The Case (Studies) for Social Media
It's a refrain you hear over and over again: Fundraising truly is all about the donors, the supporters, the people who allow your organization to fulfill its mission. And nothing drives that point home like the phenomenon of social media. With sites like Twitter and Facebook, blogs, YouTube and [insert your social-networking platform of choice here], supporters are more involved — and in control — more than ever before. They drive the conversations. They spur new ideas. They do things their way.
So with all these great, new outreach and engagement tools at its disposal, how can your organization harness this still-new medium to empower constituents on your behalf? There are many strategies and initiatives already playing out all over the fundraising sector — with plenty more new and unforeseen ideas still to come. Here, FundRaising Success highlights some creative and successful ways organizations are using social media to raise awareness and funds.
Event fundraising — such as walks, runs and bike rides — really lends itself well to social media. Tools like Facebook and Twitter allow people to spread the word about an upcoming ride they're participating in and solicit pledge donations, for example.
"If we think about social media, it's all about peer-to-peer communications," says Donna Wilkins, president of online nonprofit solutions consultants Charity Dynamics. "It's communicating with your friends, people you already know, and for so many nonprofit events, what they are is peer-to-peer fundraising. There's really a lot of natural synergy."
Several organizations have had tremendous success at raising both awareness and funds using Facebook (and Twitter, for that matter) with fundraising widgets. They can be embedded on event participants' social-networking profiles and messages, displaying information such as: "X amount of days to reach my goal," "My goal: $10,000" or "Raised: $200." The widget specifies the event, and then links to a donation page for the organization so participants' friends, family and followers can make gifts on their behalf.
"The real benefit is not only does [the widget] let people know that they're participating, but it also shows that momentum for their fundraising," Wilkins says. "So each day as they're making progress in their fundraising, your friends see where you are and how far you have to go."
The Hill Country Ride for AIDS is one event that has utilized this tactic successfully. An annual cycling event in Central Texas to raise money for HIV/AIDS support, the ride benefits 10 agencies. All riders must raise a minimum of $500 to participate. That might seem like a lot, but by embedding a social-media widget to Facebook and adding an iPhone application, the Ride for AIDS made it easy for participants to reach out for pledge donations online.
Hill Country actively promoted the adoption of the widget through the participant center on its website, the registration page and coaching e-mails to those who signed up. Participants could then post the badge directly on their Facebook walls so their Facebook friends could donate or register themselves. This helped spread awareness for the ride and the charities involved, as well as encouraged participants' friends to make donations, coming directly from someone they know rather than from one of the organizations themselves — and that often is much more powerful motivation to give.
"Think about yourself. If an organization that you support periodically sends a request for fundraising, it's not quite the same thing as a friend who you know is impacted by the cause and you see three or four times that they're raising money for that cause," Wilkins says. "You're much more likely to respond to the friend than the organization."
To further motivate others to give, beyond the application displaying the total dollars raised against the goal, a stream story to the participant and her friends on Facebook was automatically sent out every time she made progress toward her goal.
What transpired was remarkable. After initially instituting the widget in 2009, Hill Country sourced 41 percent more donations in 2010 from the widget than it had the previous year. Riders who downloaded and used the application raised 45 percent more money than those who didn't, were 22 percent more likely to hit their fundraising goals and enticed 61 percent more donors to make gifts. In all, 46 percent of all riders used the application, including 56 percent of team captains; and 1.1 percent of the event participants were sourced from the widget.
The data clearly showed that participants used the application, and that those who did raised more money.
Similarly, the Austin affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure used this strategy for its annual Race for the Cure. The organization implemented a customized widget in 2008, promoting it each year in all registration thank-you pages and confirmation e-mails, as well as on the Komen Race Center page, allowing participants to immediately implement the Facebook widget.
The 2009 results showed that event participants who used the widget set higher fundraising goals, reached more donors and raised more money:
- More than 14 percent of participants used the tool — individuals are not required to fundraise in order to participate in the race.
- For those participants that did actively fundraise for the event, those using the widget raised on average 40 percent more than those who did not.
- More than $31,000 was raised directly through the widget.
- 39 new participants joined through the widget.
The success of these widgets on participants' social-media profiles goes right back to the heart of fundraising.
"It's all about the people, the donors," Wilkins says. "We hear people say all the time, 'I got a donation from somebody never in my wildest dreams would I have expected.' It'll be a grade-school friend, someone who you didn't know was impacted by the cause.
"It's that ability to be able to reach out to more people and make the connections. And it's about the people. We all feel good about supporting friends and family we know have causes that are important to them," she adds.
Light It Up Blue
Autism Speaks is another organization that has had some success using social-media widgets for its Walk Now for Autism Speaks events — according to Chief Community Officer Marc Sirkin, the Walk Now events raise about $30 million a year, with approximately $15.5 million to $16 million coming in online, and almost 6 percent of those online donations come from its version of the Facebook widget. But the national autism science and advocacy organization's most shining example of the power of social media is its Light It Up Blue campaign.
During certain times of the year, Autism Speaks uses social media to mobilize its donors, supporters and volunteers to create their own Light It Up Blue events — events centered around the color blue to raise autism awareness.
"The campaign began to celebrate Autism Awareness Day [April 2]," Sirkin says. "We basically challenged our community to do events that have something to do with blue in them — Watch 'Blue Crush' on DVD, wear a blue shirt to work, etc."
To add an even richer social element, Autism Speaks created a microsite for the campaign and invited people through Twitter, Facebook and other communications to create events, share stories and upload photos on it.
"We let people have a lot of fun with it, and lo and behold, the thing took off like a rocket," Sirkin says.
The site was launched three weeks in advance of Autism Awareness Day, and on April 2, Autism Speaks had more traffic on its Light It Up Blue microsite than on AutismSpeaks.org. Social media drove the whole thing. Autism Speaks posted the site on Twitter for about eight hours, and it exploded from there. Followers flocked to the site, where they could make donations, share stories and ideas, and upload photos to a Flickr account.
"We got a few hundred pictures in a couple hours after setting up the Flickr page," Sirkin says. "You really start to get a sense that there's real people out there. This is not just measuring clicks. There's a picture of that guy's kid, and he's got autism and there he is.
"The one picture that always kills me is of an 18- or 19-year-old kid, tall kid, and the caption reads, 'He hates blue, but he agreed to wear blue on Autism Awareness Day. Thanks, son.' And it's like, wow, it really is a one-to-one relationship scaled up, and you really get to feel like you know these people."
Such powerful and overwhelming response has led Autism Speaks to plan on going out to its community in the near future and asking people who contributed last year to actually help it build the campaign for next year. "We saw some of that already last year, where people were saying, 'Hey, I see that you're lighting up the Empire State Building and you're lighting up the Sears Tower or Niagra Falls. You mind if I try to get my local university or library, or can I light up my porch?' And we're like, heck yeah, that'd be great. We really have expanded the scope to include the community itself, and it's been a great success.
"At the end of the day, the power of the campaign was really the grassroots components of it where hundreds of people are sharing photos and videos and stories, and that's reverberated out months later," he adds. "It's still happening. The site still gets traffic. As we ramp that up even further, it will be interesting to see how far we can push something like that from a community standpoint."
Epic Change is a small nonprofit organization missioned to amplify the voices and impact of grassroots changemakers and social entrepreneurs. One of the ways it does that is through its Tweetsgiving initiative.
Being a small organization that does just about all of its communication and outreach via social-media channels, it has built a large presence on Twitter. And in 2008, it launched the Tweetsgiving campaign. Essentially, Tweetsgiving is a 48-hour event where Epic Change encourages participants to express their thanks using social-media tools. The process is simple. Epic Change lays out the four-step process on its microsite:
• Step 1: Share your gratitude. Share whatever you're thankful for on Twitter, your blog, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, or blip.fm. Include the #tweetsgiving tag and a link to TweetsGiving.org so we can share your grateful heart with the world!
• Step 2: Give. Contribute in honor of whatever you're thankful for. Each $10 donation brings us 1 brick closer to a classroom, orphanage/dormitory, library and cafeteria at the #twitterkids' school in Arusha, Tanzania, or helps us fund a future Epic Change project.
• Step 3: Spread the love. Most importantly, repeat step #1 as often as possible until noon EST on Thursday, November 26th, 2009. Then: Follow @TweetsGiving & RT often to fill your stream with global gratitude. (Update your avatar with the twibbon below) (Follow 1800Flowers on Twitter & they'll donate $1 per new follower to Epic Change.)
• Step 4: Follow the story. With e-mail sign-up and Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds.
Through the sheer power of social media, Tweetsgiving raised more than $10,000 in 48 hours in 2008, enough to build a classroom in Arusha, Tanzania. In 2009, it raised more than $41,000 and was mentioned more than 22,000 times on social-networking sites. The microsite also acknowledges donors who've given $100 or more through Tweetsgiving as its Top Turkeys.
"[Epic Change CEO and Co-Founder] Stacey Monk and her crew over there just do an awesome job," says Frank Barry, manager of professional services at fundraising software provider Blackbaud. "They've done it two years in a row and raised a lot of money very quickly — purely through social-media channels."
The 2010 Tweetsgiving event is scheduled for Nov. 24-26.
This Place Matters
When most people think of preservationists, they think of large organizations that protect vast landmarks like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone Park. But the reality is, preservationists come in all forms, from saving a local park or theater to preserving local forests, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation wanted a reliable way to convey that to prospective members and donors.
So NTHP set out on a social-media campaign to help rebrand the idea of a preservationist in the public view and to garner support for itself and for local preservation organizations across the country. Integrating Google Maps and Flickr into its existing This Place Matters campaign — in which members and preservationists were invited to tell their stories of places in their communities that mean a lot to them — NTHP created a microsite for the campaign.
There, visitors could place virtual flags on the organization's Google Map of the U.S. and share why a specific place mattered in the comments. Further, visitors could upload photos of the sites on NTHP's Flickr page, and NTHP provided a This Place Matters sign that they could print and display in their photos. A slideshow was created on the microsite.
The response was swift: 725 individuals participated in the campaign — 20 percent of whom made both Google Map and Flickr photo submissions. More than 1,000 photos were uploaded, and 582 of the 725 participants were not members of NTHP. Beyond the numbers, the campaign successfully allowed NTHP to create a two-way dialogue with its supporters and rebrand its image.
"We've gotten a lot of awareness out of it, which has been great, and also changed our image a little bit, which was one of our goals," says Vice President of Membership Dolores McDonagh. "A lot of people think organizations like the National Trust tell people what's important, that we're arbiters of taste and style and design. What this campaign really did was put the power back into the people."
Going forward, NTHP plans to take it to another level, announcing the This Place Matters Community Challenge. The trust is working with smaller, local organizations, allowing them to pick a place in their communities that matters. On the NTHP site, each organization will have its own microsite page where it can post pictures of its place, tell its story of why it's important, and then challenge each organization to go out for a four-week period and get people to register support for that place on NTHP's website. NTHP also will collect donations on behalf of the local preservation organizations, "sort of a preservation Network for Good," McDonagh says, so supporters not only can vote for the organizations, but also make donations.
While McDonagh admits NTHP isn't yet making much money from social media, she says the fundraising power lies down the road. "The thing I'm most excited about with social media is it gives us and a lot of nonprofits something that we haven't had, which is a cost-effective way to have a relationship with people before they're ready to make gifts. Social media will give us a great opportunity to make donors of the future by engaging with them today."
Perhaps the most remarkable display of social media's power lies in the story of Fat Cyclist. Elden Nelson, a cycling enthusiast who had noticed he was gaining a bit of weight, "resolved to start a blog, embarrassing myself by proclaiming my weight on a daily basis, no matter how bad I was doing," he says on his blog. So he created fat cyclist.com and began his crusade.
A widower who lost his wife to breast cancer, Nelson also was a supporter of the Lance Armstrong Foundation, and one day he sent the manager of Armstrong's racing team, Johan Bruyneel, a résumé that he posted on his blog, proclaiming his desire to ride and train with Armstrong's Team RadioShack. Wouldn't you know it, Bruyneel wrote back, telling Nelson that if he raised $10,000 for the LAF and another $10,000 for World Bicycle Relief, he would fly Nelson out to cycling camp. And if he raised $25,000 in a week, he'd get a Trek road bike.
So Fat Cyclist took to his blog and Twitter, putting out the call to all his followers and readers to make donations. Using Blackbaud's Friends Asking Friends tool for the fundraising, he raised more than $100,000 in three days — all through social media. Bruyneel stated that if Nelson raised $50,000 for each organization, Trek would donate a 2010 Paris Finishing package for him to witness the end of the Tour de France in person, airfare included.
"In less than a week, he ended up raising somewhere around $130,000 — $60,000-plus for LAF and $60,000-plus for World Bicycle Relief," Blackbaud's Barry says. "There were tons of other sponsors that got involved; people donated bikes and all kinds of crazy stuff. It was amazing watching it transpire. His community was going crazy."
So Fat Cyclist not only lost weight, but he also raised tens of thousands of dollars for two organizations, got to ride with his heros on Team RadioShack and traveled to the final day of the Tour de France — a social-media fundraising success story if there ever was one! FS