From the NTEN Conference: Whoa, Nelly! Web 2.0 is Cool, But …
At last month’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in New Orleans, nonprofit techies and professional fundraisers met up to discuss the emerging best practices for fundraising using social networks and social media. Their conversations were overwhelmed by one small detail. Few nonprofits have succeeded in raising large amounts of money using blogs, widgets and fundraising applications for social networks.
Nine months since the high-profile launch of Facebook Causes and well over a year since the first articles on Web 2.0 fundraising started to appear, members of the nonprofit tech community seemed to be turning against the new-fangled tools for online fundraising. The traditional staples of online fundraising — a well-cultivated e-mail list, the ubiquitous “donate now” button and a coherent well-designed Web site — appeared to be making a full-fledged comeback.
The collective reality check succeeded in undoing the media hype that has surrounded initiatives like Facebook Causes, whose founders incidentally chose not to attend the conference. Nonprofits are now better equipped to find the right balance between traditional online fundraising and innovative approaches to community building. Sooner or later, the hard-won online community that forms around a nonprofit’s work may respond overwhelmingly to a fundraising appeal. But, with a few exceptions, it hasn’t yet.
Below are three key takeaways related to Web 2.0 fundraising from this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference. These insights will help social media advocates within organizations convince others to embrace community building on social networks as a long-term fundraising strategy.
1. No one ever gives because of a fundraising tool.
In a session called “The Seven Things Everyone Wants: What Freud and Buddha Understood (and We’re Forgetting) About Online Outreach,” Katya Andresen, vice president of marketing for Network for Good, and Mark Rovner, president/CEO of Sea Change Strategies, put social-media tools in their proper place — the toolbox.
Rather than embracing new fundraising tools because they’re new and glittery, Andresen and Rovner encouraged nonprofits to remember seven key desires of potential donors: to be seen and heard; to be connected; to be part of something greater than themselves; to have hope for the future; to trust others; to be of service; and to want happiness for themselves and others.
A Web 1.0 Web site would have a hard time meeting any of the seven needs listed above. A well-managed and well-conceived social network, on the other hand, could do the trick. Nonprofits must consider how potential donors interact with the profiles they create on various social networks and then find ways to make the experiences resonate.
2. Be Prepared for Katrina-like Moments.
In “Turning Your Social Networks Into Donations,” Care2’s Justin Perkins and Heather Holdridge featured the question, “Are you ready to reach several hundred thousand people who trust your organization?”
The presenters then shared an example of how in the week following hurricane Katrina, Care2 helped the American Humane Society raise $205,000 from 5,000 new donors to support animal rescue efforts in New Orleans. Without an online community of engaged supporters, Care2 would not have been able to assist in this way.
Social networks provide nonprofits with an affordable toolkit with which to build online communities. Maintaining these communities is hard work and might not appear to be in an organization’s short-term interest. And yet, as newsworthy moments arise, nonprofits quickly can turn a semi-dormant community of supporters into an active hub of fundraising and advocacy.
Change.org founder Ben Rattray made a similar point during his session titled “Group Fundraising: How Does It Work and What’s Out There?” After summarizing the pros and cons of wired fundraising, Rattray shared a diagram that places a nonprofit in the center of a networked group of supporters. This diagram illustrates how a nonprofit can both empower constituents and remain central to the messaging, orientation and direction of the human community that forms around it.
3. Not all social networks are the same.
In one of the more no-nonsense sessions of the conference titled “How Do Social Networks Fit Into Your Communications Strategy?” EchoDitto principal and founder Brian Reich summed up the differences of more than 15 social networks. His point: Success will come to the nonprofits that focus on niche social networks and communities.
Reich reduced his advice to five simple points:
1. Become a member of social networks where the people you want to reach already are.
2. Lurking on social networks is OK, but if you want to build a community, people have to know you are there.
3. Experiment with different communications styles. You can always recover from initial missteps.
4. Support what others are doing.
5. Succeeding on social networks requires that your nonprofit go outside its comfort zone.
“If you leave this session thinking, ‘My nonprofit needs a Facebook strategy,’ then I have failed miserably,” Reich said toward the end of his session.
Other sessions that dealt with Web 2.0 fundraising included consultant and blogger Beth Kanter’s session, “The Web 2.0 ROI: Are All These New Tools Really Delivering Value to the Sector?” and M+R Strategic Services’ Hilary Zwerdling’s session, “Fundraising in Social Networks: Are You Ready?”
(For more information on the Web 2.0 sessions, have a look at a See3 Communications blog entry called NTEN Does Web 2.0.)
In light of the mood at this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, the foreseeable future of online fundraising will remain a balancing act between top-down and bottom-up processes for articulating and funding an organization’s mission. The challenge for nonprofits is to avoid over-hyped expectations of Web 2.0 fundraising while not shunning social networks and social media altogether.
Peter Deitz is a microphilanthropy consultant and founder of Social Actions, a service aimed at helping individuals and organizations use social media to plan, implement and support peer-to-peer social change campaigns.