The Enterprise of ‘Good’: Toronto’s Furniture Bank

samanthamehra    December 6, 2017

Toronto’s Furniture Bank is in the business of doing good. As a social enterprise dedicated to providing gently-used furniture to women, children, refugees, and those transitioning out of homelessness and poverty, Furniture Bank has grown steadily since its inception. Over time, it has rallied a series of sponsors, donors, social agencies, and other partners to provide thousands of families in need with dignified furniture in the Greater Toronto Area. And most of this has been accomplished through marketing and outreach strategies outside the realm of social media. But as more people turn to social media and online publishers for their news, and overall exposure to products, trends, and “ways of giving”, over the past year the organization has begun to weave social media into its overall marketing strategies, particularly by creating an online-only silent auction and ramping up its social posts to promote its annual fundraiser, the Chair Affair. The incredible impact of this small change (surpassing previous fundraising targets, growing followers, and increasing brand awareness by leaps and bounds online) has set a course for the organization to follow suit with a more dedicated online strategy. With its goals of growing the organization to a national level, and reaching record-breaking fundraising targets in order to serve the most families it can, it is clear that social media lends itself very well as a marketing tool, not only in relationship to its future events, but for the organization as a whole.

Below: Executive Director Dan Kershaw discusses Furniture Bank’s mission and functions.

What’s Working, and What’s Needed: Furniture Bank’s Social Enterprise

  • What’s Working: Furniture Bank has found reasonable success in growing a loyal following on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – each of these tools have allowed employees, donors, designers, partners, and agencies to interact with Furniture Bank’s work. For its annual fundraiser, the Chair Affair, slick, beautiful images were paired with meaningfully-written copy which showcased designers and their donated design creations. This content was compelling and shareable, and as such reached 40 different designer audiences throughout the month-long campaign on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This contributed to a growth of followers and an overall brand awareness, as well as renewed interest from the design community to donate their time and materials in future (an important and much appreciated part of the supply chain). What’s Needed: While this digital campaign was a clear and critical success this year, the investment in social media as a marketing device was used for a specific, timely event. Creating programming/events throughout the calendar year would allow for more ongoing, less sporadic social media campaigning, and would likely grow brand awareness at an increased speed. Spilling over into other social platforms dedicated to video (YouTube, SnapChat) would also give Furniture Bank a leg up and reach still untapped audiences with videos showcasing volunteers, designers, and clients who are part of the organization’s meaningful story.
  • What’s Working: Furniture Bank’s marketing and community management team grew this year, and continues to grow with directors dedicated to managing ‘People’ and fundraising. The investment of in these new positions signals an important ‘ramping up’ of outreach in different arms of the organization. This will ensure that each thread of the organization has a director mindful of social content for more than one part of the organization, in areas which have previously been underserved online due to limited staff resources. What’s Needed: When the resources are in place, Furniture Bank could invest in an SEO expert and a dedicated copywriter, both of whom could collaborate to a) provide continuously updated engaging content on social channels and on the existing website; b) strategically place optimal search terms in the copy; c) invest in Google advertising to raise the ranks of Furniture Bank in related searches; and d) data mine and report on this activity to assess successes and failures. While the focus has been on the main social media channels, a deeper investment in the content of the website, and on content which is more likely to be found via simple Google searching, will add to an overall brand awareness going forward.
  • What’s Working: Furniture Bank has a dedicated website with a treasure trove of information, with many micro pages detailing the mission, as well as the different agency partners, volunteers, and some blog posts. What’s Needed: In order to optimize itself as a top-ten option for furniture removal from Google searching, Furniture Bank’s website could use an overhaul, making it more navigatable, and with shorter, more compelling content. Creating original and continuous content for its existing blog, enriched with SEO terms, would aid in raising its online search presence. Investing in a website designer and a dedicated copywriter and/or SEO would be prudent here.

Lessons for Others

Furniture Bank is in the business of doing good. Charitable organizations have much to learn from Furniture Bank as a social enterprise, particularly from its online social strategy over the course of 2017, which should begin to expand into the operations of the whole organization in the coming years. A few to consider:

*Social for Social Good: Social media is an excellent, low-cost option for charitable organizations dedicated to social good. Furniture Bank has been able to rally followers, build brand awareness, optimize posts, and promote content at a low cost. For nonprofits working with minimal marketing resources or with an non-traditional content team, tools like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, WordPress and Twitter (among others) are viable options for keeping a brand vibrant on social media, at a reasonable price.

*Unlikely Partnerships: One of the wonderful aspects of Furniture Bank has been its collaboration with industry partners, the result of ‘thinking outside the box’. From real estate to interior design, the organization has found a wealth of support from these partnerships and their social followers. Promoting these partners and acknowledging them on a public, online platform has optimized brand awareness and has likely resulted in donations from these partners’ online communities.

*The Personal is Prime: The most compelling posts that Furniture Bank has contributed to its social channels tell a personal story: a story of a client getting his/her furniture; the story of a designer and how s/he envisioned and constructed a furniture piece; or a story of a volunteer and why s/he dedicates time to the organization. For a charity, doing away with impersonal ads and focusing on the realm of the personal makes for clickable content that moves people and encourages them to get involved.

*“Good” Content is Good:  Furniture Bank does good work. And the business of “doing good” is compelling to social media users who are otherwise bombarded with impersonal ads or negative banter. By telling social stories of good work and changing lives, the core of the organization, Furniture Bank is a name to remember, both online, and in the memories of the community members it has already served.

Organization: Furniture Bank
Industry: Charity, Community Service
Name of Organization Contact: Mitch Praw, Director of Marketing and Community Development

Authored by: Samantha Donaldson

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


References

Furniture Bank Website (2017). Retrieved 3 December 2017 from https://www.furniturebank.org/

Furniture Bank Facebook Page (2017). Retreived 3 December 2017 from https://www.facebook.com/FurnitureBank/

Furniture Bank Twitter Page (2017). Retrieved 3 December 2017 from https://www.twitter.com/furniture_bank/

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