How to Raise Money for Your Unsexy, but Important Cause Through Social Media
It's beneficial for fundraisers to elicit emotion and dollars from donors when they can put a cute face on their causes. Animal-welfare organizations have the luxury of displaying cute kittens, puppies and other animals, while child-welfare nonprofits can showcase the faces of needy children. Those images really tug at the hearstrings (and the purse strings). But how can you raise money for your cause when it doesn't translate easily to cute, emotional imagery?
According to Susan Gordon, director of nonprofit services at Facebook fundraising platform Causes, the secret is building a community through social media. During her session at the 2011 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, D.C., "Community Is Better Than Cute Cats: Raising Money for Your Unsexy, but Important, Cause," Gordon shared how organizations can utilize the power of social media to raise awareness and money for their causes, no matter what their missions may be.
"A lot of nonprofits that have topics that are out there think they can't fundraise in social media, but that's not true," Gordon said. "The one thing we're really seeing with successful organizations is they're investing in their community. A lot of people approach fundraising on social media the way they approach it in direct marketing, and it's not working too well. It has to be about community."
She gave the example of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC). JCCCNC is a small nonprofit in San Francisco devoted to meeting the evolving needs of the Japanese-American community. When the earthquake and tsunami hit in Japan last month, JCCCNC wanted to help, so it created a Causes page on Facebook. What the people at Causes found was that while the American Red Cross was bringing in the most traffic and money on Causes, e-mails kept pouring in from JCCCNC.
Upon further investigation, Causes found that JCCCNC has a small e-mail list of dedicated donors and incredibly strong communications. So JCCCNC sent its Cause to its e-mail list and it grew from there. People on its file knew what JCCCNC was and felt so comfortable with the organization that they shared the Cause a bunch of times on Facebook. As a result, JCCCNC had raised more than $150,000 on Causes as of March 18 (nearly $242,000 as of April 1) — nearly half of what the American Red Cross had raised on Causes at the time — with just 11 employees.
"It's hard to create communities with direct mail," Gordon said. "Donors read mail in their houses alone, write checks and donate in isolation. It's really hard to make them feel like a part of a large community. We now have a medium that we can use to re-create community online with social media."
Social media allows fundraisers to turn strangers into friends, turn friends into donors and then do the most important job — turn donors into fundraisers. How? By flipping the traditional direct-marketing fundraising funnel.
Traditionally, fundraisers send their asks out to a bunch of people, which trickle down to get some of those people to donate. That's not the best way to think about fundraising with social media, Gordon said.
"[Social-media] fundraising is about creating a community of dedicated people, bringing them in and then getting them to fundraise for us," she added. "If we get 50 people that fundraise through 50 other people, all these great things can happen. How many people can we get to spread it? … It's not just about how many people you can get to donate, but how many people you can get to spread it and fundraise for you."
So how do you create this utopian community where people are asking to help fundraise for you? By actively engaging and communicating with donors in a true two-way forum:
- A donor hears about your project through one or more mediums: blog, Twitter, Facebook, Causes community, e-mail, website, etc.
- That person then donates to the project because it is important to her, and you suggest, "Tell your friends why they should donate too."
- That donor tells her friends on Facebook that she donated.
- Then she asks specific friends to donate too.
- Finally, there is social recognition and interaction with the community on the Causes page, which can be further enhanced through other social networks.
It's a new spin on donor cultivation. Instead of focusing on just the top donors, social media allows all donors to be cultivated with the help of volunteer fundraisers (your fans, friends and followers who spread the word through social media).
"Everyone gets that experience, not just $50,000 donors," Gordon said. "Traditionally, big donors are thanked right away, told what their money goes to, are publicly recognized and develop strong personal relationships, as they should. It's a great donor experience. Social media gives a low-cost way of doing that for everybody."
The key is having something that donors want to share with their friends. They have to know why they'd share it in order for this to work. And that's where the two-way conversation comes in. Social media allows fundraisers to understand and communicate with their constituents like never before, which they can use to create relevant and engaging campaigns. Again, it's all about building a strong, trusted community.
Characteristics of a community
Nonprofits that are doing this really well have these characteristics of a strong community:
- Communicating regularly with supporters.
- A two-way street: asking questions and responding to questions.
- Setting goals and closing the loop when the goal is met.
- Asking for participation.
- Giving recognition.
- Building relationships.
- Creating "shareable" stories of your community. "Part of your job as a content driver is making your story shareable," Gordon said. "Each fundraising campaign that you do, make sure you have a clear space in your head of what your donors are going to say about it. Be sure of what the story they're supposed to share is. What about this campaign specifically do you think they're going to share?"
Make sure you don't fall into the trap of anti-community messaging, Gordon warned. Characteristics of communications that are not community-friendly include:
- Fundraising asks that don't resonate.
- Focus on reach, not relationships.
- All members are created equal. Some donors will be bigger influencers in social media, while others just like to view from afar. Treat them accordingly.
- Donate or bust.
- You communicate as an organization, not a person.
- Disjointed asks for action. "You can't keep putting out varying calls to action that aren't tied to anything. The quickest way to burn through your networks is to ask them to do anything that doesn't have an impact," Gordon said.
Questions to ask yourself
Gordon closed out the session by suggesting that fundraisers ask themselves these questions before embarking on social-media marketing:
- Why are we creating a community? What can donors do that makes an impact?
- Why would people want to be in our community? Why would they want their friends to be involved?
- How can we build community?
- How can we show the impact of our work to our community?
If you can't answer those questions, you probably aren't ready to make significant fundraising strides via social media. But if you can, you can unearth an army of volunteer fundraisers that can do remarkable things, just like JCCCNC.