May 10, 2012

A Facebook Promotion Connects a Charity With a Loyal Donor

David Levis and Dixon, one of his sponsored children, in Uganda.

It was a television commercial that first inspired David Levis and his wife, Stacie, to donate money to ChildFund International in 1999 and become "sponsors" of a needy child–and it was a Facebook post that helped send Mr. Levis to Uganda to meet five of their sponsored children this April.

Mr. Levis, whose family sponsors 13 children through the charity, was the winner of the organization's "Experience of a Lifetime" promotion, held on Facebook last year. He was selected from five finalists by public vote to win the trip to meet his sponsored children.

"It was one of those things you're hopeful about, but you never think something like this is going to happen," Mr. Levis says.

The promotion began as a way for the charity to connect with its fans and give them a prize tied to its mission.

During the contest's nomination process, ChildFund's Facebook page grew from 11,000 to 16,200 fans and added 800 more during voting for the finalists, said Virginia Sowers, community manager at the organization.

And the group gained one vocal advocate in Mr. Levis, a teacher from Citrus Heights, Calif., who spent his spring break touring Uganda and seeing his sponsorships at work.

"The nicest thing about it was to really see how the system worked," Mr. Levis says. "It seems like this small, little amount of money focusing on one child, and the reality of how they have it set up is so much bigger than that."

While Mr. Levis traveled the country, he shared his experiences through blog posts and Facebook messages to "bring all of the other sponsors, in a sense, with us." He says he felt a certain burden as the winner of the trip, which was valued at about $5,000.

"This was not going for a vacation, this was not going for a touchy-feely, 'Hey, how you doing?' to fill my needs," Mr. Levis says. The trip was to "put as much communication out there as much as possible to tell the stories as real and impassioned as possible each and every time."

Mr. Levis said his family hadn't been public about its charitable donations in the past, but the trip gave him a chance to talk about ChildFund with his friends, family, students, and others.

Since he returned from the trip, five of his friends have signed up to sponsor needy children, Ms. Sowers says.

Mr. Levis says he and his wife, both trained as teachers, are considering what it would take to go back to Uganda in the summer to help a school. They are weighing the cost of the trip against the value of donating that sum to ChildFund.

Ms. Sowers says the charity considered the trip such a success, it may hold a similar competition again.

Below, see a video of Mr. Levis's trip.

Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.