Compassion Inspires Compassion:

Tzu Chi USA’s Evolving Digital Presence

Compassion Inspires Compassion: Tzu Chi USA’s Evolving Digital Presence

Written by Ida Eva Zielinska

Han Huang (left), Ting Fan (second left), Nancy Wei (right) and other Tzu Chi USA team members take a photo near a poster introducing the Tzu Chi Connect App during the 2019 Walkathon at Tzu Chi USA Headquarters in San Dimas, California. Photo/Nancy Wei.

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Do not underestimate yourself, for human beings have unlimited potential.

Master Cheng Yen’s wisdom sends a limitless invitation to do good deeds, extended to one and all. And yet, some of us need further inspiration, which can come in various forms. From this perspective, seeing and reading about examples of people on the social service path, such as Tzu Chi volunteers, boosts the awakening of impulses to engage in compassion in action. Sharing such content online is one of the best methods to reach and touch many people.

Thus, while a digital presence is a vital advantage, if not a necessity, for any organization in the 21st Century, it is especially beneficial for the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, which seeks to relieve suffering and encourage community participation in this mission. Here in North America, Tzu Chi USA’s digital footprint has been expanding dramatically since 2012, when Han Huang took over the role of Chief Executive Officer and actively promoted its advancement. 

“He wanted Tzu Chi USA to have a strong presence and be visible in the digital world,” Nancy Wei, Tzu Chi USA’s Digital Content Strategist, who came on in 2015, shared. Part of that meant improvements to the existing website.

I remember being on a call with Han and Ting Fan (Director of the Tzu Chi USA Media Center at the time) and proposing a completely new, responsive, mobile-friendly website design. At the end of my presentation, he started thinking about how we could bring this up to Tzu Chi’s global headquarters in Taiwan for approval – the U.S. would be the first overseas Tzu Chi branch to have a different website layout from its global headquarters. He briefly described a bit of the complicated process of getting approval – but at the end, he just said, ‘let’s do it.’

Regarding the development strategy, the initial goal was to update the site technologically to ensure Tzu Chi USA stands out in the digital sphere. This aim was essential as search engines were beginning to prioritize mobile-friendly sites. Users were also migrating to mobile web browsing enabled by the fast development progress in smartphones at the time. 

However, Huang’s broad view extended beyond the Tzu Chi USA website design and mobile responsiveness.

It was his vision to move to a digital communications format using social media and email newsletters, and to step into the future of the Tzu Chi Bamboo Bank via our Tzu Chi Connect App.

Han Huang shares his broad vision during an interview. Photo/Tzu Chi USA Media Team

Sadly, Han Huang passed away in 2022, yet Ghose confirms that “his vision to grow Tzu Chi USA is still the main focus for us all.” [To learn more about Huang’s impact within Tzu Chi, please read our story “Honoring Han Huang’s Luminous Legacy” in Issue 66.]

So, let’s take a look at the advancements in terms of Tzu Chi USA’s digital presence, social engagement, and communications, most watched over by Huang, who remained CEO until 2019, then Executive Vice President until his passing in 2022.

A Cascade of Websites

Once the development team had addressed the technological improvements to the main Tzu Chi USA website, it focused on showcasing content.

We soon realized many departments in Tzu Chi needed their own platform online to showcase their work to the relevant constituents – hence the birth of all the sites that followed. From a technical and budget standpoint, we also needed to consider how to maximize our resources to allow us to build affordable new sites.

Overview of Tzu Chi USA’s website development progression from 2015 to 2021.
The landing page of the Tzu Chi USA website in December 2022.

The Tzu Chi Education Foundation (left) and Tzu Chi Medical Foundation (right) websites.

Following the evolution of the Tzu Chi USA English website, tzuchi.us, the team developed a cascade of specialized and different language sites, creating the necessary content simultaneously. First, Tzu Chi USA started a separate website for the Tzu Chi Education Foundation in the United States, tzuchieducation.us, then one for the Tzu Chi Medical Foundation, tzuchimedical.us

Next, in 2019, Tzu Chi USA websites in different languages joined the English one online: In Spanish, tzuchi.us/es, and tzuchi.us/zh plus tzuchi.us/cn in traditional and simplified Chinese. All outline Tzu Chi’s history and missions, with sections on Who We Are, What We Do, and Our Philosophy. Concurrently, they are a hub of up-to-date information presenting the most current activities and events, chronicled in detail through videos and photo-filled blogs.

The Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief (left) and Tzu Chi Dharma (right) websites.

After the Tzu Chi Center for Compassionate Relief opened in New York, it too found an online home at tzuchicenter.org by 2020. That year also brought the veryveggiemovement.org/ site in English, Spanish, and Chinese, featuring Tzu Chi’s trademarked Very Veggie Movement aiming to promote plant-based diets and unite society around the cause of animal rights, environmental protection, and public health. And the Tzu Chi Dharma website, tzuchidharma.org, also launched, outlining the principles of the Jing Si Dharma Lineage and the Tzu Chi School of Buddhism established by Dharma Master Cheng Yen.  

Since 2021, digital forms of the Tzu Chi USA Journal in English, journal.tzuchi.us/, Spanish, journal.tzuchi.us/es, and Chinese journal.tzuchi.us/zh, exist online as well. Tzu Chi USA’s nine regional chapters have equally gained digital ground with web pages, and the Tzu Chi Collegiate Association has its own site, youngleaders.tzuchi.us/.

The Very Veggie Movement (left), Tzu Chi USA Journal (top right), and Tzu Chi Collegiate Association (bottom right) websites.

The Jing Si Shop (left) and DA.AI Technology (right) websites.

There is additionally now a website for the Jing Si Shop, selling Tzu Chi’s signature foods, jingsi.shop, and one for DA.AI Technology, daaitechnology.com, which is at the root of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s environmentally friendly products, including the eco-blankets distributed worldwide during disaster relief and charity care missions.

With regard to what lies ahead, with all the sites maturing in terms of content volume and Tzu Chi USA approaching its 35th anniversary in 2024, Digital Content Strategist Nancy Wei declares that “we’re going back to the drawing board to re-evaluate our sites to improve them during 2023 in time for the 35th-anniversary celebration.”

As we can see, continually ameliorating Tzu Chi USA’s digital presence is paramount for the development team. And yet, websites are just one arena of digital existence as posts on social media platforms and emailed newsletters complete Tzu Chi USA’s communications and public engagement strategy.

Increasing Social Engagement

Tzu Chi USA is currently present on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube, and a flow of content that includes videos and posts rich in photos is creating increased social engagement from year to year.

We can see that from 2018 to now, Tzu Chi USA has gone from 25k to 34k in Likes on Facebook. We have also seen growth in all other social media platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter. What we want to accomplish with social media is to inform our current and potential new followers and care recipients about Tzu Chi's work. We want to leave a digital footprint of our relief work and what kind of services we provide to help others. Master Cheng Yen always encourages us to create footprints and share them.

The nine Tzu Chi USA Regions also each have a Facebook page, creating enhanced contact within the communities they serve. ​​This expansive social media presence allows individuals to join the conversation through comments, inspiring more people to learn about Tzu Chi. In turn, their interest helps to empower all the missions through growth in donations and support.

This is an incredible organization who truly helps those in need. Thank you for being there for those in need in Florida.

In their comments, the public often recalls previous aid. In 2022, Heather Suggitt in Naples, Florida, wrote regarding an October 4 Facebook post about Tzu Chi’s current hurricane disaster relief mission there, “Thank you for helping our neighborhood in May 2019.” Such continuity helps deepen community recognition, strengthening Tzu Chi’s capacity to offer timely assistance in that region in the future.

This year alone, Tzu Chi USA has already reached most of its social media goals.

Finally, Tzu Chi USA has maintained a presence on YouTube since 2010 under its Tzu Chi USA 360 page, garnering over 1.27 million views up till now.

The Tzu Chi USA Facebook page.

Going the Extra Mile

As part of its public engagement strategy, the Tzu Chi USA team also utilizes search engine optimization (SEO) to draw flow to content on digital sites. Anik Ghose explains, “Our primary focus is deep and rich content curation, which we use to grow our digital footprint. We mostly focus on Organic SEO for procuring online traffic via blogs, press releases, and media pitches.”

To top off the engagement strategy, the team harnesses the power of email outreach.

We get a decent amount of traffic to our website and donations via email marketing efforts. From 2018 till today, we’ve seen email marketing showing incremental growth in digital donations.

Why It’s Important

Building Tzu Chi USA’s digital presence and following is an evolving process, and the development and communications team is committed to steadfast improvements. The reason is simple: Each new connection is a blessing toward creating a better world for all. Whether you connect with Tzu Chi as a volunteer, a care recipient, a supporter, or a friend, our joining hands to help others assures the ripples of compassion in action will spread – from one good deed to another, one person at a time, without limits or end.

The Tzu Chi USA 360 page on YouTube.

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