Experience Project Launches BroadCause, Putting Social Media to Work for Charitable Causes—and the Corporations Backing Them

Can a company truly do well by doing good? That’s what San Francisco’s Experience Project hopes to find out with the official launch today of BroadCause. The site offers nonprofit groups free software tools to help with fundraising and administration, and makes money by selling marketing opportunities to corporations looking to promote awareness of their charity work.

BroadCause has been online in beta form for a few months now, and includes pages for more than 1,800 non-profits where supporters can broadcast comments to their Facebook friends or Twitter followers. If non-profits register and claim ownership of their pages, they get access to software that handles payment processing for donations, contact management and e-mail marketing, event promotion and ticketing, and support for fundraising events such as auctions.

At the same time, brands like American Express, Nestle, Paramount Pictures, and Sony are using BroadCause as a platform for their own initiatives. AmEx, for example, used the site to generate buzz on Twitter for its Members Project, which matches American Express card members with volunteer opportunities. The company’s BroadCause page promoted its pledge to donate $1 to DonorsChoose.org, an education charity, for every retweet of its volunteering message.

Such messages have a built-in audience at BroadCause thanks to ties to ExperienceProject.com, a 5-million-member community site focused on group discussion of life issues such as health and parenting. That site was itself born around a cause—the very first discussion group on the site back in 2005 was an online support group for patients with multiple sclerosis—and many of its members “have an incredible need to be part of some form of fundraising,” says Peter Jackson, CEO of Experience Project (who is no relation to The Lord of the Rings filmmaker).

Another case in point: When the Lifetime TV show “Army Wives” wanted to raise money for Blue Star Families, an organization of military spouses, Experience Project promoted the campaign on the pages of Experience Project groups like “I Am An Army Wife.” “We have the largest collection of military spouses online, and they raised $10,000 in the first hour,” says Jackson.

The “sweet spot” for BroadCause, according to Experience Project founder and “chief experience officer” Armen Berjikly, is “that area where a brand cares about its audience and its products deeply and is willing to give back, and wants to make awareness rise about that.” This awareness, he says, often comes back to benefit the companies’ bottom line—which is, of course, part of the point. “We see same-store sales, intent to try, intent to buy, all of those metrics go up positively when we start to promote a brand’s philanthropic efforts, which are often aligned closely with the products they sell,” Berjikly says.

BroadCause is an outgrowth of Twitcause, a service the Experience Project launched in 2009. At first, the company simply used the Twitcause account on Twitter to tweet about a new charity every Thursday; the idea was to help non-profits like the Lance Armstrong Foundation gain followers and raise money. Twitcause itself eventually grew to be one of the most-followed accounts on Twitter.

“When they realized they could engage people on causes, it evolved into BroadCause,” says Jackson, who joined the company this February. Executives at Experience Project figured that the same tools the company had built to promote Twitcause causes and track their spread through the social media world could help any non-profit—and could also be used to highlight brand messages. Which filled a need in the corporate world, Jackson says: “They’ve been dealing with charities all these years, but there was no way to expose that.”

[Corrected 4/5/11 9:25 a.m.] Through the Experience Project site and its Twitter followers, BroadCause can reach roughly 1.8 million people in a single day, Jackson says. For companies trying to get the word out, exploiting this grassroots network can be far more cost-effective than other strategies such as hiring celebrity spokespeople, Jackson argues. He says American Express paid Ellen DeGeneres hundreds of thousands of dollars to tweet about the Members Project in 2010; Ellen’s 329 tweets reached a total of 5.5 million people. At BroadCause, nearly 5,000 people retweeted AmEx’s messages about the program, reaching 5.7 million people, all at a cost of $75,000, according to Jackson. “It’s far more engaging to work with a community that has deep roots,” he says.

Experience Project members have left 8 million “experiences” on the site, ranging from a single sentence to essay length, according to Berjikly. “Every one of them has a host of people who have had that experience and are passionate about it. In replicating that across the spectrum, we got a strong sense that we could evolve this platform into a hub for doing good.” And if venture-backed Experience Project charges corporations for access to that hub, community members aren’t going to complain, he says. “Our users realize we need to keep the lights on,” he says. “They don’t hold any grudges against us for being a company.”

Experience Project prepared this video about Broadcause:

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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