Web Watch: Social-Media Fundraising for the Little Guy
Even if your nonprofit isn't currently focused on online fundraising, you've probably heard some buzz about the brave new world of fundraising in social media. Don't get me wrong; no one is about to ditch traditional fundraising and put all of her eggs in the Twitter basket. But if direct mail, e-mail and other proven fundraising tactics are still the bread and butter of the nonprofit world, social media has served up some exciting dessert options.
Consider some recent success stories. Nonprofits using the Causes application (which allows individuals to donate to an organization through social platforms like Facebook and MySpace) have raised more than $10 million collectively in just two years. An online/offline event called Twestival 2008 raised a quarter of a million dollars for charity: water — a nonprofit whose mission is to bring clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations — using Twitter, and organizers raised the bar this year with a local focus and fundraising events in more than 100 cities. A few months back, Target chose 10 organizations to be beneficiaries of a $3 million donation and let its Facebook fans vote on how the total would be divided.
So what are you waiting for? All the cool kids are raising millions of dollars 3 cents at a time on Twitter. Volunteers are raking it in simply by pinging their friends on Facebook. Just jump on the bandwagon, and fundraising glory will be yours!
And then reality sinks in
We all wish it were that simple. It's exciting stuff, and it gives an interesting glimpse into the future of fundraising (particularly corporate philanthropy and certain kinds of major gifts). But right now, the organizations raising large dollar amounts using social media are the exception rather than the rule. Nonprofits that pilot new social-media fundraising initiatives generally are the biggest and most well-known, like the Red Cross or Livestrong, and have the benefit of influential partnerships and spokespersons.
So if you're a small nonprofit with a limited supporter base, you might find yourself thinking, "Sounds interesting. But my organization isn't a huge initiative with international name recognition. How could we possibly raise that kind of money through social media?"
The short answer is that you probably won't. But there are things you can do toward that goal.
First, start small. Facebook Causes, for example, is a great way for nonprofits of any size to get started in social-media fundraising without too much time or effort. Take a few hours to set up a Causes page for your organization; then send an appeal to your Facebook fans as part of your next fundraising campaign. Encourage your most committed donors and volunteers to donate their birthdays to your organization by setting up a birthday wish through Causes. Big Duck's Farra Trompeter raised more than $1,800 for the Anti-Violence Project (she's on the board) from her friends and family in celebration of her 35th birthday. It's not a replacement for your current fundraising efforts, but a few committed volunteers with successful birthday fundraising drives could make a meaningful contribution to your organization.
There are also many small nonprofits taking advantage of unique opportunities online to leverage the power of social media in their favor. Take the organizations partnering with GiveAndDate.com, a charity dating service that makes connections between cause-minded individuals and donates part of the proceeds to partner organizations, which are all New York-based nonprofit organizations.
Some organizations, though small, are having success by tapping into active constituencies online. Consider Critical Exposure, which recently won $5,000 in funding and a permanent spot on the GlobalGiving.com fundraising site by mobilizing its small but motivated community of supporters to partake in a fundraising competition. Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, one of Big Duck's clients, recently got an opportunity to participate in a Facebook competition for a grant from Intel. It's not the biggest organization on the list by a very long shot, but at the time of this writing, it's No. 2 overall. Your constituency might not be the largest, but in social media, it doesn't have to be — it just has to be the most motivated. A small group can make a very loud splash by activating networks and empowering those who are deeply committed to your cause to work on your behalf.
One aspect of social media that has some as-yet-unrealized potential for small nonprofits is microfundraising — gathering donations a few dollars at a time through Twitter or other social-networking services. In the coming months, expect to hear more about nonprofits making innovative use of microfundraising in their campaigns.
So take small steps — tap into the power of Facebook Causes and friendraising, keep your ear out for unique opportunities that could raise awareness or money for your cause, and energize your core constituents on your behalf. And while you're at it, keep an eye on what the biggest nonprofits are doing in social media — eventually, the tactics they're pioneering will become viable (and useful) even for nonprofits that don't have full communications staffs.
And as always, think strategically. Make sure you know where your fundraising audience is hanging out, and focus on those places. Don't jump into social media if there's no chance that your potential donors are there. That's unlikely, but do your homework and focus your online energies in the places that make the most sense for your organization. FS
Liz Brandwood is a strategist at Big Duck. Reach her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ bigduckliz