British NGO WaterAid is using Instagram to support its fundraising strategy. “The Big Dig” appeal was launched in mid-June with the goal of providing access to safe water and sanitation to 134,000 people in poor rural communities in Malawi, Africa. The appeal has been running for six weeks and comes to an end today, 18th September 2012. To raise awareness and recruit new potential donors, WaterAid created a dedicated Instagram feed (@thebigdig) – curated by two of its employees who report on the progress from the field.
Fundraising enables non-profits to fund their programmes and activities. They can raise money from all kinds of donors ranging from individuals and companies to institutions and governments. The UK Government has committed to match all donations made before 18th September to The Big Dig appeal.
Two field officers working for WaterAid in Malawi manage the Instagram account. Using their smartphones, they regularly post photos taken either in Kaniche or Bokola villages. They report on the progress made on the field to their followers. It allows curators to document the daily life of these communities as well as showing how WaterAid’s work helps improving their livelihoods. Thanks to storytelling, curators can introduce their supporters to some of the people who benefit from their donations. By doing so, WaterAid is enhancing transparency. Instagram followers get real-time information from the field. WaterAid is running a smart communication campaign.
“We’re trying to reach out to new supporters,” Angharad McKenzie, head of supporter development said to Mashable. So far WaterAid has dug 34 new boreholes and 43 shallow wells, and has trained more than 2,100 hygiene educators, and has brought 20,500 latrines to schools and homes. “We think we’re the first to use Instagram to tell stories direct from the field, to give people an idea of life without water and sanitation.” To this day, donations made to WaterAid are totalling £2,127,888.
More than 300 photos were shared through @thebigdig Instagram feed which only has 63 followers (compared to 382 followers for @WaterAid’s main feed). Despite the somewhat low engagement associated with this Instagram account (few followers, not so many comments and likes per photo), I think that it is a rather successful pilot considering the fact that it’s only a 6-week campaign with a limited geographic reach (1 country). Instagram has more than 80 million users and I believe it is a fertile ground for NGOs who wish to strengthen their visual communication and engagement with their supporters. Besides the Instagram account, WaterAid has also launched a special website (www.thebigdig.org) to support its fundraising efforts.
To some extent this kind of initiative is part of a larger phenomenon that aims at showing Africa in a new light, far away from the tearful photos of malnourished children or dying cattle. If you have in interest in this topic you should read Glenda Gordon’s brilliant article posted on Guernica, “Hipstamatic Revolution”. She explains how more and more photographers are turning to photo-sharing apps to depict contemporary Africa. “We don’t just need photojournalism about Africa; we need a whole new visual literacy. The iPhone’s shortcomings as a tool of photojournalism might be its strength in a battle against stereotypes- it normalizes images of Africa by participating in today’s dominant visual aesthetic.”