If something happens and you need help or you think your donors want to help, get in touch as quickly as you can.
  • Real beats designed. In my experience authenticity always wins – photographs with a few lines written on the back are better than those reproduced in a leaflet. Hand written is better than the organisational font.
  • Show donors what they have done with specific feedback on the projects you have featured (not the general work the charity has done).
  • Let your donors show off. Give your supporters the chance to show others what they have done. This can be something as simple as a sticker enclosed in a mailing pack or a recognition flash on an online profile.

And not surprisingly, whilst I've been writing the story is continuing to unfold on Reddit (it has even made it to the Huffington Post). If you'd like to become part of it you can make your gift here.

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