How a Facebook Event Transformed an Organization

EcoLights-SI-2008This is an in-depth analysis about how one organization used Facebook Events to tie online and offline organizing, and how it transformed the organization in the process. Sviva Israel utilizes community organizing techniques and social media to stimulate real world action and create environmental awareness. I don’t know of any other group that has mastered the art of the Facebook Event to this extent. It is my pleasure to feature for this Blog Action Day Sviva Israel’s Eco Lights campaign.

Sviva Israel began as the dream of Carmi Wisemon, a veteran environmental activist, and his wife Tamar, a journalist and marketing director. They wanted to connect Jewish environmental education with youth, educators, and their families to lower environmental impact.

Soon after establishing their nonprofit, they created the Facebook Group Israel, Judaism, and the Environment. Sviva Israel’s first big social media activity was a Facebook Event in December 2007 that quickly became known as “Eco Lights.”

Eco Lights is an online Facebook Event that combines the real-world activity of picking up trash with online lessons relating Judaism to the environment. During the campaign, participants pledge to pick up daily the number of pieces of trash that corresponds to the numbered day of Hannukah. For example, on the fourth day of Hannukah, Eco Lights participants would pick up four pieces of trash. Additionally during Hannukah, Eco Lights participants receive a daily newsletter with writings by worldwide Jewish leaders connecting Judaism and environmental awareness, which are also updated daily on the Event page.

Carmi summarizes the philosophy of Eco Lights,

“Participants most likely will pick up trash, but that is really something personal. Beyond the number of pieces of trash we are trying to change a mindset beyond Hannukah and beyond the eight days of the event. The eight days of sharing teachings and picking up after others is in order to get people to do those actions informally throughout the year individually and as groups.”

During the first Eco Lights Event 116 event participants confirmed “yes,” and 50 said “maybe”. After the event, they asked everyone to join the Facebook Group, and sign up for their newsletter.

By 2008, Eco Lights had grown tremendously. Two organizations, Telavit and Eco-Jews of the Bay, joined the campaign and tripled the number of participants. The Worldwide Council of Conservative Synagogues included all of the Eco Lights daily lessons on a Judaism and Environment CD, which they posted on their website. They also sent the CDs to Conservative Jewish congregations worldwide. During the campaign, approximately 2,500 people participated and/or received daily lessons. Many shared the campaign on Facebook and with friends.

    In 2008, participation grew 855% (at a minimum). The event also created worldwide awareness of Sviva Israel, and the beginning of the organization’s real growth.

Key lessons that Sviva Israel has learned from the Eco Lights campaigns:

  • You need a policy about Facebook Event “maybes” – these don’t exist in other social media spaces.
  • It’s impossible to track an event message, which can be frustrating for the analytical.
  • Don’t just run an event exclusively on Facebook, because it’s annoying to those people who do not belong to Facebook and still want to receive information.
  • If you are running an event using social media, take it the whole way with a multi-channel approach.
  • Social media is about community, so tap into the people who sign up – they may want to take a more active role in the event.
  • It proved harder to get people to opt-in from the event to the Sviva Israel Facebook Group. Around 50% moved over. It was much, much harder to get people to sign up for the regular newsletter. Creating a dedicated Eco Lights website will make a big difference in this issue.

How has this Facebook Event transformed Sviva Israel itself?

  • They just hired a U.S staffer with an office in Boston to bring their on line and on site activities to the U.S. This is a development that started as a result of the Eco Lights campaign.
  • They just won a Microsoft R&D (Israel) grant to develop a new online project. According to Tamar Wisemon, “I think part of what convinced them was our proven success and expertise in social media on a small scale. It showed them that we have the creativity and drive to apply our visions on a larger scale.”
  • Some of the organizations that partnered with Eco Lights have collaborated on other, larger projects of Sviva Israel.
  • Potential funders know that Sviva Israel can do a lot with limited resources by thinking out-of-the-box, which is a key skill in today’s economy.
  • Many of those involved have become key figures in Sviva Israel’s growth both through volunteering and donations.

In 2009, Sviva predicts a growth of 150% for Eco Lights. They plan to develop a robust web page for the campaign, use twitter vigorously, tie in Flickr, and tap into sponsorships and more partners. They also want to create additional live, localized on-site events tied into the global online campaign.

    That’s a lot of trash disposal, learning and change. Online environmental organizing translates to real change.
    Sviva Israel does it right.

Today Sviva Israel is a worldwide environmental educational organization with great projects and initiatives. You can read more about their great work here.

Debra Askanase has 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations, from Community Organizer to Executive Director. She is the founder and lead consultant at Community Organizer 2.0, a social media strategy firm for non-profit organizations and businesses. She blogs about the intersection of social media, nonprofits, and technology at Debra is an occasional contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.