Rebecca Bollwitt, perhaps better known as Miss 604 has been a frontierswoman and a leader in digital storytelling for well over a decade. Luckily for many charities and organizations, Rebecca has a warm spot in her heart for philanthropy and bettering the communities she lives in through sharing exciting events, stories, and more to the denizens of British Columbia. Variety BC has been on the receiving end of much support, and Ms. Bollwitt was recently honoured by Variety International with the Variety International Media Award! She even got kudos from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on her well deserved award!
We sat down with Rebecca before she embarks on a chilly night in support of the Covenant House.
Q: How did you first hear about Variety?
A: I first hear about Variety when I was little, growing up in Surrey, BC and watching the telethon each year on BCTV. I would also spotted a Sunshine Coach on the road (my mom’s nickname for me was Sunshine) so I was curious about what they were. My parents made sure we tuned in to the Telethon and supported each year.
Q: What was your first involvement with Variety BC?
A: I was first invited to do a shift on the Telethon’s Gold Panel in 2014, and I have been promoting Variety’s events on Miss604.com since 2012. In 2014 I also met with the marketing and communications team where we came up with the idea for the Social Lounge at the Show of Hearts Telethon, bridging the gap between in-person and television messaging with the online audience to help drive donations.
Q: What other charitable organizations do you donate your time, voice and money to?
A: Tonight I am heading outside to sleep on the street in support of Covenant House; this is my fourth year participating in their Executive Sleep Out to raise funds for their programs and services that support homeless youth in Vancouver. I have also been a sponsor of the YWCA Women of Distinction Awards for 7 years, a sponsor of the Canuck Place Gift of Time Gala for 4 years, and annually I sponsor a dozen local non-profit events and campaigns. I have rappelled down the side of a building in Downtown Vancouver for Easter Seals, I have served meals at the Union Gospel Mission, and I have been locked in a kennel at the SPCA until I raised enough funds to be released. Supporting local causes is truly important to me especially since I have a strong online voice that I can use to amplify their stories.
Q: For the last 9 years I have also sponsored every major festival hosted by the City of Surrey, supporting and giving back to my hometown.
A: How have you seen social media and digital journalism impacting the way most Canadians get their news?
On average, 62% of Americans are getting their news from social media, and Canada’s internet usage statistics are ever higher than America’s! That number is up over 10% in the last 3 years (Journalism.Org/comScore). Reaching people where they are spending most of their time – in front of a smartphone or computer screen – is key to communications in this day and age.
Q: How have you seen social media impact charities and how they get their messages across to donors, sponsors, volunteers and the general public?
The case for social media for non-profits is only growing. From challenges (like the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge) to easy online donation mechanism, and spreading news, it’s a way to stay in touch with your current audience and reach even more people locally and globally.
In 2015, 11% of non-profits using social media saw growth on their email list subscriptions while Facebook and Twitter followers grew 42% and 37% respectively. For non-profits (a study by BufferApp) found that social media is growing 3x faster than email for communications. I could browse stats and charts all day but I have personally seen so many examples!
The first was in 2008 when I did a Blog-A-Thon, where I published a blog post every 30 minutes for 24 hours. I helped set a 1-day online donation record for the Union Gospel Mission. My readers have donated over $30,000 to my personal donation pages for causes over the last few years as well, simply through my promotions on the blog and social media.
During the last Show of Hearts Telethon, the telethon was one of the most-mentioned events in Canada that weekend, placing within the Top 5 among events like the NBA playoffs, the NHL all star game, and presidential debates in the USA.
Q: What are you most proud of in your accomplishments as Miss 604?
I am most proud of the impact and support I can give local organizations that might not have a powerful voice or reach online. From including a local art show in my “Things to do in Vancouver This Weekend” post and receiving a personal note of thanks from an artist, to readers winning amazing prizes thanks to my partners. When I can get feet in the door for a local business, or donation dollars filling up a thermometer online for a local cause, it tells me that my passion for writing online is worthwhile.
As an honorable mention, I once put a town on the map! The city of Sechelt, BC was not displaying correctly on Google Maps for years and finally a citizen appealed to me to start a campaign. Within 48 hours Google Maps updated their listing and local business owners were over the moon!
Q: What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
When I first started blogging in 2004, there was no such thing as social media. This industry and landscape is constantly evolving and I’m just keeping up with its shift. In a few years, the technology might change but the messaging will be the same, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I can communicate with supporters, readers, and organizations in the future. I hope to become a bigger part of Variety, committing myself to sharing its message, its history, and its stories while also lending my expertise to help it thrive online. I also hope to support all of BC, not just the “604” area code. Having already purchased Miss250.com is a start!
Q: What role do you think social media can play in recognizing donors and supporters and attracting new ones?
A: Social media is all about connections and word of mouth. It’s the perfect way to recognize donors, empower advocates, share stories, and even gather analytics and valuable insights. You can use it to mobilize volunteers, and to easily share your stories through images, videos, and text.
There was a great article on the Huffington Post about why social media is perfect for non-profits. Here are their top 7 points:
1) You can get your message out cheaper and faster with social media
2) You can use social contest to drive friends of friends to participate in campaigns
3) You can build an online community of supporters
4) You can easily reach the people you’re serving
5) You can find and engage online influencers to help spread the word
6) You can become a thought leader in the space you serve
7) You can tell your story better
Q: What motivates you to keep using your skills and presence as a writer?
A: I love writing and publishing online, in fact I built my first website in 1997 (while I was in high school) to promote my favourite band at the time. While that website really didn’t go anywhere, I did learn about the power of the internet, and online social communications. It’s been my passion ever since to write, share, and promote causes and businesses in which I truly believe. A significant part of my business is teaching and training others how to use social media, whether it’s by building a website for a local children’s entertainer or sitting in a board room with a top local law firm to teach them how to “Blawg” (Law, Blog). There is more to publishing on the internet than cat photos and pictures of someone’s lunch! I have seen what social media can do for businesses, I have heard cash registers ring, watched smiles grow on faces, and seen donations flow in through an online button. That’s what motivates me to post thousands of blog posts every year.
Thank you, Rebecca! Your support to Variety BC and other lucky, deserving organizations is incredible and appreciated. We look forward to continuing working with you and celebrating the best of BC.