Makin’ It on MySpace
In 2001, I launched a small, Web-based nonprofit organization called eActivist.org. Like most other small nonprofits, we were strapped for cash. At the time, “Donate Now” buttons were the latest and greatest in nonprofit fundraising, and I had the highest of hopes and expectations for this new and cutting-edge technology.
But, like many others, I was quite disappointed when I finally got the button on my Web site and … nothing … happened. No donations. No mass outpouring of giving. No silver bullet.
Back then, there were two important lessons that we had to learn about successful “Donate Now” fundraising. First, simply embedding the button on your Web site did not magically result in online donations. We had to learn how to ask our donors to give via those buttons. Thus, the nonprofit community embraced e-mail marketing.
Second, we had to educate our donors about how online donations were processed, and not only assure them that their privacy was protected, but also explain how it was being protected.
Today, when questioned about social networking and its online fundraising potential, I immediately think of “Donate Now” buttons. The fact still remains: Simply putting a fundraising widget on your MySpace profile or Facebook page is not going to result in large amounts of online donations. We need to learn new ways of asking donors to give on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Change.org, etc. The ask is done via blog posts, comments, bulletins and updates.
Also, for this new technology to produce results in terms of online giving, it’s crucial that we educate our donors that giving on social networks through widgets and apps is safe — and, of course, we have to ensure that it is.
It’s important to recognize as well that it has taken almost 10 years for online giving to account for even a very small percentage of all donations made by Americans annually. Successful fundraising using social-networking Web sites isn’t going to happen quickly. It’s going to take time, but I don’t believe it’s going to take as long as it has taken for Web 1.0 online fundraising to evolve.
So, what’s different?
Social-networking fundraising (aka Web 2.0 fundraising) differs from “Donate Now” fundraising in one very significant way: The masses on social-networking Web sites — aka your thousands of “friends” — are empowered to fundraise on behalf of your organization in ways we’ve never seen before. Through fundraising pages, widgets, and MySpace and Facebook apps, the masses now have the tools and power to raise money on behalf of the causes they care about and the nonprofits that are working for those causes. Imagine the possibility of 1,000 supporters out there on the Web, fundraising on behalf of your organization.
These new tools are available and out there on the Web today, but nonprofits have to learn how these sites, widgets and apps function in order to make them work for them. Fear and inexperience have crippled many nonprofits from getting on sites like MySpace and Facebook but, fortunately, as folks in their 30s and 40s start using these sites more regularly for personal reasons, much of the misinformation about social-networking Web sites and bad press coverage is subsiding.
It’s also important to realize that social-networking donors are a new breed. They use the Web and e-mail differently. They prefer a “Thank You” comment on their MySpace profiles instead of a letter sent via snail mail. They create fundraising widgets at Change.org and add apps to their profiles. They recruit their friends on Facebook to give to the causes they care about. They create and upload videos to YouTube and embed them on their fundraising pages to make their asks more personal and entertaining. The reality is that if your nonprofit doesn’t have a presence on these sites, you’re not on their radars.
I’m very passionate about social-networking Web sites and believe strongly in their potential to democratize and unite the global community to create positive social change. In February 2006, I created www.myspace.com/nonprofitorganizations — at a time when there were maybe 50 nonprofits with profiles on MySpace. There’s no easy way to know how many are on MySpace today, but my guess is around 20,000 to 25,000 worldwide.
Over the last few years, there has been much experimentation on how to use MySpace effectively. Through trial and error, we are just now solidifying some best and worst practices, and getting some positive results. As far as fundraising directly on the sites themselves, the amount of dollars raised is very small. I do believe that successful online fundraising via social networks is rapidly approaching, but today the real value of a nonprofit having a presence on social-networking sites is in building a powerful online brand around your organization’s logo/avatar and mission, new Web site traffic, and e-newsletter subscribers.
A good example of a nonprofit using MySpace is Grassroots International — a small, Boston-based nonprofit and early adopter of MySpace. Today, 25 percent of its Web site traffic and 10 percent of its new e-newsletter subscribers come from MySpace, and it has one of the most recognizable, respected nonprofit brands on the site. In fact, it was a finalist for a MySpace Impact Award .
Interestingly, Grassroots International has volunteers that run its MySpace page and to this day has only spent about $500 on its MySpace marketing efforts. The organization has only raised a little more than $1,000 directly on MySpace, but that doesn’t include the thousands of potential future donors who have visited the Web site and subscribed to the e-newsletter through MySpace.
Another example of successful social networking is the Humane Society of the United States. It excels at using MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Change.org, Flickr, etc., to build its online brand in the era of Web 2.0 and also has been successful at using the sites for online fundraising — so much so that it just hired two full-time staffers to work these sites. The key is that nonprofits have to learn how to use the sites, and the person that manages these communities needs to enjoy social networking. Most nonprofits have a social-networking strategy that is haphazard, fractured and without support from the higher-ups in the organization.
The reality is that most nonprofits are completely lost in Web 2.0. They lack resources, time, staff and technical know-how. Another reality? You won’t get results from using social-networking Web sites if you’re not putting time or resources into it (10 hours a week minimum). Also, it has to be said — because I come across it over and over — that age plays a huge role in successful social networking. Trust the younger people in your organization, and give them the green light to move forward. They are passionate about these sites. They know how to work them, and it’s important that you empower them and give them the resources they need.
So, what next? How do you learn how to use these sites? Which ones should your nonprofit focus on? Here’s my advice:
1. Start a profile for your organization on MySpace, get a Facebook Fan Page and set up a YouTube Channel. MySpace is the third most visited Web site in the U.S., YouTube is the fourth, and Facebook is the fifth. Go where the masses congregate online. If you don’t have a working knowledge of how to set up your organization on these sites, find a volunteer or intern who does. If you have the funds, hire a professional. Just keep in mind that it’s not as difficult as you might think.
2. Get a branded social network on Change.org. Change.org offers peer-to-peer fundraising pages, and MySpace and Facebook apps, as well as MySpace fundraising widgets. I work for Change.org part time, but I’m pitching it because the tools it provides are cutting-edge, powerful and unprecedented.
3. Read the sidebar to this article below for tips on how to manage your organization’s presence on MySpace. Then go to www.diosacommunications.blogspot.com for more information on each point and best practices for using Facebook, YouTube and Change.org, as well.
4. Finally, have fun! Social-networking Web sites are entertaining, and the vast majority of people you will communicate with are friendly and good-natured. Build your brand, nurture your community, and then when online giving via social networks becomes more commonplace, your organization will already have established itself in the realm of Web 2.0. FS
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