Using The Web To Power Her Cause – An Interview With Katie Meyler Of More Than Me

This article is part of a new series on Dutiee that features people who are extensively using the web and new age media to make an impact.

Katie Meyler’s use of the web in raising big money and promoting her nonprofit More Than Me is truly inspiring. Katie Meyler and  More Than Me is all over the web and actively making use of various platforms such as Twitter, Vimeo, Flickr, Instagram, Causes, Global Giving and Facebook to fundraise and advocate for the girls they are supporting in Liberia. More Than Me helps young girls get off the streets and into schools in one of the world’s most poorest and dangerous slums in West Point, Liberia. What impressed me was that despite being a new charity, Katie has managed to get a lot of people behind the cause in a relatively short period of time by leveraging the web.

She recently won  the $1 million top prize from Chase at the American Giving Awards – a star studded, red carpet event that honors changemakers and was covered live by NBC.  To win this award, Katie had to gather  maximum votes online on Facebook and from Chase customers. Besides her recent win at an online voting competition, Katie and More Than Me has a terrific following on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. They are a five star rated charity on Global Giving, a web based fundraising platform. They make excellent use of visual media – photos and videos to communicate their cause and the impact they are making.  Katie has been called “The most passionate person we’ve ever met” by Bono’s ONE Foundation and a “Social Media Role-Model” at a UN-sponsored Mashable event.

I recently caught up with Katie to understand what got her to using the web to power her cause and the tech tools she makes use of in her everyday work life.

Deepa Chaudhary (DC): So how did you get started on the web?

Katie Meyler (KM): It’s a longer story of how everything began. I grew up poor, had a tough childhood filled with mental and physical abuse, drugs and alcohol. At the age of 17, I travelled with my youth group to Central America – I met people whose basic needs were not met. I realized I wasn’t as poor. Later, I did my college internship in Bolivia working with street children. I had kids asking me for help, they wanted to attend school. I started putting their stories out on social media, at that time on Myspace and Facebook, which were very new and cool then. I asked people for help as I realized I couldn’t do it alone. That’s why I named my organization More Than Me.

We understand stories – stories is what people connect with. I’m motivated by the stories of these girls and that’s what motivates others. I wish I could fly all my children to the US to tell about their life in Liberia but since we can’t, I do my best to share their life  stories. We do cool videos, photos and put it out on the web. We ask for help, we ask people to help us build this together. People get excited and want to be a part of this journey.

DC: You are very active on the web and in creating different kinds of web content. How do you manage all this? How many people work behind the scene?

KM: I only have two in the US working full-time which includes me and the other person is the Finance Manager.  We work with fellows and volunteers who help out with marketing, social media and design. I have six Board Members who are committed to helping make the organization sustainable. Like Charity:Water, we want to be able to say 100% of your money goes to the cause. To pay for our operating cost we intend to raise money from corporates and through  other sponsorships.

DC: How many web platforms have you raised money on?  Could you name them?

KM: Let’s see, we are very active on Global Giving and Causes. We recently participated and won an online voting competition which was primarily on Facebook. We have not yet made use of Kickstarter and Indiegogo ourselves, but we have had people raise money for our cause on those platforms as well.

 DC: What percentage of your funds come from web fundraising?

KM: Currently it’s 90% as we won this major award of $1 million dollars through an online voting competition. But in future I see 50% of our donations coming through online efforts. You need to fund raise both, online and offline since most of our large donors are not on the web.  Without the internet More Than Me wouldn’t exist, in addition to raising funds on the web, I met almost all my team members online – through and on Twitter.

DC: You have large social media presence. How engaged are your communities?

KM: Yes, we do have large followings on Facebook and Twitter and they are all very actively involved. Whenever we reach out to them for donations or any other help, they are there to help. They are not just a mere ‘Like’, I’ve met with most of them personally.

DC: What tech tools do you use in your everyday work?

KM: The iPhone is my life, I get so much work done just through my iPhone. We are present on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. We use MailChimp for emails and salesforce CRM to manage leads and donations, though I’m still struggling with how to transfer all my contacts from salesforce to MailChimp. We have people coming to us saying they don’t receive our emails. See this is the thing about having relationships with people,  when your customer service blows up, they’ll come to you and will be happy to fix your problem.

We use Bitly to track our links but only when we run campaigns as we would like to see how many people are clicking on the link. No, we are not using any social media tracking tool currently but as we grow we would need to do that as well. I do measure my website, what pages they are clicking on. I measure my PR, how much media translates into donations.

We focus a lot on design. I have a team member who is a Graphic Designer. If its looks nice, people think your programs are good. We have people’s attention for 10/20 secs and we have to be great at communicating our stories within that time frame.

DC: You have really great pictures of your girls and your work in Liberia. Are you a photographer?

KM: I like art, I’m a creative person. I’m not a photographer but I call myself an iPhone photographer. I take all my pictures on iPhone. I use different apps to enhance my pictures. The Love, Hope, Dream sequence pictures that you see on my website are all taken by me. We now have an award winning photographer on the ground but prior to that I took all my pictures. At times we have journalists visiting Liberia and they want to photograph the slum we work in, as it’s one of the world’s most dangerous slums. We help them with their slum visit and in return ask them for the rights to the pictures.