Using social networks to raise money

[Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on viral fundraising.]

Elizabeth Floyd

Social networking can be lucrative for nonprofits that have a solid online presence, especially when coupled with other media.

Reaching young and older

Throughout the Facebook Giving Challenge launched by The Case Foundation and Parade Magazine last winter, many organizations turned to younger members to manage their efforts.

“At least in our view we were at a severe disadvantage,” says Bruce Sherman, a volunteer with Love Without Boundaries which helps orphans in China.
“Facebook and all this Internet stuff is something younger people are really more comfortable and at ease with. Our hundred volunteers are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s.”

While most online donors are in their 30s, 40s and 50s, says Sarah DiJulio, executive vice president for consulting firm M+R Strategic Services, these people usually are not the targets of Facebook or MySpace campaigns.

Yet nonprofits willing to invest the time and effort may find in social media a valuable connection to an otherwise untapped audience of potential donors and advocates: teens and twenty-somethings.

“What I’ve found is that college students will give $10 to a good cause if you ask them to, regardless of the cause,” says Duke University student Josh Sommer of the Chordoma Foundation.

The indiscriminate nature of many students’ giving may be one sign of a larger shift from one-organization advocacy to change-the-world movements among younger generations.

Targeting such movements by engaging youth on their own territory can be lucrative, say groups like the Bridge to Turkiye Fund, which raised $17,000 in a matter of weeks through Facebook donations of only $10 and $20.

“It’s a lot like voter engagement,” says Heather Box, development director of the League of Young Voters. “You want to go where young people are. You want to go to preexisting networks where people have relationships and trust and friendships between them.”

Comprehensive campaigning

Yet the sustainability of fundraising through social media is still uncertain.

Donations are often too small to be worth the effort for larger charities, particularly in the absence of pressure caused by deadlines like the Facebook challenge.

That’s why groups like the Humane Society are keeping one foot in traditional methods while testing the waters of Web 2.0.

The animal-protection group employs integrated marketing campaigns, delivering the same appeals through two channels, combining traditional online media like email and websites with new media in the form of social networks.

“Traditional media is outperforming social media currently,” says Carie Lewis, the Society’s internet marketing manager. “One of them is not going to cover all bases. Social networking is still very new and people are still trying to trust it, so we want to be there, but we don’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket.”

Lewis says e-mail is still their most successful online fundraising tactic and DiJulio says event-driven fundraising, like bike-a-thons and auctions, both of which depend on constituents to spread the word through e-mail and personal fundraising pages, are her clients’ most lucrative fundraisers.

Online and global

For many organizations, staging comprehensive campaigns like the Human Society’s is a “why not” matter.

“It’s scalable because it’s all digital,” says Emin Pamucak, president of Bridge to Turkiye and an employee at IBM. “You can just transfer whatever you create from one to another.”

Therefore, nonprofits that already have a solid online presence often are the best candidates for adopting social-media tactics for fundraising.

Groups that depend on widespread networks of volunteers, or whose causes span the globe may also benefit more from online social networks.

“I mostly think what this all comes down to is that we’re following our constituents,” says DiJulio. “The nonprofits aren’t leading the way. Our activists, our donors – this is the way they communicate with each other.”

“We have to have the strategies and tools in place to cater to them,” she says. “It’s absolutely critical to the survival of any nonprofit in the sector.”

Read the first article in this series on viral fundraising.

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