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March 25, 2013

The New Change Agents


Photo Credit: Jeff Riedel

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CAUSE: Encouraging organ donation

TWITTER: @alungstory

AUDIENCE: 16,068 Twitter followers

IMPACT: Organ donor registries in Ontario increased by 500 percent in one day.

Backstory: After 20-year-old Hélène Campbell collapsed while hiking in October 2011, doctors diagnosed her with advanced idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—a life-threatening lung disease. Her only chance of survival was a double lung transplant, but the odds of finding a donor were slim. Every three days, someone on the government transplant list in Ontario—Campbell's home province—dies while waiting for an organ.

Action plan: Shocked at the shortage of life-saving organs, Campbell used her story to raise awareness about the desperate need for donors. "It's a subject people don't like to think about," she says. Campbell decided to enlist fellow Canadian (and Twitter king) Justin Bieber, who at the time had 29 million followers, in her cause. With a friend, Campbell produced a short video of her sitting on a couch with oxygen tubes up her nose, urging viewers to ask Bieber, via Twitter, to promote the hashtag #BeAnOrganDonor. Campbell put the video online and tweeted about it every day.

Results: Five days after Campbell released her video, the Biebs came through and tweeted about her, linking to her site (alungstory.ca) and including #BeAnOrganDonor. And her plan worked: That week, more than 1,500 people registered to be organ donors—five times the typical weekly number. A few weeks later, Campbell was invited to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show via Skype; the day the episode aired, 720 Ontario residents registered to be donors. The typical daily number is 50. Less than two months later, Campbell got the good news she was waiting for: She had been matched with a lung donor. On April 6, she successfully underwent a double transplant at Toronto General Hospital. "When you're passionate about something, just go for it," she says. "No idea is crazy."

Today: Campbell is still recovering from surgery. But that hasn't stopped her from carrying on her crusade. She regularly gives speeches about organ donation and recently started a fund to help families of patients who need to relocate near transplant hospitals. Before her surgery, Campbell was saving money for college—she still hopes to attend and plans to focus on public speaking.


To reach the widest audience, use multiple social media platforms and create a "home base" site—like a Tumblr—where you can give followers more information.

Build a following by engaging others on social media. "Unless you're a celebrity, the world won't come to you as soon as you're on Twitter," says Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Twitter's manager of social innovation. Ask people questions and respond to everyone.

Be as personal as you can about why you're committed to this cause. "Speak from the heart," says Twestival founder Amanda Rose. "People want to know that you're human."

Tweet at influencers (celebs, CEOs, etc.) linked to your cause; they're more likely to get involved. How to find them: Ask charities if they have a celeb spokesperson, or search hashtags for your issue and see who's tweeting about it.

On Twitter, be sure to create a hashtag for your cause. It will make you more searchable.

Be specific in your "ask"—whether you want people to retweet a link, donate money, or watch a video. "The simpler, the better," says Kim Shamoun of Giving Back to Those Affected by Sandy.

Keep people updated. "For example, tell supporters, 'We're $10,000 away from our goal. With that money, five more children can go to school,'" says Rose.

Be persistent. "The lifetime of an e-mail is no more than a week," says Robert Wolfe, a cofounder of the fundraising website crowdrise.com. "The lifetime of your post on social media is a day at most."

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