Understanding the New Breed of Digital Donors and How to Maximize Your Fundraising Through Their Networks
With the global number of users on Facebook now fast approaching the size of the U.S. population, it’s surely clear that time is up for anyone who still wants to ignore online social networking as a passing fad. However, while nonprofits now generally recognize the need to take it very seriously, most still struggle to understand how they can best fit it into their fundraising programs.
One of the reasons for this struggle is that our thinking is all too often myopically focused on the traditional mass-market fundraising approaches that we all know so well. Inherent in social media is the fact that it enables individuals to communicate and collaborate without the need for any intermediary organization to bring them together — and we’re just not used to that. We’re used to being the instigators and the owners of fundraising campaigns and to being in control of the fundraising process. However, social media is taking that control away, and we haven’t yet come to grips with just how we should function as fundraisers when this happens.
If we ever want to truly capitalize on the opportunity offered by social media, we must grow more comfortable with the changing balance of control and better understand the emerging new breed of digital donors who are leading this change — donors who still desire to achieve impact in the world through nonprofits but who increasingly tend to do their own thing in their own social-media way when it comes to fundraising.
The $93 Club — a new-breed fundraising story
There’s no better way to understand this than by learning from examples of how new-breed online donors already are breaking free from traditional, organization-led fundraising. A wonderful example of this is something that began earlier this year with a chance meeting and act of personal kindness in a Trader Joe's grocery store, of all places. Back in August, a lady called Jenni Ware was shopping there when she realized that she didn’t have her purse. Fortunately, next in the line to pay was Carolee Hazard who, on seeing Jenni’s situation, very kindly offered to cover her $207 bill. Jenni gratefully accepted, and as the two left the store she reassured Carolee that she would mail her a check later that day.
As Carolee drove away she started to wonder if she would ever actually see her $207 again and, being an active Facebook user, on arriving home she right away shared the story of what had happened with her online network of Friends. Those Friends then started to add to her real-time online story, reassuring her that she had done a good thing and that it was sure to be repaid.
And so it was — with a check arriving not just for $207 but for $300, including a $93 “thank you” gift. Carolee was surprised by this reciprocal generosity and at first decided to return the unexpected $93. However her Facebook Friends, who were by now part of this story, proposed she donate it to a nonprofit instead. They even suggested which nonprofit — the local Second Harvest Food Bank. Carolee liked this ‘Friend generated’ idea so much that she decided to match the $93 windfall donation with $93 of her own. Then, as is the way with social networks, as she shared this idea her Facebook Friends agreed to follow suit and by the next morning they had together collected over $1,000.
Encouraged by this, Carolee then set up a Facebook Page — the 93 Dollar Club — and so the story continued to grow, not just through Facebook but being picked up and given massively greater reach by traditional news media too. Indeed, so much did the story grow that if you take a look at Carolee’s 93 Dollar Club page today you’ll see that the total raised has now gone from $93 to more than $23,000 — in just a few months!
Do take a moment to visit the 93 Dollar Club Facebook page and take a look at what this new breed of fundraising looks like. On it you’ll see contributions from an incredibly vibrant community of people, sharing ideas for fundraising and plans to expand the whole 93 Dollar Club concept to support other Food Banks across the country. A true community, focused on fundraising, yet entirely inspired and organized by each other rather than any particular nonprofit’s fundraising team.
Carolee probably doesn’t realize it, but she is a great example of the new breed of digital donor, for whom social media is now such a part of life that they use it naturally, without prompting, whenever they want to make something happen — from arranging a personal social event to raising money for a nonprofit.
The evolving role of the professional online fundraiser
If these new breed digital donors are happiest doing the fundraising themselves, then just what is the role for professional fundraisers? Do we just sit back and wait for the online dollars to flow in? Unfortunately, I’m afraid it’s just not that easy. Instead, to maximize on these new online fundraising opportunities, you’re probably going to need to refocus your efforts to better fit with the emerging new paradigm. To help do this, it is useful to consider your role within what I term the 4Cs of social-network fundraising:
- C1 = Community — These donors have their own online communities and, while being happy to help fund your work, may simply not wish to join yours. Indeed there is a growing tendency for these types of donors to shift their fundraising between nonprofits to achieve specific tangible impacts, so the concept of donors “joining” you may well become less and less relevant in the future.
- C2 = Commodity — As the $93 Club story shows, the online applications required to undertake collaborative online fundraising are now freely available commodities. You need to understand which sites donors use and develop ways to better work with these. However, don’t overlook the ongoing importance of e-mail management software. Contrary to expectations, high social-media use does not diminish e-mail use, and well-managed and personally content-tailored e-mail remains a key engagement tool for these donors.
- C3 = Content — Storytelling has always been fundamental to fundraising, and this will not change. However the way in which it happens will, as donors increasingly create their own online content as part of their own fundraising initiatives. You can support this by providing portable content for them to use, in the form of videos or specifically relevant news feeds that can be easily embedded in the donor’s chosen social-network site.
- C4 = Cause Impact — This is where fundraisers still have a unique role to play. The new breed of donors still relies on your organization to deliver the cause impact they want to see. However, the growing desire to fund specific impacts puts pressure on fundraisers to better package donor opportunities and to become far better at measuring and reporting back on the specific impact achieved with donor funds.
Bryan Miller is a UK-based marketing and fundraising consultant and author of the Givinginadigitalworld.org fundraising blog. He recently presented a session on this topic at the IFC Conference in Amsterdam a few weeks ago. You can see more about the new breed of digital donor in his presentation here.