(Non-Profit) Health Month: It Begins

Health Month

It’s no secret I’m a fan of foursquare. My organization, Big Love Little Hearts, ran a campaign called #100X100 last April via foursquare that raised $25,000 in 24 hours and incited significant advocacy action. That idea came out of my personal obsession with the location-based application, and my fondness for all things foursquare is also what led me to Health Month.

Before I tell you what Health Month is let me give them props for being the smartest brand using foursquare. In order to earn a badge from Health Month you have to play the game every single day for a month. If you want all four badges you have to do that for four months. That’s the longest, most consistent usage by far that any brand requires to get the goods. Kudos to Buster Benson, the brains behind Health Month (and awesome app Locavore too)!

Health Month is a new game that helps you make small changes to your health habits. I checked it out because I wanted their badges and when I saw what it was I immediately fell in love. It’s fun and whimsical. It’s not about counting calories and figuring out percentages or about cataloging your workouts – it’s about setting small goals to improve your health. I started playing in earnest last month and chose rules that revolved around taking better care of myself: early bedtimes, eating whole grains, eating enough bright vegetables, saving more money, practicing gratitude, etc…

Not long into it I thought it would be pretty cool if there was a non-profit focused version of Health Month where the rules reflected small organizational goals. I asked Buster if he would create something like that for me and he gave me the best “no” ever: he was too focused on growing Health Month right now but he’d be happy to advise and share information with any other developer who wanted to take on the project for me. So, um – if you’re a developer reading this and you think this would be a super cool project, contact me!

Since I don’t have a developer working on this yet, I tweaked my rules for February to be my own personal (Non-Profit) Health Month. Leaders of nonprofits are notoriously bad at taking time to recharge and tend to themselves. Over at 501 Mission Place I’ve talked a lot about putting on your own oxygen mask first as a leader – Health Month has been a truly effective tool to help me do so! I used my custom rule to get organization-specific with my goals and the rest ensure that I’m in top shape to lead my team and execute Big Love Little Hearts’ vision.

So what are my rules?


Health Month


  • Write a personal thank you to a past donor or sponsor 5 days a week.
  • Read a professional capacity building book for 30 minutes 5 days a week.
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep every day.
  • Eat breakfast every day.
  • Take a multivitamin every day.
  • Walk one mile a day.
  • Meditate for 15 minutes a day.
  • Drink 3 glasses of water a day.
  • Drink no more than one diet coke a day.
  • Study Rosetta Stone French  for 20 minutes every day.
  • Relax for 30 minutes every day.
  • Eat whole grains every day.
  • Eat only organic meat, and only eat meat 5 days a week.
  • Only have processed foods one day a week.


I committed to share this particular journey as an official Health Month blogger to inspire my readers – that means YOU – to think about doing your own (Non-Profit) Health Month.

What would that look like for you and your organization? How could you take better care of yourself so that you can be a more refreshed, energized and effective leader? What small behavior change can you strive for in your organization?

Are you up for the challenge?

I’ll be blogging my progress every couple of days, but you can check out how I’m doing daily here.


The Road Less Traveled: LBS for Nonprofit Impact vs. Money

The Road Less Traveled

I’m working on my session for the NTEN’s 2011 Non-Profit Technology Conference, a panel on location-based services. As I’m preparing slides for my part of the panel, where I’ll talk about Big Love Little Hearts’ #100X100 campaign, I know that the reason this campaign received so much attention was because we raised $25,000 in 24 hours.

There’s no doubt that I’m proud of that – we were an 8 month old organization at the time. We had only entered social media a few months before, and only seriously weeks before. In fact, the entire idea was born during a late night work session 9 days before it was implemented. To raise $25,000 in 24 hours against that backdrop is plenty to be proud of.

But that’s not what I’m most proud of. I’m most proud that 1,000 people took a political action because of the campaign. That political action in April led to the desired outcome happening in September. We wanted people to express their support of pulse-oximetry as a method of screening newborns for heart defects. Their public support in adjunct with some amazing advocacy work being done by key people in the community led to Secretary Sebelius adding that screening to the National Newborn Screening Panel. This panel is the recommendation that states use to guide their own decisions regarding what tests are mandated.

The $25,000 we raised saved 12 lives. That’s fantastic. States integrating screening for heart defects as part of their mandated panel will save thousands of lives. I am so proud that our campaign played any small part in this that my eyes well up every time I think about it.

My point isn’t to brag about how super duper awesome and smart the campaign was or how we’re the bees knees because it was effective. My point is that the best use of location-based services for non-profits might not be fundraising or the engagement we hope will lead to more effective fundraising. The best use of LBS for some organizations might be to improve or increase their impact.

Yes, fundraising is what makes our programs possible so I’m not suggesting you stop focusing on how LBS or social media can help you do that better. But I am suggesting you start thinking about how it can help you do your mission better. When I look at what’s being written about location-based services in relation to non-profits and what people are asking about LBS in relation to them I don’t see this come up often. I’m definitely not the only person thinking about it but I wish there were more.

One of the panelists in my session is from Feeding America, who used location-based social driving application waze to alert waze users to food donation drop-off locations over Thanksgiving.

The American Red Cross used Foursquare to encourage people to donate blood.

Big Love Little Hearts could use Foursquare to leave tips at OB/GYN offices, maternity clothing stores or baby boutiques about congenital heart defects. Locations like that weren’t part of our #100X100 campaign because we wanted to use locations we thought would have heavy check-in traffic on a Saturday (Target, Starbucks, grocery stores, gyms, airports, etc). But if we wanted to be targeted about raising awareness and encouraging moms to talk to their doctors about what can be done to detect heart defects…well, that would be a better use of Foursquare in the long run for us.

Can you guess what I’m doing right after I finish this post?

What about you? How can your non-profit leverage LBS or other social media applications to raise impact, not just money?

A Foursquare Experiment Gone Right

*this post originally appeared in Chronicle of Philanthropy and Community Organizer 2.0

I’d seen some good (and not-so-good) examples of how nonprofit groups had used Foursquare to raise money. But could Foursquare be used for awareness and advocacy?

I began thinking about this question on April 1 related to my work with Big Love Little Hearts, a nonprofit group that focuses on congenital heart defects. And I began framing that question around some basic statistics about these diseases.

One in 100 children are born with a heart defect. When was the 100th day of the year? It happened to be April 10. Could I come up with a campaign in nine days, launch it, and have it be successful?

I had no idea. But I’m not afraid of failure so I set out to create a Foursquare experiment.

We created a hashtag, #100X100, which stood for 1 in 100 on the 100th day of the year. I created a Web site to explain what it was and why it was important and to set the action steps we wanted supporters to take (spread awareness with the hashtag and call or write their representatives asking them to support the Congenital Heart Futures Act and Routine Pulse-Ox Screening). We also created a Facebook fan page and Twitter profile.

Then we recruited volunteers to commit to a guerilla, grass-roots effort to use Foursquare to spread our message.

On the evening of April 9, a few dozen Big Love Little Hearts volunteers added the following as a “tip” to 600 Foursquare locations: “1 in 100 children are born w/ a heart defect. Pulse-Ox screening saves lives – you can too! Check in with the hashtag #100X100”.

We also embedded a link in the tip to the One Hundred Squared site. We chose what we thought would be the most checked-in locations on a Saturday — airports, Starbucks and Target stores, gyms, etc. — in major cities around the U.S.

One of the benefits of using Foursquare as an origin point is that most people who use it sync their check-ins to Twitter and Facebook. This meant that one person checking with #100X100 had the possibility of being viewed across three platforms with three audiences. Talk about bang for your (time) buck!

Did it work? Better than I could have possibly imagined. My goal with this experiment was simply to see how social media worked for advocacy and awareness.

But something extraordinary happened.

I began Foursquaring/Tweeting/Facebooking about #100X100 at 12:01 a.m. on April 10. Big Love Little Hearts supporters followed.

By 7:30 a.m., an angel who was following one of our followers on Twitter (but not us) noticed our hashtag. It turned out that she is an adult with a congenital heart disease who was not diagnosed at birth and who is alive today because she received lifesaving surgery.

Her passion for our work led her to call me and commit to donating $1 for every time someone used the #100X100 hashtag until midnight on April 10.

How much did we raise? She gave me a cap of $25,000. I knew the moment she said it, that our group, which was not quite 10 months old, wouldn’t reach the cap.

But, much to my surprise, our supporters were so engaged that we made it almost halfway to that goal. By 11:45 p.m., the hashtag had been used 11,703 times across all three platforms. Our donor was so impressed that she donated the full $25,000.

That money was enough to pay for 12 surgeries for patients in developing countries. Twelve lives saved in 24 hours. Not bad for something we didn’t even plan for.

That’s great, but did it work for advocacy and awareness? A resounding yes!

What was the advocacy we wanted to accomplish? On April 22, about 100 people from various congenital heart-disease groups were set to meet in Washington for CHD Lobby Day.

We wanted to plant a seed for people who had used #100X100 on April 10 to call their Senator or member of Congress and let them know that they supported measures that would greatly improve the lives of the two million people in the U.S. with congenital heart diseases.

On April 22, we again used the hashtag via Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare to remind our supporters of our goal. By noon, more people had visited our Web site than had come to the site during the entire day on April 10.

I had seven appointments with senators and members of Congress from Illinois that day. There wasn’t a single one I walked into in which an aide didn’t inform me that constituents had been calling about this all day. People from other states text-messaged or called me to relay similar messages.

More than 500 people let me know they had contacted their representative. Some 300 more contacted the Big Love office to do the same. I cried with pride the entire day.

What was the benefit of using Foursquare as our social-media springboard? The tips we left are still there and will stay there perpetually. For several locations, our tip is still the most recent and therefore what shows up when people check in.

One last nugget—all of this was free. We raised $25,000, saved 12 lives, and set the stage for millions of lives to be changed. If you work at a nonprofit group and don’t feel like you’re using Foursquare, Twitter, or Facebook to its potential, e-mail me: charityestrella@gmail.com.

Find Big Love Little Hearts on twitter and facebook

Find One Hundred Squared on twitter and facebook


Why I Love Social Media for Non-Profits

During many of the breakout sessions at NTEN’s 10th Annual Non-Profit Technology Conference in Atlanta last week I heard a lot of people from older, more established non-profits talk about their organization’s reluctance to embrace social media. My organization, Big Love Little Hearts, has had such great success with various social media platforms that I wanted to share our greatest ones for the disbelievers and stragglers out there.

Three Reasons Big Love Little Hearts has BIG LOVE for social media….

Building Partnerships – We rely on partnerships. We have provider partners, we have referral partners. We can always use more. Since we’ve been on facebook (9 months) and twitter (3 months) we have formed more than 30 new partnerships through those two platforms with very little effort.  Beyond building them, social media has been an excellent way to strengthen and personalize existing ones. We now communicate daily with partner organizations that we used to communicate with weekly or monthly.

Efficiency – We connect children with heart defects with people who can help them. Before our entry into social media that could take days…or weeks. Recently, we were stuck finding help for a boy in Mexico. We posted a plea for help on twitter and facebook and had a surgeon and hospital to help this boy 16 minutes later. Days before we made a similar connection in 24 hours. The speed with which we can perform our mission through social media amazes me every day.

Fundraising – I don’t believe social media’s best use by non-profits is fundraising. It’s a far better communication tool, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for fundraising. Last Saturday, April 10, we ran a campaign called #100X100 across three social media platforms – twitter, facebook and foursquare – and raised $25,000 in 24 hours. That’s more than we’ve raised in an entire quarter of our 9 month history let alone a single day! No one was more surprised (or more grateful) by this than me – we got to move a dozen children off our waiting list to have their heart surgery funded. 12 lives saved in 24 hours.

These are only three examples of the myriad ways Big Love Little Hearts benefits from social media everyday. If your organization is not using social media to its fullest, get them on board today…and if your organization is rocking social media, let me know how it’s been successful for you in the comments box below!