High-profile fundraising campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge, No Makeup Selfie and Movember continue to prove the power of engaging social networks to raise money for charities. Online giving is growing fast, a trend that will continue. So why are so many fundraising professionals and charities slow to harness the power of the social web for fundraising?
Long before the internet became part of our everyday lives, fundraisers were using real-life social networks to raise money for their causes. They knew then, and have always known, that leveraging and developing personal connections is the most effective way to generate support and donations.
So it is surprising to me that charities and professional fundraisers are, for the most part, lagging behind in the adoption of web-based tools and strategies. The web’s ability to tap into social networks to rally support should be a fundraiser’s dream come true.
Why? Because, the internet makes the job of leveraging and developing personal connections so much easier and cheaper. In other words, the web brings scalability to you and your skill set.
In my experience, there are two main reasons fundraisers tend to resist the social web:
1. Lack of comfort with and understanding of technology
The internet will dramatically reshape the charity landscape over the next 25 years, but it hasn’t changed the principles of fundraising. Fundraising will always be about people engaging with people, sharing stories about need and impact, and asking for donations. So instead of being intimidated by technology, be confident in leveraging your existing skills, experience and knowledge of fundraising, and apply them to a comprehensive strategy that includes a web-based execution.
The web needs more experienced fundraisers using its tools, and it needs your understanding of donor stewardship. The web may not have changed the principles of fundraising, but if you aren’t online to maintain the integrity and application of those principles, they are more likely to be disrupted for the worse by making the ask about money rather than charitable impact.
2. Loss of control
The internet is changing when, where and how the “ask” takes place. For example, instead of the ask always coming from you or your organization directly, it is just as likely to be coming from your social advocates.
You aren’t in control of what people say about your organization, with or without the web. So you might as well embrace and encourage people’s ability to share about and engage with your organization.
Consider that this reality is really no different from offline fundraising in that you can’t control, for example, what attendees at your event will tell their friends about your organization. Surely, what you want is that people share your organization’s message in a way that enables those who receive it to take action on your behalf.
In today’s web-powered world, the scale of positive impact when people share your message online is awe-inspiring. And I’m not even talking about a message going “viral” and reaching millions. I’m talking about the ease with which 20 or 30 new people can find out about your organization simply because someone shared your message, their donation to your charity or their fundraising efforts. Of course this viral effect isn’t restricted to the web because it applies to chats with friends and family over dinner and chats by the water cooler at work.
So engage with the power of the social web and make sure every communication, marketing or fundraising strategy you use follows two simple (and related) rules of thumb:
a. Make sure your website lets people take action for you, easily
Almost every charity website I come across fails dramatically at this simple rule. It is critical that anyone who lands on your website can easily and automatically:
b. Make Give To, Fundraise For and Share the three main “calls to action” for any fundraising campaign
Instead of using a strategy that results only in asking for donations, purposefully build in the option for people to fundraise for you. This is the option most charities fail at enabling that is both cost effective and easy for your supporters
In Canada, the web and its emerging tools have and will continue to democratize who can give to and fundraise for your organization. By embracing the web and its technology, you can engage more people in your organization and decrease your costs of fundraising. And once your social advocates are empowered, you can focus more wholeheartedly on stewardship of all your supporters: donors, social fundraisers and sharers. You also free up more time for capturing and retaining people’s hearts and minds by bringing more focus to how you tell stories about your organization’s approach and impact.
But don’t just use the web to benefit your organization. Engage with technology to ensure the continued integrity of fundraising and fundraisers. Without skilled, experienced fundraisers embracing technology today, the next generation of fundraisers is more likely to make their own rules, rather than learning from you.
The question isn’t whether technology will succeed at disrupting the charitable sector, the question is whether you will be part of it or whether you will be left behind.
John Bromley is the founder and CEO of Chimp.net, and the co-founder of Benefic Group. He facilitates benevolence full time by helping people, companies and charities plan, execute and track the charitable impact they aspire to create.