Evolution of a hashtag: #unitedcaring

Social media: #unitedcaring

Volunteering is a social activity where every person with a shovel is a person with a shovel. With this in mind, we though UWATX’s large-scale citywide volunteer days would be excellent opportunities to share photos – so we figured out how to incentivize the effort.


Take the social nature of volunteering from the offline world to the online one by incentivizing individuals to share photos.


  • Pick a hashtag and stick to it: We chose #unitedcaring in April 2012 – and that’s still the hashtag used for all UWATX volunteering activities. The consistency makes it more memorable and easier for staff and volunteers alike. It’s also broad enough to be used for both one-time volunteer projects and citywide events AND include the organization’s key messaging (uniting people).
  • Provide feedback during and after events: We utilize FeedMagnet to create a real-time event dashboards so users can see how may others are engaging in the conversation with them. After the event, we report back on what the conversation really looked like.

Original dashboard – April 2012

Original #unitedcaringdashboard

Current dashboard – July 2014

Current #unitedcaringdashboard
  • Volunteer project sign #unitedcaring
    Make the hashtag as visible as possible: 
    We put the hashtag on all event signage – including paper signs on tables during lunch (provided at large events) and yard signs that are used year-round.
  • Add the hashtag when reposting user-generated content: Despite our best efforts, there were times when volunteers or even partners or staff posted event-related photos or quotes without the hashtag. In these cases, users had taken the positive action of posting but were not sharing in the conversation. At times, they may have not included our organization’s handles either. We utilized Storify, Hootsuite, Spredfast and Topsy over the years to seek out and find as many of these instances as possible and reward the poster with a comment or share, but always adding the hashtag to remind them of it.

Key Insights:

  • Everyone’s memory is short: It’s difficult to get a detail like the event hashtag across to hundreds of participants who are thinking about what they need to do to volunteer. Unlike conferences or other large-scale events, citywide volunteer days take place at multiple locations, often outdoors and rarely with available wi-fi. To get results, it’s critical to keep it simple and get creative when thinking about marketing a hashtag. By staying consistent with the hashtag over years, placing it on any available signage and digital communication about events and also adding it to shared user content, we could manage these challenging circumstances and start a conversation.
  • People like seeing themselves on screens – and seeing their friends on screens too: Much like a retweet or share, seeing yourself on a screen at an event is a form of validation – it gives users content positive feedback from the crowd and puts them front and center. Real-time event dashboards encourage audience members to participate by providing social proof that others are engaging as well and the conversation is lively. They also serve as a reminder that an online conversation is taking place as well.


The hashtag saw great growth in the first couple of events and continued a positive trend, but it requires consistent maintenance to continue moving forward. What makes the most significant difference in how much a hashtag is used by participants is the visibility of the event dashboard at events.

Still, it has gained enough use that volunteers have started to use it year-round.

Lessons Learned:

If you use a hashtag, it will end up on Instagram: Given the small staff size, UWATX does not maintain a presence on Instagram – but the visual nature of volunteer events and the prevalence of hashtags on that platform mean that users are sharing the hashtag on the platform. UWATX needs to consider how that will play a factor into future decisions about what platforms to use or how it could engage with users during these bi-annual events. Partners: Real-time dashboard on UWATX site – FeedMagnet

90 years in one digital campaign

'United for 90 Years' Timeline - Responsive

This year, United Way for Greater Austin celebrated 90 years of making Austin greater – the locally-run chapter started in Austin in 1924. The anniversary presented an opportunity to tell our rare story and a challenge to do so in a new way.


To recognize this key milestone, UWATX wanted to create an online experience to draw in new audiences and delight existing ones.


This project brought together multiple disciplines in the digital marketing spaces:

  • Create a responsive timeline highlighting UWATX and Austin history: Working with a design/developer, we created a dual timeline that both showcased our own history but also told the story of how Austin has changed as a community through nine decades. We used the timeline as the center of our 90-day celebration by also highlighting the anniversary with intro text at the top and featuring our zine and photography project as well.
  • Include categories to highlight niche parts of Austin: Categories allow users to zoom in on the part of Austin history that is relevant or interesting to them and allows UWATX to market parts of the timeline to more targeted audiences based on interests. (Example: Tech category)
  • Fill the timeline with extensive, rich content: The timeline includes 200+ highlights in Austin and local United Way history, all researched and written by internal staff. In addition, most posts include a photo (with Creative Commons or Public Domain license) or YouTube video and a link to learn more. Rather than providing a list of events, we wanted users to be able to dive in to Austin history.
  • Promote extensively across all channels: To kick-off the 90-day celebration, we reached out to our universe of subscribers via e-mail (approx. 20K individuals) to let them know about the timeline and featured it in some way each month in our e-Newsletter during the campaign. We also posted on our Facebook and Twitter channels throughout the campaign, highlighting a specific event or specific category from the timeline, and drove traffic from targeted interest groups to the category pages with Facebook advertising. Finally, with the help of our PR firm, we implemented a Pinterest strategy to highlight particular events on the timeline.

Key Insights:

  • Content should be useful: As more and more brands embrace their roles as content creators and publishers, audiences are bombarded by selling messages. To cut through the clutter, brands must not only tell compelling stories, but ones that add value for their audiences and that users can see value in sharing – content that has youtility. We could similarly cut through the clutter by producing content that was useful to our audience, while also highlighting our own story.
  • We are not the star of anyone’s movie…but Austinites LOVE their city: While 90 years is a significant hallmark for an organization and a badge of honor that few attain, we recognized that it wasn’t inherently or deeply interesting outside of the organization. The challenge became how to create content that was engaging beyond that simple fact. To solve that challenge, I reviewed and analyzed quantitative data from other content marketing efforts that confirmed a completely unsurprising fact: Austinites loved sharing and clicking on content that reflected the city or our unique culture. By including UWATX history alongside Austin history, we could create something that was interesting to users regardless of their relationship (or lack thereof) with UWATX.
  • A timeline of Austin must reflect its diverse interests: When we started, the goal was to include approx. 20 or so events to tell a simple story about our city. As I researched and reviewed content with our internal team, the list kept growing as all of us wanted more information on different aspects of our history. We realized that each of Austin’s diverse communities – film makers, foodies, musicians, techies, environmentalists, etc. – had a unique history and, in order to make the timeline as useful as possible, we needed to consider all of these unique histories and make it possible for users to select only the one they wanted to engage with.


During the initial 90-day campaign, the timeline drove an additional 10 percent of traffic to our website above our normal traffic. Of this traffic, 72 percent of this traffic came from new visitors versus site average of 67 percent. After launch, the timeline immediately became (and has remained) the second most visited page on the site each month – second only to the home page. Users also average twice as much time on the site when visiting the timeline.

To date, 2-3 other organizations have followed up to create a similar timeline including the Corporation for National and Community Service and a child care advocacy consortium funded by the Annie E Casey Foundation.

Lessons learned:

The timeline succeeded in meeting initial content goals of engaging existing users and attracting new visitors. Within a few weeks, we determined that this success could further be leveraged with a more obvious call-to-action to convert new visitors, so we implemented a modal window pop-up to collect email addresses. More iteration needs to be done to refine this process and add other ways for new users to become engaged, such as easier social sharing.

Partners: Development – Pixels Fear Me | Pinterest strategy & execution – Elizabeth Christian PR

Thanking donors in the social age

Social media: #ThankYouThursday

One of the most important steps in fundraising comes after a donor makes a gift: a thank you is the pivotal step from a transaction to a relationship between an individual and an organization. Knowing how critical a thank you can be, UWATX wanted to find a new way to thank donors during the holiday season.


Research shows donors want to be thanked before they are ready to engage with an organization further. This is a challenge for UWATX, where much of our relationship with donors is filtered or restricted by our company partners. We wanted to find an innovative way to thank donors that would break through the clutter and be memorable.


Thank donors individually via social media by posting their photo and tagging the donor or mentioning them. Run this during the busy holiday season to break through the clutter and build on the spirit of the season.

Key Insights:


#ThankYouThursday posts had an immediate impact – fundraisers started receiving emails thanking them for the recognition from the first post. More than that, because the cadence of the posts was so regular (every Thursday), internal staff began requesting donors to thank. In all, #ThankYouThursday posts gained from two to 10 times as many engagements (likes, comments & shares) on Facebook as other posts during the same time.

Lessons learned:

We saw less engagement on Twitter and learned that our audience of donors preferred Facebook as their primary social network. We also learned what factors predicted how far a post would go: (1) if a fundraiser was friends with a donor on Facebook and could tag them, (2) the size of a donor’s social network and personal engagement on Facebook.

Technology:  Facebook, Twitter, Illustrator, Photoshop