case studies, fundraising, storytelling

What Makes Lily the Black Bear So Incredible?

18 Comments 29 December 2010

Organizations want to create a personal connection to its donors, but one organization has taken that idea out of the box and run with it. The North American Bear Center has enabled its supporters to craft a personal relationship with a bear family through Facebook. In fact, the NABC has carefully created a Facebook community around Lily the Black Bear that seamlessly furthers their mission of education and advancing the survival of black bears. But their fans care most about Lily and her bear family.

Lily the Black Bear’s fans can be moved to action in great numbers when asked. There is no better measuring stick of online community engagement than a community’s willingness to engage and take action when asked. All told, Lily the Bear’s fans have helped to raise $159,597 from 23,502 fans just this year. In terms of social network fundraising, that’s huge. The real question is why and what could be replicated by others.

Lily the Black Bear has successfully put a face on an issue and developed an entire online community around the cause.

The North American Bear Center in Northern Minnesota has created an entire movement of people who care about the North American bear around Lily the Black Bear. Lily the Bear’s Facebook Page features daily blog posts about the lives of bears, as well as webcam and photo uploads from Lily’s den and the area. The Page has 119,457 fans, many of which care deeply about Lily the Black Bear and her family. (Facebook status updates receive, on average, 50 comments.)

The NABC has steadily built an incredibly engaged Facebook community and community of fans that watch their live bear webcams, pay attention to the Facebook updates, and want to know more about bears. This summer the organization mobilized 17,916 votes to help win $100,000 in the second Chase Community Giving challenge. It also came in second in Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day, motivating 1793 supporters to give $39,597. Lastly, it has leveraged its community’s goodwill to help a local school win $20,000.

Lily the Bear even participates in America’s School Spirit Challenge

In November, Care2, along with America’s Great Schools and held the 2010 K-12 America’s School Spirit Challenge. The school with the most votes would receive $20,000. As Lily the Bear’s bear family (and her human research family) reside near the Ely Esy school, the NABC decided to ask Lily’s Facebook Page fans to help. Fans voted in large numbers. Voters wrote notes like “it’s the home of Lilly & Hope & all the other bears in the Research Team” and “I’m a Lily & Hope Fan. Love those bears.”

The Ely Esy school won easily, receiving 3,739 votes. Lily the Bear fans cast over 500 votes the day before voting closed to assure a victory of over 1,000 votes. Contributing to this success was that Lily the Bear Facebook fans are deeply connected to the Facebook Page, the mission of the organization, and clearly understood the connection to the local school. This specific challenge shows that if there is a connection to the cause, fans can be encouraged to support organizations other than their own.

What is the NABC doing so well?

1. They have brought us into the organization through a personal connection with Lily. Social media is personal, and Facebook is a great medium for sustaining friendships. Once you’ve met Lily, by the way, you’re hooked!

2. NABC supports the fan page with great content on the website. Supporting content includes two live webcams, photos, and bear facts.

3. Every moment is an educational moment. Lily the Black Bear’s Facebook wall is a mix of educational resources about bears and inside peeks into Lily and her family’s daily life. The NABC sees every activity of the bears as a potential educational moment.

4. Through this mix of education and personal involvement, the NABC motivates Lily’s fans to save black bears and continue to support the NABC. Fans are not only saving black bears, but they are saving bears just like Lily. When you put it that way, it’s easy to motivate fans to donate. This is why the organization has been able to motivate thousands to vote, donate and support efforts that save the black bears.

Lily the Bear IS incredible, but the NABC deserves all the credit for creating an incredibly engaged online community, and a movement, from the personal connection to one family of bears.

Many thanks to Sue Anne Reed for introducing me to Lily the Bear and the NABC on Facebook.


Your Comments

18 Comments so far

  1. donminnjay says:

    how can younot love lily and hope..since watching “HOPES” birth via live cam..and followib=ng them thru the woods with researchers updates and pics,,,,and of course the “BBC” videos
    i didnt know anything about bears before Hopes it is an ever learning experience,,
    one i wouldnt have ever had with out the facebook page and north American bear center…
    please check them out…and join in the fun and learning..and see if lily gives ‘birth’ of cubs ..with hope in the den… :)


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    I’m looking forward to Lily’s next cub. The wall posts on the fan page often speak of the power of watching Lily give birth on livecam, bonding the community with Lily and creating a powerful educational moment. Thanks for stopping by to comment.


  2. Jeri Q. says:

    The North American Bear Center is a phenomenal organization. Each member of the relatively small staff is passionate about what they do and give 110% effort to “give back” to each fan by providing DAILY education and making them feel an important part of their mission. It’s been amazing to follow the bears, the research and the growth of fans’ knowledge and commitment to research over the past year.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Jeri- I agree. This is a really great organization that has figured out how to beautifully integrate education with personal connections and stories. The fans seem to hunger for information about bears, showing that the Facebook Page clearly helps the NABC meet the awareness and educational part of its mission.


  3. Cblissrex says:

    Try it, you’ll like it! (And you’ll never be the same!)


  4. Dohlwiler says:

    Could not have said it better – Every moment is an Educational moment!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Yes – that’s what impressed me, too!


  5. Mary A. says:

    One year ago this week I saw Dr. Lynn Rogers on the “Today Show” talking about a dencam in Ely, MN . I thought that sounded interesting, so tuned in. In August I spent 4 days in Ely, MN to visit NABC, became a member of the Education Outreach project of NABC, and have voted in every online voting project. Please remember that it was the Lily fans who also brought $100,000 to Bearhead Lake State Park near Ely as America’s Favorite Park, beating Yellowstone and the Great Smokey Mts. in an online contest sponsored by Coca-Cola. We learn something new everyday with the NABC. Hundreds of classroom teachers use the den cam and web site in their classrooms. I did!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Mary- thanks for sharing your story about why you feel so connected to the NABC and Lily the Bear. I didn’t realize that Lily fans brough $100,000 to Bearhead Lake State Park near Ely. That raises the total amount generated by pure fan power to over $259,000!

    I think it’s so fantastic that the dencams are also used by hundreds of classroom teachers, which is another way that Lily and the NABC creates another community segment.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your story, and enthusiasm for the NABC here. It really adds to the blog post.


    Brandonguianen16 Reply:

     you have to admit tho yellowstone makes a lot of money


  6. Mary A. says:

    Thanks Debra for your comments. I am a MN teacher who retired 2 years ago, but stilll do subbing. The dencam is a wonderful resource for teachers in classrooms. As part of the education outreach project, there is a place on the NABC website asking teachers to tell how they used the cam this last yr. Approx. 500 teachers have sent in stories from over 40 different states. They include classroom teachers, homeschool parents, nurses, counselors, and high school teachers, with the largest percentage of teachers in preschool – grade 2 where hibernation is often taught in the early years. It is FASCINATING what that little camera in a den in Ely,MN has done to some many lives in the past year, including mine. Tomorrow the 54 puppets that I have made of bears,cubs, mice, spiders, and even Dr. Rogers will start their journey to classrooms around the country. Education outreach is the goal to teach the real story of black bears in Minnesota. So exciting!


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Mary – that adds such color to the story. I’d love to see a picture of the 54 puppets, too. What a wonderful project! Thanks for sharing.


  7. Kim Breimeier says:

    I’m a little confused by the #s you posted? Lily has over 120,000 FB fans, and the fans have donated more than $500,000 since January 2010. I wasn’t sure where the fan #s and the $159,000 donated came from, it is very low compared to what fans have actually donated. I’m talking just donations to the NABC here, not the contests the fans have won for the NABC and the Ely area.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Kim,
    At the time of the post, Lily the Bear’s Facebook Page had 119,457 fans. This blog post only looked at contests, as you mention, not donations to NABC (other than through the Give to the Max contest). The $159,597 represents the dollars that Lily the Bear’s Community raised through Chase Community Giving Challenge, the Give to the Max Day contest, and the America’s School Spirit challenge.

    As @Mary mentioned in her comment above, if you add in the $100,000 that the fans helped the Bearhead Lake State Park win, then the total amount leveraged by pure fan power during contests is over $259,000.


  8. Mary A. says:

    Debra – another interesting comment about why Lily the Black Bear works. For Christmas this year I sent out Lily and Hope Christmas cards, from the Bear Center, to friends who would appreciate and understand them. Today I heard from another teacher friend that her son came home from school today and had seen Lily on TV and wanted to take the card to school! Another education moment!


  9. Melinda Lewis says:

    Debra, with this example as inspiration, what about nonprofit organizations that work with different types of populations, where, while there are just as heart-warming and captivating stories to share, there are more complexities in terms of confidentiality and the dangers that come with revealing so much about those with whom we work online? How can an organization, for example, that works on domestic violence or child maltreatment or poverty forge the same deep, obviously transformational, relationships with their online community, especially given the major impact that such a connection has on that constituency?


  10. Brandonguianen16 says:

     you know there is something that bothers me. litter. i don’t understand why people think that the world is there trash bin. the world around us is filled with people who think they can through out their garbage on the street. NO! it is not that way people! instead of throwing your trash in the street; clean it up. don’t litter! you will get caught sooner or later!



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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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