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Tapping into tomorrow’s philanthropists

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Laurie DeWitt

Laurie DeWitt

Laurie DeWitt

As far as fundraising is concerned, times aren’t changing – they’ve changed. The methods used to raise money for the last three decades no longer guarantee the desired results.

Fundraising efforts are not experiencing a simple blip in a pattern, but more significantly, these decreased fundraising results are reflections of an ailing economy and, more importantly, changing profiles of target donor groups.

Until recently, fundraising ebbed and flowed with minor hiccups in accomplishment remaining fairly consistent. The black-tie event, the silent auction, direct mail-outs and the dog-and-pony show have been used for good reason – they worked.

But the new demographic of philanthropists, the ones that move mountains in business without getting out of their pajamas, out-source employment to foreign markets, and develop the coolest imaginable techie big-boy toys – doesn’t fit into the established profile of donor.

Rather than placing all emphasis on fundraising mechanisms of yesterday, it is imperative that organizations develop immediate involvement with this emerging donor group. This previously untargeted group is defined not by age, but rather by technology use, and will be the largest group of philanthropists in the years to come.

So, how does one develop philanthropy in a generation that doesn’t date but “hangs” in groups, identifies not with golf outings or partnered card games but with Xbox or Wii network interfacing, prefers to instant message, text and e-vite rather than receive a formal invitation, and spends more time computer surfing than socializing face-to-face with peers? It is a challenge but, thankfully, a surmountable one.

To reach this fast-growing demographic group requires use of social-media networking methods.

Social media is basically human collaboration through technological interfaces. Geared towards the generation that understands the nuances of achieving knowledge immediately on-demand, picture these networks as if they are giant schools of fish – with each fish representing a person. The school swims in unparalleled unison. When something motivates it to change direction, the school moves with immediate and flawless synchronicity. The goal for us as fundraisers is to get that huge school of fish motivated to move in our direction, via our website or web page.

Excellent examples of these social-networking home pages are Facebook, MySpace, Hi5 and BeBo. They offer user-friendly updating and uploading of information with the added benefit of interactive user-generated sharing.

You can post comments and share them with friends, who share them with their friends, who share them with their friends and soon they are viewed exponentially.

One of the best examples of a traffic-driven nonprofit site is the Facebook page of the Humane Society of the United States. With thousands of fans and online donated dollars surging, they have made social networking work.

Just designing and uploading a page, however, will not drive traffic to your page. It requires social media “buzz.” Buzz is created quickly through various blogging techniques.

Longer blogs require timely updating and maintenance to achieve results. Check out sites like Digg, Fark and Mixx. However, be sure to check the content of the sites thoroughly before registering and uploading any information. It is imperative for nonprofits to maintain an above-reproach community standing.

Other techniques to use are the push groups that support micro-blogging. Micro-blogging is performed primarily on your cellphone as text or video messaging, or on your computer as wall or board responses. An example of this venue would be Twitter. These sites work through members acquiring followers through common subject matter. Soon you can be connected to people around the world and share your day in short blurbs of 150 characters or less.

Social-media networking promotes your nonprofit or foundation in real time. It is less costly than traditional methods, and the possible numbers of unique viewers are exponential. Invest in real-time social media to get your word out; it is thriving and multiplying for a reason.


Laurie DeWitt is the charities manager for the Sun Sentinel in South Florida. She has previously served as communications director for the Jacksonville Community Council Inc.

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