The Frontier of Social Media and Fundraising: What to Expect?
According to a survey ASI conducted around nonprofits’ IT challenges and opportunities in 2010, organizations have faith in social media. And for many, it is faith — that is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” — as opposed to experience.
The survey showed that most nonprofits (80 percent) continue to engage in social media, but only 20 percent believe it is providing useful ROI. This seems to indicate that the other 60 percent are tweeting, posting and blogging without expecting too much in return — at least yet.
But, we continue to witness rapid acceleration in the use of social media globally. The sales of smartphones, tablets and other devices designed for the social Web are growing with it, and the world’s top websites are social media-driven. So, will we eventually see that 20 percent increase? Perhaps it’s time to set some reasonable expectations.
Firstly, what should I expect? It is important to understand the role of social media in your fundraising. Will it replace direct mail? No. Will it replace your website? Not yet. Should you expect the same ROI from a Twitter campaign as, say, a phone campaign? Social networks are great places to publicize what your organization is doing, build a large constituency of followers and occasionally mobilize those followers into action, but don’t forget that for every 100 clicks of that “Like” or “Follow” button, you’ll get your fair share of “slacktivists.”
Secondly, establishing your organization’s presence takes investment. Most of the tools are free, but they’re not cheap in terms of sustained effort to make an impact. For example, blogging on a regular basis from the CEO down takes significant time. This is the same when trying to maintain a YouTube channel and keep up with daily tweeting.
Thirdly, the returns will seem modest at first. A recent example I saw — a nonprofit decided to make its first “ask” to its 150,000 Facebook followers. The result? About 400 people gave an average of $5 each via PayPal. Compared to an integrated direct-mail and e-mail campaign, those results look disappointing. And, there are the associated pains with integration; it was impossible to know which of those donors were already on the charity’s database, let alone to start a donor-development program for the first-timers.
Lastly, creativity will help you stand out from the crowd. Charity: water is well-known for its Twitter-originated fundraising events (or Twestivals), but you won’t replicate its success by mimicking its campaigns — there are only so many Twestivals you can have. What made its campaign successful was the creativity, and it snowballed as a result. You can buy books about what works in direct mail, and you can even buy books about how to run e-mail campaigns, but social media is still in its frontier days, so there’s a chance to get seen and heard by doing something different.
Robin Fisk is a senior charity technology specialist at Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit software provider Advanced Solutions International (ASI).