case studies, fundraising, storytelling

What Makes Lily the Black Bear So Incredible?

18 Comments 29 December 2010

Organizations want to create a personal connection to its donors, but one organization has taken that idea out of the box and run with it. The North American Bear Center has enabled its supporters to craft a personal relationship with a bear family through Facebook. In fact, the NABC has carefully created a Facebook community around Lily the Black Bear that seamlessly furthers their mission of education and advancing the survival of black bears. But their fans care most about Lily and her bear family.

Lily the Black Bear’s fans can be moved to action in great numbers when asked. There is no better measuring stick of online community engagement than a community’s willingness to engage and take action when asked. All told, Lily the Bear’s fans have helped to raise $159,597 from 23,502 fans just this year. In terms of social network fundraising, that’s huge. The real question is why and what could be replicated by others.

Lily the Black Bear has successfully put a face on an issue and developed an entire online community around the cause.

The North American Bear Center in Northern Minnesota has created an entire movement of people who care about the North American bear around Lily the Black Bear. Lily the Bear’s Facebook Page features daily blog posts about the lives of bears, as well as webcam and photo uploads from Lily’s den and the area. The Page has 119,457 fans, many of which care deeply about Lily the Black Bear and her family. (Facebook status updates receive, on average, 50 comments.)

The NABC has steadily built an incredibly engaged Facebook community and community of fans that watch their live bear webcams, pay attention to the Facebook updates, and want to know more about bears. This summer the organization mobilized 17,916 votes to help win $100,000 in the second Chase Community Giving challenge. It also came in second in Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day, motivating 1793 supporters to give $39,597. Lastly, it has leveraged its community’s goodwill to help a local school win $20,000.

Lily the Bear even participates in America’s School Spirit Challenge

In November, Care2, along with America’s Great Schools and held the 2010 K-12 America’s School Spirit Challenge. The school with the most votes would receive $20,000. As Lily the Bear’s bear family (and her human research family) reside near the Ely Esy school, the NABC decided to ask Lily’s Facebook Page fans to help. Fans voted in large numbers. Voters wrote notes like “it’s the home of Lilly & Hope & all the other bears in the Research Team” and “I’m a Lily & Hope Fan. Love those bears.”

The Ely Esy school won easily, receiving 3,739 votes. Lily the Bear fans cast over 500 votes the day before voting closed to assure a victory of over 1,000 votes. Contributing to this success was that Lily the Bear Facebook fans are deeply connected to the Facebook Page, the mission of the organization, and clearly understood the connection to the local school. This specific challenge shows that if there is a connection to the cause, fans can be encouraged to support organizations other than their own.

What is the NABC doing so well?

1. They have brought us into the organization through a personal connection with Lily. Social media is personal, and Facebook is a great medium for sustaining friendships. Once you’ve met Lily, by the way, you’re hooked!

2. NABC supports the fan page with great content on the website. Supporting content includes two live webcams, photos, and bear facts.

3. Every moment is an educational moment. Lily the Black Bear’s Facebook wall is a mix of educational resources about bears and inside peeks into Lily and her family’s daily life. The NABC sees every activity of the bears as a potential educational moment.

4. Through this mix of education and personal involvement, the NABC motivates Lily’s fans to save black bears and continue to support the NABC. Fans are not only saving black bears, but they are saving bears just like Lily. When you put it that way, it’s easy to motivate fans to donate. This is why the organization has been able to motivate thousands to vote, donate and support efforts that save the black bears.

Lily the Bear IS incredible, but the NABC deserves all the credit for creating an incredibly engaged online community, and a movement, from the personal connection to one family of bears.

Many thanks to Sue Anne Reed for introducing me to Lily the Bear and the NABC on Facebook.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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