Client Spotlight: Isara

SocialEngine - Community Software

This Client Spotlight features Kirk Gillock from Isara Foundation, a charity established in 2005 to help those in need with projects ranging from education, to environment, to health and safety. Kirk received a humanitarian award from the Thai province of Nong Khai for Isara’s motorcycle helmet campaign; thousands of helmets were donated to improve safety in a country where Kirk says 80 percent of people drive on two wheels. started as a simple website, but now features the Isara community powered by SocialEngine. “The social media features of SocialEngine make it so that our volunteers, students, and sponsors can see what’s happening, real time, at any given moment at our foundation,” Kirk says. “It gives our charity complete transparency, which is unique and exactly what we want.” Here’s more from Kirk!

SocialEngine: What prompted your charity to start a social network?

Kirk Gillock: Ever since we started doing charity work in Thailand, we’ve used as a way for our visitors to not only see the projects we are working on, but also interact with those of us making the projects. It started 7 years ago with just an online forum. Each “Topic” was a new project or a new volunteer arrival. But last year that all changed when we found SocialEngine. With SE we could leverage the social media trend and use it to create greater interaction between our charity and our supporters, volunteers, and visitors. The results have been overwhelming and many of our supporters and volunteers choose to help us primarily because of our website.

SE: Does the word “isara” have any special meaning?

Kirk: Yes, Isara means “freedom” in Thai. It was one of the first words I learned here. Well, that’s not actually true, but it was either “freedom” or “Not Spicy” πŸ˜‰

SE: Isara has an online and offline presence. How do people typically engage with Isara?

Kirk: Foreigners usually find us online and Thais usually know us from the Thai news or word-of-mouth. Potential volunteers will typically apply online and then, while waiting to visit Thailand, they’ll register on our SocialEngine powered site and stay up-to-date with what’s happening via our activity wall, photos, forum, or blogs. If they have questions or concerns they can post them on the Activity Wall and get a response from one of our current or past volunteers. While over here, our volunteers are encouraged to post status updates, photos, and blogs, as frequently as possible. Everyone knows how important the website is for our charity so they are more than happy to help keep it updated. Once volunteers return home they usually keep in touch on our website and some of them even become new sponsors!

SE: How influential is social media for charity and Isara specifically?

Kirk: Social media is, we feel, the next logical step for nonprofits. As more and more people become skeptical of where funds are going, it only makes sense that there is more transparency. Social media allows for greater transparency. Our sponsors can visit our Online Community, any time, and can see what’s happening, right now! If they have any questions or concerns they can post them on the Wall and get a response almost immediately. That kind of interaction is why our sponsors trust us. They also love to see the posts, photos, and blogs from our volunteers. It’s their way of living vicariously through our website.

SE: We noticed you guys like karaoke. What is that about?!

Kirk: I was afraid you’d ask about that. A few years ago we wanted to raise some money for our charity so I thought breaking a world record might bring in some donations. Since everyone in Thailand sings karaoke it just made sense (at the time) that we’d try to break the record for non-stop karaoke singing (at that time, 39 hours). The singing was awful but I managed to break the record (46 hours 38 minutes) and we were able to raise over $5,000 in two days.

SE: What can we expect from Isara in the coming months/years?

Kirk: For the last seven years all of our projects have been done on borrowed or rented land. Meaning that, at any time, all our hard work can be taken away by a landlord. This year we hope to finally buy land of our own and build an orphanage, school, and farm. If we want to have a permanent presence here, and a lasting impact on the local communities, we need to own land. We have found the land, now we just need to find the money (wink, wink).

SE: How did you hear about SocialEngine, and why did you choose our software?

Kirk: Last year we were looking for a major upgrade to the software we were using. I believe the old setup was a mix of WordPress, BuddyPress, and SMF. After looking around at what was available, we decided to choose SocialEngine because it had everything we were looking for (forum, photo album, activity feed, blogs, etc.) and it didn’t need any customization. It looked great, right out of the box. In the last year our membership has doubled, and many volunteers and sponsors have chosen to help us specifically because of our website. We recently added the Mobile plugin which our volunteers really appreciate since many of them use their smartphones while over here.

SE: Lastly, what can you share with us about your involvement, and why you founded Isara?

Kirk: About 9 years ago I was doing web/graphic design in the US and decided to take a break from the cubicle. I ended up volunteering in rural Thailand for 3 months and the experience changed my life. For the first time in my life I felt like I was doing something meaningful. After returning home I decided to quit my job, sell everything I had, and go back to see what else I could do to help. Since 80% of Thais use motorcycles, I decided to start with a helmet campaign. From there we started giving scholarships and teaching about the environment. Now we have a full-time learning center, recycling center, between 10-20 volunteers helping each day, five Thai staff, 130+ students, and support from all around the world. I am very grateful to all our volunteers and supporters. Without them none of our projects would have reached fruition. Also, a big thank you to the team behind SocialEngine. You have helped our little charity connect with supporters from around the world, in a way we never thought possible.

SE: Thanks, Kirk!

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