People who know me well, know that I have an obsession with pens and magic markers. So, when this viral fundraising campaign – #BuyPens – to help Syrian refugee came across my radar, it immediately caught my attention.
When Gissur Simonarson, an activist from Oslo, Norway, shared a photo on Twitter last week of a father selling pens on the streets of Beirut as he cradled his sleeping daughter, the tugged at the heart strings of the 6,000 followers on Twitter. Within hours, requests poured in from around the world to help the man, a refugee from Syria, in the photo. But Simonarson did not know who the man was or who took the photograph.
That’s where social media came in, with the Twitter followers tweeting to others to help Simonarson locate the pen seller with the #BuyPens hashtag, after two days of looking, they found him.
He didn’t stop there – he wanted to help this refugee. He launched a Twitter account called @BuyPens and set up a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. The campaign raised $5,000 within the first 30 minutes. Simonarson wrote on the fundraising page: “Long story short, we were able to find him and now have a secure way to get this man the money we raise here through a local refugee organization. Thank you to everyone who has supported this. It’s nice to see people come together and make a difference in another persons life.”
What happened next is that the fundraiser, photo, and hashtag went viral — what every nonprofit fundraiser hopes for in their own campaigns, raising $161,118 as of this morning. A community of people beyond the activist’s network have jumped in to spread the word and donate. And it has been picked up by mainstream media around the world.
The #BuyPens refugee tells us his story in this video posted on Facebook by Aljazeera sharing his pay it forward plan: “I want to use any money I get to help other Syrians. “What’s for me is for them.”
Will it become as big as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, now a year later and working hard to make it an annual fundraising event? We have a slow news period – and a downer news cycle (Refugee crisis in Syria). We also have a compelling and touching story of how this crisis has touched one family, an activist who wants to help, and, of course, social media and main stream news attention.
Let’s see where it goes, but if anything it is another story about the power of Twitter, social media, crowdfunding, and humans wanting to help other people in need.