To start this blog I want to tell you a little bit about the sometimes rather bizarre environment I’m working in. As you might have read on the “About” page I am – among other things – the social media guy at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). However, we are a pretty peculiar organization which can make this working here quite challenging:
We are not the headquarters
The role of the IFRC secretariat is to represent the 186 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies internationally and to be a resource to them. That means we are not the ones telling e.g. German Red Cross what to do – the National Societies tell us what to do. We are there for them. That also means that we cannot do anything on a National Society’s territory without asking them first. I could not for example contact Mashable directly and ask them to promote our social media channels without going through the American Red Cross. And while there is a good reason for that – it’d be confusing for most company’s if wo different Red Crosses called them – it adds complexity.
No local base
While millions of people worldwide are volunteering for the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the IFRC secretariat has no direct connection with them. All volunteers are with a specific National Society. That means, that one of the most interesting routes one can take with social media, i.e. getting people to do something locally, is as good as blocked for us. We cannot ask volunteers directly to do anything – the National Society has to do that.
We cannot fundraise
One of the iron rules we live by is that the secretariat cannot actively fundraise on a National Society’s territory. That means we cannot use e.g. Facebook causes or even Google Ads to ask for money. All we can do is use these tools to spread information. Unfortunately that means that one of the simplest “asks” we could attach to our social media activities – asking for donations – is totally verboten.
As a result many of our social media activities seem to lack a point. If you cannot ask people to do anything for you, then there’s a risk of the whole thing becoming just a vanity exercise.
This also means that measuring success is very difficult because you primarily deal with rather fuzzy criteria like “awareness raised” or “influence increased” rather than “amount of money donated through this activity”.
A big sister who can do whatever she wants
To make things even more interesting we have a sister-organization in Geneva, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), that doesn’t have to observe any of these restrictions. I’m not going to go into great detail what the difference is between the two organizations (read this Wikipedia-article about the Red Cross Movement if you are curious) but in a very simplified way one can say:
- Mandate: The IFRC deals with natural disasters, the ICRC with everything related to conflict.
- Governance: The IFRC is an International Organization and represents the 186 National Societies, the ICRC is an independent Swiss organization that woks together with many National Societies but doesn’t answer to them.
- Funding: The IFRC gets most of it’s money from the National Societies, the ICRC gets most of it’s money from the states party to the Geneva conventions.
Fortunately for us, the ICRC is even less comfortable using social media then we are and much slower to adopt these tool – but that is changing.
What I can do
Of course there also things I can do:
- First and foremost I try to use social media to get the Red Cross Red Crescent message out. Frequently that simply means being a a good resource and telling others about the tools that have been produced in-house and which can be used by anyone. Unfortunately our antiquated web site cannot track direct downloads which makes measuring success very difficult.
- Secondly I can develop tools for National Societies who want to use social media themselves.
- And thirdly I can bring together people from different National Societies who might be able to help each other.
So now you know – this is the kind of environment I’m working in.