case studies, collaboration, free agent community fundraising

Free Agent Communities Fundraising for Japan

3 Comments 01 April 2011

image courtesy of ku.sagi


In January, I wrote a blog post for Frogloop, Care2’s nonprofit marketing blog called “Why Free Agent Social Communities Rock.” In it, I posited that there is a new class of free agents, specific to social networks: “the free agent community.”  The free agent community (both loose and formal) generally exists on a social network and decides, as a group, to raise funds for an unafilliated nonprofit organization. The community could be a blog community, a YouTube channel community, a Facebook or Ning group, or a reddit group. As I mentioned in the Frogloop post, the million dollar question for nonprofits is how to participate in social social media such that online communities are aware of them, listening for opportunities, and have the resources to participate within independent communities that might be likely collaborators.

In the case of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I’ve seen the rise of free agent communities once again, this time to raise funds for disaster relief in Japan. Once again, this begs the question of best practices and whether or not nonprofits are working with free agent communities to establish relationships. In the case of the international relief organizations, it very well could be worth their while to create relationships with these free agent community leaders so that they can work together quickly when the next natural disaster occurs.

I know of at least three free agent communities currently raising money for Japan disaster relief.

For Japan With Love: Bloggers Day of Silence

As the world learned of the devastating national disaster that took Japan by surprise; the wedding blog Ever Ours and e-magazine Utterly Engaged created the one-day event and ongoing fundraising campaign For Japan with Love,  initiating a day of silence amongst bloggers. Bloggers quickly signed on to the Blogger’s Day of Silence, with the concept of banding together and to spend March 18th thinking of the people affected by the Japan disaster.  The call to action was simple: to communicate the day of silence, to not write a blog post on March 18th, and to direct blog readers to donate enough to meet the initial goal of sending five Shelter Boxes to Japan.

Their initiative brought together over 1200 bloggers around the world.  Each blogger honored the simple request, effectively sharing the message with their own followers by placing a badge on his or her blog, and blogging ahead of March 18th about the Day of Silence.  Twitter and Facebook awareness spread quickly. The event generated more donations than the organizers ever hoped to raise. Their fundraising page has raised over $66,000 for ShelterBox USA. If you want to read more, I interviewed the organizers and published it on the FirstGiving blog.


Anime and Manga Bloggers for Japan

The Anime and Manga blogging community came together right after the disaster in Japan to create two fundraisers, one for Doctors Without Borders, and the other for Shelterbox USA. On their Doctors Without Borders fundraising page they state: “There is no question that many fans of anime and manga feel a certain affinity for Japan, whether they’ve been to the country before or not. After all, this is a country that creates vibrant stories and art that are not just entertainment, but a porthole into a fun and fascinating culture.” Anime and Manga bloggers for Japan created their own website, began tweeting news from @allaboutmanga about the fundraisers and disaster relief, and asked the manga and anime blogger community to blog about the fundraiser. You can read more about who is involved and what they are doing for Japan relief on their website. To date, 59 bloggers have written blog posts about the fundraisers, and the community has raised $2,500 for Shelterbox USA and $2,225 for Doctors Without Borders.

Pagans for Japan

Peter Dybing, a Wiccan Elder living in the US Virgin Islands, created the Pagan Japan Relief Doctors Without Borders fundraiser to benefit Doctors Without Borders. On his fundraising page Peter write, “we as a community are also engaged in building a community response culture that says much about how far we have come and is an example of Pagans from many paths working together.” Within four days, the fundraiser had raised $17, 000. Peter Dybing gathered the Pagan community together, primarily through his blog community, and rallied that community to raise over $31,000 for Doctors Without Borders.

What do these communities have in common?

  • A community based on shared interests
  • At least two communites are “networked communities” of other blogs and bloggers. The Utterly Engaged/Ever Ours and Anime and Manga Bloggers For Japan fundraisers are actually communities of blog owners and readers that are loosely networked but feel close enough through social media ties to raise money together
  • Blog readership: the blog readers are powering these fundraisers

What are the lessons that nonprofits can learn from these?

  • When a free agent community comes together, it chooses a nonprofit independently. If you are that nonprofit, reach out and connect with the organizers; they are likely to raise money for  your organization again.
  • Figure out the social media places where your nonprofit would have a logical interest: comment on blogs about your issue and cause, become involved in the Reddit subgroup, etc.
  • Bring the the community leaders inside your organization. When you find your free agent community, ask them to be part of the solution: ask members to write guest posts, to become part of the social media spaces, or ask their opinion of your organization. In all likelihood, they would be thrilled to be asked.

Note: Though not a free agent community as per the definition above, I did write previously about how SXSW Interactive conference came together to raise money for Japan.


  • Debra – great case study here! One thing it points out is that nonprofits would be smart to reach out to free agents (without self-promoting) and simply get to know them. Comment on their blogs, retweet their posts. Most of all, show a sincere interest in their agenda.

    They can’t ever hope to get attention with bloggers if they aren’t at least a trusted member of their community.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    So true, John. I think it is hard to figure out which communities to get in touch with and begin to listen to/participate in. However, logic + a good listening system should contribute to solving that dilemma.
    “They can’t ever hope to get attention with bloggers if they aren’t at least a trusted member of their community.” -> So right on!


    Brandonguianen16 Reply:

    trust is important



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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