Charity 2.0: The social side of giving

Image copyright PA
Image caption Children in Need 2011 has so far raised £26,332,334

The economic climate could hardly be more harsh, they say, with youth unemployment hitting new highs and household budgets under mounting pressure. Yet it seems Britain is feeling more generous than ever. The BBC's annual Children in Need telethon raised record amounts on Friday - and new technology, in the form of the social web, may provide the explanation.

It's hard to remember what fundraising looked like just five years ago before social networking went mainstream. How did we tell our friends and the world about the cake sales, half-marathons, bungee jumps and all the other schemes to raise money for good causes?

There were of course all sorts of ways for big charities to spread the word, from television extravaganzas to radio appeals and full-page adverts in the national newspapers. But for individuals it was a case of knocking on doors, shaking a tin in the local shopping centre - or perhaps an email round-robin if you were really sophisticated.

Now various organisations, from Justgiving to Virgin Money Giving, have made it easier to organise online donations, while new charities like Help4Heroes and Kiva have shown how it's possible to use the web to promote a cause and get funds flowing rapidly and efficiently.

But it's the social networks, from Facebook to Twitter to LinkedIn, which have given individuals the tools to promote their charitable efforts.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption £620-worth of Sonic

Inside the BBC offices, we've run various fundraising efforts- from slimming contests to cake sales - to raise money for Children in Need. People have been generous, but by using social networks to reach out to a wider audience we're finding we can raise far more.

For instance, this year I've organised a gadget auction, run on eBay and promoted on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. So far, more than £3,000 has been raised from bids on 19 items.

The most startling success has been a Sonic the Hedgehog 20th-anniversary figurine, given to a colleague when he attended a Sega press event. When he turned up at the office with the Sonic statue, I was dubious - who'd want that? But he assured me that he had seen them fetching good sums on eBay. So it proved - after vigorous bidding, Sonic was bought for the princely sum of £620.

We hear plenty about the negative aspects of online communication, from cyberstalking to racial abuse. But social networks are also helping to bring out the better, more generous side of human nature.