Interview: Train for Humanity, Mark Hayward

Amy Sample Ward
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train for humanity logoMark Hayward, co-founder of Train for Humanity, sets out today from his home to participate in the Miami Man Triathlon and raise awareness (and funds) for relief in Darfur.   Train for Humanity launched this September with social media as a core aspect of communications, fundraising, and more.   I recently connected with Mark to hear more about Train for Humanity and how social media is working for them.   Learn more about Train for Humanity in the interview below or at http://trainforhumanity.org

Tell us a little about what Train for Humanity is and the work you do:

Train for Humanity is a new, innovative, non-profit humanitarian awareness and fundraising organization focusing on trying to assist children, refugees, and orphans who have been affected by genocide. The concept is loosely based on the successful campaigns that the Team in Training (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) and Joints in Motion (Arthritis Foundation) have waged to raise funds and awareness for their respective health-based organizations by utilizing every-day athletes and their training efforts. However, Train for Humanity participant athletes will combine their passion for getting in shape or training to help raise awareness and funds for humanitarian crises.

We are vastly different from most humanitarian organizations in that we exist purely as an online entity, which means we have NO overhead costs to consume funds. Also, all of our PR and advertising to date   has been done online using blogging and social media as a means of spreading the word. In fact, our mission is simple:

getting fit + social media + blogging = social good

During our pilot phase we have three "blogger/athletes" training for various endurance events to help raise awareness and funds for Darfur Peace & Development Organization.

What got Train for Humanity going?

While I was serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the jungles of Papua New Guinea ten years ago I was present the evening that a young woman from my village died from the effects of cerebral malaria simply because the proper medication was not available. Following that incident, I didn't know how I was going to do it or what I would create, but I knew some day I would start a humanitarian organization.

Of course, life moved on: I went on to get a Master's degree in International Development, continued to travel and live in various countries, and worked my way through numerous jobs. But, the idea to create "something" that could assist those who are facing humanitarian crises was always in the back of my mind.

About two years ago I was heading out the door to go running when a news clip on CNN wound up stopping me in my tracks for a minute. The story was about the horrific activities that were (and still are) taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.

When the piece was over, I continued on my way and headed out the door for my run. However, during the workout the images of what was happening in Darfur stayed with me.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere as I was listening to Lucky Dube on my IPOD, I began to think of the successful campaigns that the Team in Training (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) and Joints in Motion (Arthritis Foundation) have waged to raise funds and awareness for their respective health-based organizations by utilizing every-day athletes and their training efforts.

Then it HIT me: Why hasn't anybody implemented a similar model of using endurance athletes in training (getting fit) to assist with humanitarian fundraising and awareness?

And thus, the initial idea for Train for Humanity was born.

Why Darfur?

People watch horrific events on the news on a daily basis, however, what's happening in Darfur is the first genocide of the 21st century. At present, the situation is dire. Over the past five years, more than 200,000 (some estimates have this number at 300,000- 400,000) men, women, and children have died due to violence, malnutrition, and disease associated with genocide and an additional 2.2 million people have been displaced.

I am not quite sure why the global leaders haven't really done anything to ensure that the violence will stop. Again, for me, it comes back to the children, who by some circumstance happened to be born during this crises. When I think about them losing their parents for no reason I always come back to the same conclusion - I live in the Caribbean, my life is good. How could I not do something?

How have you seen social media help the organization?  

Social media and blogging are almost a complete bottom-up approach to marketing and branding. When used properly small business can utilize blogs, fellow bloggers, and social media (like Twitter and Facebook) to help promote their business or particular cause. Train for Humanity is working to leverage the power of blogs and social media to raise awareness. For example, Project co-founder Leo Babauta,   has over 70,000 subscribers to his site and I think he gets close to a million page views a week, so anytime he mentions TFH on his site, he has the ability to reach a huge audience. Also, I have been writing guest posts, which highlight Train for Humanity for such popular blogs as Darren Rowse's ProBlogger and the Successful Blog owned by Liz Strauss.

The latest statistic that I read stated that over 150,000 new blogs are created on a daily basis. The ability for even a small percentage of those blogs to help us make an impact is mind-boggling.

Social media sites such as Twitter and PLURK are primarily "micro-blogging" networking applications but if you are helpful toward the people who "follow" you, then they are always willing to promote your work in return.

We launched Train for Humanity on September 9, 2008 with nothing BUT social media so its intrinsic value (for us as an organization) is huge. In fact, without social media, Train for Humanity, would not necessarily exist. All of the blogger co-founders live in various corners of the world and we were brought together via our shared passion for helping people, social media, and the internet.

As a specific example, on the launch day we did not use traditional media for a press release. Instead we relied on social media tools like Twitter and random blog posts around the web to help spread the word about this new fledgling humanitarian organization. Our very first day the Train for Humanity website went from ZERO pageviews to around 7,000 within a ten hour period.

How are you leveraging social media in your current training campaign?

During phase one of Train for Humanity we aren't specifically focusing on one particular training campaign. Rather, we are posting weekly training updates on our blog and we also want the TFH site to be a resource for others who might like to launch an online non-profit or business. To that end, I recently posted an article titled, "One Month After the Launch: Ten Lessons Learned."

Our broader strategy has been to guest post on larger blogs like chrisbrogan.com, problogger.net, successful-blog.com, and the FourHourWorkWeek. We have also used Twitter (and to a lesser extent PLURK and Triiibes) to engage new readers in order to help us keep the buzz going.

What has surprised you about social media use with the organization/campaigns?

I have been truly humbled and inspired by the number of online acquaintances, whom I've never met, that have come forward to help with Train for Humanity either by sponsoring one of the athletes, blogging about us, or "retweeting" Twitter messages for me.

Also, I might add that combining social media and social issue awareness seems to be a tricky beast to tame (at least for me). The one thing that has sort of surprised me is that every time, without fail, if I send a Twitter message about something that is going on in Darfur I will lose between 3 and 5 followers. Which is okay because they probably followed for one reason and every now and again they get hit with a message on Darfur, but I am still curious as to "why."

What have you seen to be the best social media tool for engaging your supporters?

GREAT question! Hands down, from my experience, people respond best to tweets (and countless retweets from friends) directing them to blog posts that are going to teach them something. Seth Godin emailed me some priceless information a while ago and he essentially told me:

Don't tell people what you are about or try to jam it into them...teach them something about you, your organization, or what you have learned.

In that way you can provide value while still trying to gain Train for Humanity evangelists, sponsors, and participant athletes.

How can people follow you on SUNDAY?

You know I did just get a BlackBerry so I hope to tweet and blog most of my experience. Starting with leaving my little B&B business on Culebra Island by ferry this Wednesday to crossing the finish line on Sunday, November 9th, and everything in between.

Follow Train for Humanity on Twitter and the blog. Here's Mark's Twitter to follow, too!

How can people get involved with Train for Humanity?

If the genocide that is taking place in Darfur moves certain people to want to help or assist then I would strongly encourage those individuals to get involved. However, even if it's not TFH, chances are, if you are reading this interview you are wealthy compared to most. Please know that you CAN make a difference!! If you are moved by animal welfare issues then support honest people who are trying to make a difference in the lives of animals or if your child's school needs some help then maybe try to assist them.

The easiest way for people to get involved at this time is to send an email to trainforhumanity@gmail.com and if you would like to support us by sponsoring one of the TFH athletes then visit the sponsor-us page.

Learn more about Train for Humanity and how to get involved here.