Social Media has become extremely popular in South Africa over the last few years. It seems that it can definitely be used for more than just making new friends or networking. Social Media is about connecting people after all. And social networks (like Twitter) can even be used to help the less fortunate in our country.
So, you might be asking yourself what the Twitter Blanket Drive (or #TBDZA) is? Well, plain and simple, it’s South Africa’s largest social media fuelled fund-raising initiative which is now in it’s third year running. The Twitter Blanket Drive started on a cold autumn day while Melanie Minnaar (@MelanieMinnaar on Twitter) was on maternity leave. She was warm and cosy and lying in bed with her newborn second son. While looking out the window she thought to herself how difficult it must be for the less fortunate folks who don’t have basic needs at this time of the year.
Melanie tweeted to the Twitterverse (she had less than 200 followers back then) and asked if anyone would like to join her in collecting blankets for the needy. She was hoping to get about 15-20 people together for a mini TweetUp and then simply handover a bag of blankets to a local charity. In less than 2 weeks the idea had turned into a national initiative with volunteers coming forward to be event hosts, venue hosts and sponsors. It was quite overwhelming for her. She has acknowledged that the Twitter Blanket Drive (which official Twitter hashtag is #TBDZA) is not simply another fundraising project. Through social media the Twitter Blanket Drive has harnessed the enthusiasm and willingness of people who just want to do good but don’t know how. It has been described as a movement towards action instead.
In 2010 the collective South African Twitter community managed to pull together 8 different events around the country collecting just over 500 blankets and a handful of cash donations. Some bright spark had the idea to take the Twitter Blanket Drive to the inaugural rugby match at Soccer City that year and the event was commented on by most rugby media and bloggers. The 2011 drive blew everyone away, growing to 11 national events (which raised over 4,000 blankets and more than R30,000 in charitable donations). Makro also came on board with 2 weeks left in the project and opened up their national branches as drop off points and provided a discounted rate on blankets.
Melanie Minnaar is the Founder of the drive. Ownership belongs to all Tweeps (or people) who participate. She’s a marketer but not an NGO. She knows her limits, and 2011′s event hit that limit. For the 2012 event Melanie has brought on the reputable NGO The Tomorrow Trust (which is run by Kim Feinberg) to act as central point for all cash and cheque donations. This will ensure that 2012′s #TBDZA retains its integrity through a formal auditing process and that donors can be guaranteed of their contributions being processed and directed where they are needed most to the selected charities for this year’s drive.
The main aim of 2012 #TBDZA is to collect as many blankets as possible and distribute them where they are most needed around the country during the cold winter months. A blanket can save a life. Based on 80,000 active Twitter users in South Africa: if just 1% participated by donating 1 blanket and attending one of the #TBDZA TweetUps this initiative could collect 8,000 blankets. This would be double 2011’s figure.
One of the drawcards for the Twitter Blanket Drive is that once a year virtual relationships become real through this TweetUp for good. People who meet up at any of the events immediately have something in common to talk about and they also now share a common cause. Conversations based on shared values is a catalyst for participation. In 2011 over 1,000 people braved the cold to attend an event around the country. ”I would like to double this figure in 2012″. Melanie’s ultimate goal will be to have the event recorded in the Guinness Book of Records for the largest “TweetUp” in the world. Regarding events: She would really like Bloemfontein, East London and Kimberley to participate this year. Realistically the Twitter Blanket Drive is aiming for 15 events nationwide and is also aiming to grow attendance at them from 2013 onwards.
The official #TBDZA “Tweetup” (this is where the people of twitter arrange a meet and greet) will be held in several venues around the country on the 26 May 2012. Dedicated volunteers are currently sourcing venue options allowing for widespread participation. Details will be posted on www.twitterblanketdrive.co.za once venues are finalized.
If you want to get involved in this great initiative, tweet Melanie Minnaar via @MelanieMinnaar on Twitter, follow the #TBDZA hashtag on Twitter or mail Melanie directly via firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, all of you reading this, open up your hearts and support this good cause. Share this post with your friends and family on Twitter and Facebook and spread the word. It’s the right thing to do.
Watch this space for regular updates in the Events category on Running Wolf’s Rant.