By Olivia Goldring (Y4AW 2015 intern)
It’s so hard to attract a person’s attention. It is even harder to make a person care. Ask ad agencies trying to market their newest product or even your friend whose eyes are glued to his smart phone at dinner. People have their own jobs and kids and problems to deal with. Moreover, people have their own lives to deal with. How can we ask that an average person donate her hard-earned money to help combat the poaching of elephants if it is so far removed from her daily life? Why should this person donate to elephant welfare when there are children dying of malnutrition in her own city?
“Why should I care about this cause?” is a question that the management of every non-profit must ask itself in order to best present itself to the general public, attract the most attention, and make the most impact. It is difficult to make people understand what is so far outside of their daily experience. In the case of the elephants, unless you’ve seen for yourself the drastic effects of poaching in places like Mozambique and Kenya where the practice is rampant, it’s hard to make a person really connect with the cause.
Non-profits need money to survive. They run on the donations of individuals along with corporate donations and sponsorships. However, the backbone of these donations comes from the general public. With social media platforms and online giving spaces revolutionizing the non-profit sector, it is crucial that this public be educated and up-to-date on what’s happening around the world. For people who don’t watch the news or read the newspaper, they rely on social media as their daily news source. If this average person’s Facebook feed is filled with the latest celebrity gossip and sports news, how is this person expected to know about the current situation involving the African elephants? How can this information be made accessible and persuasive to the average American?
The answer lies in implementing effective social media advertising campaigns with the widest reach possible. Save the Elephants is a prominent and respected NGO that has made pivotal steps towards finding solutions to combat the dwindling numbers of elephants in Africa. They work on the ground in South Africa, Mali, Kenya, and Gabon on technological initiatives like collaring and GPS tracking as well as on awareness campaigns. Save the Elephants has the most name-recognition out of all the non-profits working to promote elephant research, support, and awareness. Why, then, are the elephants only the concern of people who seek out this type of information? Why is the fact that elephants are being killed faster than they can repopulate, threatening extinction, not common knowledge? One must take an interest in elephant conservation to truly know the reality; the situation is grave and calls for urgent action. In order to reverse the serious condition and change the future course for the elephants, this type of information needs to be household knowledge.
If you had asked me to speak about elephants or the foreign ivory markets that feed the poaching before having interned with Youth 4 African Wildlife, I would have been at a loss. I would have said that elephants are endangered and that they are killed for their tusks. I would have said that It is important that we respect the world around us and find sustainable solutions to help combat the human-wildlife conflicts that occur wherever human communities are in close proximity to wildlife. With all of the things I would have said, did I actually know anything that was going on in Africa? Did I know of any conservation efforts or strategies being used? Sadly, the answer is no– and I consider myself to be a well-educated, environmentally conscious individual.
This means that NGO’s are failing to get their information across effectively. In an era where social media reigns, these platforms are instrumental in implementing change on a substantial scale. Platforms such as Facebook, with 1.4 billion users, and Twitter must use the resources that their services provide in order to present the general public with information about the work of non-profits that they deem suitable and important. To do this, they must make information easily digestible and inoffensive so that it doesn’t turn users away but at the same time is engaging and interesting.
Facebook uses data about each user’s internet habits in order to display advertisements of brands or websites that the individual might be interested in. If these advertising services could be extended to NGO’s with causes that are deemed urgent such as Save the Elephants, this could potentially reach and inform broader audiences and those who hadn’t initially expressed interest in the cause. Facebook could even adopt a “give to” button below the advertisement, which could expedite the donation process.
Oftentimes, people are ambivalent about a cause because the effects–the aftermath of a terrible hurricane or the dying elephants– are not right in front of them. Information about various non-profits, particularly involving the elephant crisis, must be relayed to the public whether they want to know or not. This is where Facebook and other social media outlets are instrumental. A multi-billion dollar corporation of this size has immeasurable power. If for one single day Facebook displayed a banner linked to Save the Elephants news and poaching information, the benefits would be boundless. Mark Zuckerberg truly holds the power to change a species’ fate. With effective videos and images depicting the violence and the sheer numbers of elephants remaining in the wild, of the 1.4 billion users, there will be a small fraction that knew nothing of the cause but were moved to action. This small fraction will be the difference in the life or death of a species.
Making people care about a cause is no easy task. Making people care enough to give their money or devote their time is even harder. In the social media era, effective advertising and online campaigning is key. What can you do from home? Promote a cause on Facebook, educate those around you, Tweet about your thoughts, go to marches, go to ivory burning rallies, or protest at your city hall. Spreading awareness delivers change. Awareness and education are the most valuable things any non-profit can strive to do apart from raise money. So, to those of you who still ask, “What can I do from so far away and why should I care about this far flung problem?” You might not care, and that’s okay; but you should know that your child might never see an elephant in the wild and you did nothing about it.