Sunshine Horses is a not-for-profit horse sanctuary and adoption program based in Syracuse, New York. Their goal is to find horses that are done with their racing careers and to find them caring homes to live out the rest of their years as “companion horses”. Also, Sunshine Horses offers educational programs to many different age groups to give them the opportunity to learn about horse-care in a safe and structured environment.
Sunshine Horses was established over ten years ago in 2001 and I have been a member of the organization since it’s’ creation. I strongly identify with the cause of this organization, being a horse owner myself. In order to promote this organization, I plan to suggest ideas to promote Sunshine Horse’s presence on the web and stimulate the group’s network with other groups and organizations through the use of Shirky’s suggestions in the book, Cognitive Surplus.
Although the organization has been around for over a decade, they were reluctant to join the social media world until two years ago. As far as how Sunshine Horses uses technology, I will give them credit that within these past two years they have developed their website a great deal and have more of an active social media presence through Facebook. This is good news for Sunshine Horses because there is a big difference between having a “sitting duck” profile and actually effectively using a social media profile. This concept relates to an idea Shirky comes up with in his Culture chapter of Cognitive Surplus. He says, “If you have a stick, and someone gives you another one, you have two sticks. It’s better than having just one, but it’s still not much. If, on the other hand, you have a piece of knowledge-that rubbing the two sticks together in a certain way can make fire- you can do something of value that you couldn’t do before (Shirky, 139). The best aspect of the website is its’ layout. The website provides an organized system of pages that convey information about the organization very efficiently. It is very clear for someone looking to: donate, learn more about the organization, volunteer for the organization, and to see the horses that are currently in the program. As far as the organization’s Facebook, Sunshine Horses has become much more interactive with its audience than when the profile was first created. Instead of the organization simply posting status updates and the occasional picture, the organization is actively participating in discussions with people over Facebook. This type of interaction with the organization’s supporters helps establish a stronger connection to this audience, which is very important for a not-for-profit organization to remain existent and successful. On December 26, Sunshine Horses created a Twitter account. While they only have 19 followers at the moment, I know it was a big step for them to enter the “Twitterverse” and I have faith that they will expand in no time. Twitter is an important resource for Sunshine Horses to utilize because it can open up the organization to a wider, more diverse audience.
One big contribution that I feel I could make to the organization is setting up a YouTube channel for them. YouTube could be used as a tool to attract a new type of audience. As Shirky says in his chapter says in Cognitive Surplus, “…YouTube users-have noticed the change…young populations with access to fast, interactive media are shifting their behavior away from media that presupposes pure consumption” (Shirky, 11). I believe that a presence on YouTube for Sunshine Horses would be vital to their cause. The main goal behind Sunshine Horses is to find homes for horses as “companion horses” after their racing careers. However, like any experienced horse owner would tell you, it really helps to see a horse in person when you are looking to adopt or buy. This is because many horse savvy people like to see how the horses interact with people, interact with other horses, and how they move, to help them make their decision. In my opinion, if Sunshine Horses developed a YouTube campaign that targeted these possible adopters, they would be able to find homes for the horses put into their program much more efficiently and therefore, be able to expand their organization.
One of the key elements to a successful not-for-profit organization is cooperation and networking with other organizations. This is important for a variety of reasons. The first reason is financial. In order for not-for-profits to maintain themselves, they need to reach out to people, organizations, and businesses for financial support. Sunshine Horses deals with this concept very well, especially recently. On their website, they have a page that is easy for people to find who wish to make a donation to the organization. Also, Sunshine horses works with many different corporations for sponsorship. Sunshine Horses publicizes their major corporate contributors on their website. Some of Sunshine Horses’ main contributors are: Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, Seaboard Graphics, Priscilla Mahar animal welfare foundation, Saratoga Harness Horseperson’s association and Nutrena World. The relationships with these companies are vital to allow the organization to remain stable.
Sunshine Horses is doing pretty well as far as cooperating and networking with the community and those interested in the cause. Sunshine Horses has been especially active over the web and in the community recently ever since a horse slaughter bill was passed within the Senate last November. This new piece of legislation makes horse slaughter and consumption legal in the United States. Sunshine Horses has been very vocal advocates against the new piece of legislation and the media has taken notice and has mentioned the organization in many news pieces.
As far as my plan for the organization, I would suggest that the organization look into contacting a professional PR person/firm and talk with them about promoting the organization. There are many not-for-profit organizations, such as the Kidney Foundation, that have a staff of PR personnel that get the name of the organization out to the public. As much work as Sunshine Horses does with the community and publicizing themselves, they could definitely reach other to other audiences and work on making Sunshine Horses a more household name. Sunshine Horses could work on getting their name better known to non-horse industry audiences. Although it is certainly beneficial having strong support within the horse racing industry, there are perks to engaging a more diverse audience. For example, one of the biggest, most persistent problems that Sunshine Horses faces is that when they publicize themselves more, it usually results in more people calling the organization to place horses within the program, rather than to help the organization financially or by volunteering. I believe that if the organization was publicized to a non-horse owning audience, this problem wouldn’t be as persistent. The organization may even find they have more requests for adoption.
Commons based peer production:
Sunshine Horses works like many other not-for-profit in that volunteers are a vital part of the organization. Recently, the President of the organization said that the organization’s volunteers are the reason the group is as successful as it is. As Shirky states in the Cognitive Surplus, “…amateurs are sometimes separated from professionals by skill, but always by motivation” (Shirky, 82). In other words, when some people become well-paid established professionals in their field, they may lose the drive and motivation to push them to further success. Although none of the volunteers are paid for the work they do in Sunshine Horses, they do an incredible amount of work for the organization.
Shirky’s suggestions for success:
There are many aspects to Shirky’s plan outlined in the seventh chapter of his book, Cognitive Surplus, which Sunshine Horses follows. Some of the aspects Shirky discusses are already being done well by this organization, while some others could use some improvement.
– It is better to have a presence on Twitter and Facebook than to not have a presence at all. This organization was very concerned with putting itself out there into the social media world since they were relatively unfamiliar with it. Although it took some time for these profiles to gain fans and followers, as Shirky explains, “it is far better to start with a system that is small and good and work on making it bigger than to start with a system that is large and mediocre and working on making it better” (Shirky, 194).
Default to Social
– This is something that Sunshine Horses excels at. It is important, especially for organizations that rely on public support, to be socially active and communicative. On the organization’s different social networking pages, the social media coordinator does a great job of getting back to questions, comments, and concerns that are posted on their various profiles. This is because the organization puts value into social interaction.
People Differ. More People Differ More.
– This is an aspect that Sunshine Horses could improve on. As mentioned previously, ever since the organization has been featured in the media more frequently due to the horse slaughter bill, new audiences have been exposed to the organization. This new exposure to new audiences might be slightly overwhelming to the organization. Sunshine Horses needs to make sure that they are appealing to a wide variety of audiences and not just specifically horse savvy audiences.
Success Causes More Problems than Failure
– This aspect to Shirky’s steps for social media success especially applies to Sunshine Horses. One of the biggest problems when Sunshine Horses makes efforts to expand is that its’ publicity successes leads to other issues for the organization such as more people being interested in admitting horses into the program. With the resources Sunshine Horses have, the organization can only take on a certain amount of horses. If the publicity is only leading to more horses needing a home, the efforts to social network are more of a hassle than a benefit.
Shirky, Clay. Cognitive Surplus. New York, NY: the Penguin Group, 2010. 11,82,139,140, 203,212. Print.