For fundraisers, the first quarter of the year is as much a time to look back as ahead. It’s a time to find out how year-end appeals tallied up, to assess how winter events performed and perhaps to report back to the board on what it all means.
In the spirit of planning ahead based on looking back, we scanned some of 2008’s best fundraising campaigns to see how that tumultuous year of change (and hope!) affected the fundraising sector and what the big “takeaways” turned out to be.
Although past years have been dominated by innovations in technology, high-visibility issues and new approaches (venture philanthropy, for instance), one major theme came up over and over again for 2008: relationships.
The Big Kahuna of relationships was, of course, Barack Obama. For years, fundraisers have listened to board members utter gems such as, “If only Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Clinton or (insert other blockbuster celebrity name here) would promote our cause, we’d have no problem raising money.”
But by the fourth quarter of 2008, that mantra had changed to, “If only we could do what the Obama campaign did online, we’d have no problem fundraising.”
Yes, if only … (sigh).
Online. E-mail. Mobile. Our new president was all over the place, and his campaign was at the top of the heap when it came to harnessing the power of relationships and, most notably, social networking.
Brian Reich, co-author of “Media Rules! Mastering Today’s Technology to Connect With and Keep Your Audience,” notes that peer-to-peer fundraising can trump all other types.
“Obama’s matching-donor project, in which someone who donates is connected to another donor who also happens to share interests or geography, was revolutionary in a lot of ways and should change the way we fundraise online,” he told me during a recent conversation.
FundRaising Success talked about the Obama campaign in its February issue, when it awarded the campaign a special award for “Yes We Can” Fundraising. Here are some other examples of relationship-building campaigns that took place last year.
MoveOn.org goes with soft (and supersoft) asks
Although the presidential campaigns really wanted your donations, they wanted your vote even more. Many organizations’ fundraising, advocacy and programs departments are siloed off from each other and struggle to effectively collaborate on shared goals. But in 2008, several fundraising standouts were multifaceted, integrated campaigns with components that didn’t always include an ask.
MoveOn.org produced some very snazzy pins during the presidential race. It promoted them on Facebook, e-mail blasts, blogs and more, giving supporters the option to get three for free or 45 for a $20 donation. It also offered a free “Yes We Did” sticker after the election, with no (hard) ask attached.
This is old-fashioned cultivation and stewardship — closely tied into the organization’s programmatic focus — arguably at its finest.
MoveOn.org also produced one of the pre-election season’s most popular viral videos, in which folks entered a name and a video was created featuring the submitted name as a wildly popular presidential contender.
Sarah Palin raises $1 million for Planned Parenthood
Yes, you read that correctly. Depending on your own social-networking use of the Internet — and political inclinations — you might (or might not) have seen several e-mails that spread like wildfire shortly after Sarah Palin was tapped to be John McCain’s vice presidential candidate. A truly grassroots effort, the forwarded e-mail invited you to donate to Planned Parenthood in Palin’s name, which would trigger the organization to send her a card (in care of the McCain for President headquarters) noting that a gift had been made in her honor. The original author of the campaign remains anonymous, but Planned Parenthood didn’t create or go out of its way to encourage it.
What did this brilliant e-mail cost Planned Parenthood? Zip. Zilch. It was a simple idea that went viral fast because it was timely and controversial, connected to a well-known organization, and triggered a (liberal) spirit of frustration shared by many. And it raised nearly a million dollars.
Really, who doesn’t love a good story?
In 2008, many of us also got used to what was a new idea not that long ago: campaigns that tell stories across many media (integrated campaigns). Organizations like Defenders of Wildlife and Conservation International combined activities to solicit engagement (for instance, voting on the cover photo for a calendar or “buying” an acre of land to protect endangered species) with asks, resulting in e-mail list growth and significant income in 2008.
Tweetsgiving: combining clicks and bricks to build a classroom
Epic Change, a nonprofit that uses the power of stories to create social change, raised $11,131 in 48 hours to build a classroom at a school in Arusha, Tanzania, using Twitter over Thanksgiving. The amount of money raised might not blow your socks off, but the creativity and connections behind this campaign just might.
Detailed at www.tweetsgiving.org, the campaign invited supporters to participate in three easy steps.
- First, tweet something they’re thankful for out to their followers on Twitter.
- Make a donation at any level. Every $10 bought a brick, and 1,000 bricks equaled a new classroom. Epic Change would even paint messages of thanks on the bricks if requested. It offered the high honor of “Top Turkey” for all donors who gave $100 or more.
- Lastly, follow the Thanks-giving tweets of other supporters at tweetsgiving.org.
The formula behind the Tweetsgiving campaign is clear: Newer technology (Twitter) + relationships + donor-centric activities and premiums (sharing what you’re thankful for, buying bricks) + relatable theme of gratitude = success.
Nonprofit social-media visionaries like Beth Kanter (who writes the must-read Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media at beth.typepad.com) not only helped make Tweetsgiving a success by getting the word out to their own networks (called “retweeting”), but they also tried their own experiments in Twitter fundraising. Specifically, Kanter raised $2,500 in 90 minutes using Twitter alone. These campaigns upend the traditionally slow, often expensive process of developing more traditional tools in favor of smart concepts and powerful individuals wed with social media. Pretty neat, huh?
But it didn’t all happen online
The report titled The Wired Wealthy: Using the Internet to Connect with Your Middle and Major Donors (published by Convio, Sea Change Strategies and Edge Research in March 2008, and available for downloading at www.convio.com/wiredwealthy) suggests that folks are, indeed, donating online in ever-increasing amounts. The wired wealthy (defined as donors who contribute $1,000 or more and have e-mail addresses on file) might have represented only 1 percent of the active donor files of the nonprofits that participated in this study, but they gave 32 percent of those organizations’ annual revenues. This data suggests that nonprofits no longer can afford to ignore online components in their individual-donor fundraising strategies.
While groups work to get those big gifts online or in the mail, organizations like the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network are combining the best of both worlds, using tools like LinkedIn and Facebook to connect with alumni and invite them to share stories about YNPN, some of which will be featured in (mailed) fundraising appeals.
Some of the money raised in 2008 came in via SMS — or text messaging. United Way kicked off the year with a text-to-give campaign during the Super Bowl, which, paired with on-air ads and some in-stadium promotions, raised about $10,000. Singer Alicia Keys also sparked $74,000 (as of Dec. 1, 2008) in cell phone giving for the nonprofit Keep A Child Alive with her integrated “Alicia in Africa” campaign promoted through a documentary, pitches at concerts, TV appearances, widgets, Web site appeals and more.
So what can we look forward to in 2009?
Who knows what technology, not to mention the economy, will bring in 2009? But given the developments of 2008, it’s clear that nonprofits will, increasingly, leverage the power of relationships (through social media, e-mail, in-person requests, text messaging and more) to spark action around issues using new technologies. What will make these projects succeed or fail will be the creativity of their concepts, the urgency and content of their appeals, the commitment of their audiences, and the worthiness (from the donor’s point of view) of the ask. This is tried-and-true fundraising, really — just using newer, cooler gadgets.
What might be different is this: As communicating online gets easier and cheaper, organizations can look forward to developing more personalized appeals to specific segments of their lists. Niche appeals will become more and more viable for smaller organizations with the brain space to tackle them. FS