4 Things I Hate About Social-Media Fundraising
Complaining about social media is like complaining about saggy pants. They are ubiquitous, plenty of people love them and there's not a damn thing you can do about them.
They also don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, so you just have to make your peace with them.
But you don't have to be a Luddite to see that some of social media's value as a fundraising tool has been overstated. Or not fully realized. At least up to now. Here are four key challenges I see to trying to use social media as a fundraising tool:
1. It devalues writing. It is a basic law of economics that oversupply decreases value. The ubiquity of social media makes it harder to find, or produce, good writing. The pressure on writers is not to be brilliant and insightful as much as it is to crank out content.
When saying something worthwhile takes a back seat to cranking out content, you end up with sentences like: "There's something called the bystander effect, and that individuals in a large group often don't help out when a person or people are in need."
This is not universally true, of course. There are plenty of publications, including this one with which I'm proud to be affiliated, that work hard to maintain high standards. Harper's and The New York Review of Books come to mind.
But sign up for the frequent emails from some other once-august places, like The Atlantic and even The Washington Post, and you'll see how the need to get the word out fast can deteriorate the quality of both writing and ideas.
2. It devalues writers. Once upon a time, writing was seen as a noble profession. How many of us were so moved in high school by "The Pearl," "The Catcher in the Rye" or "A Separate Peace" that we aspired to be writers?
Calling yourself a writer still carries a certain mystique when people at cocktail parties ask what you do. But how many young idealists out there now, searching for meaning in their lives, are saying, "When I grow up I want to be famous content provider!"?
3. The jury is still out on whether it cultivates younger donors. Some people say social media engages young people in causes early in their lives, so when they enter their "giving years," they'll already feel some loyalty to the organization they loved when they were young.
It sounds logical, but I often observe the opposite. The glut of worthwhile causes, saying roughly the same things in the same ways (see No. 1), creates a dizzying overload. The volume of information makes it hard to latch on to any one thing long enough to build an emotional attachment.
Social media tends to be a mile wide and an inch deep. People feel deeply moved by something they agree with. Then, without much thought or analysis, they repost or retweet the message and feel great about themselves. They feel they've done their part without all the bother of actually making a gift.
4. The creative becomes the message. Here are words that chill the heart of every marketer: "I saw this great commercial last night. I can't remember what the product was, but it was so funny." No matter how amusing, memorable or engaging the creative might be, if consumers don't remember what was being advertised, it's money down the drain.
Unfortunately, people have begun saying the same thing about nonprofits: "Has anyone forwarded you that video about the homeless cats? I can't remember which organization it was for, but the cats were so adorable I just cried!"
Social media is like any other tool. It has plenty of value when it comes to messaging, brand building and amorphous engagement. But you have to have good quality (see No. 1 again) and use the right tool for the right job. You can use the handle of a screwdriver as a hammer, but it is harder and does a less effective job.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.