A few weeks ago I was asked about fundraising through social media channels (not the Donate Now button on your website, but giving through Facebook, Twitter, etc.) The questioner was a skeptic, her question really was: isn’t all the hype about giving on Facebook just a bunch of hooey since it’s such a small slice of the pie. My answer was that it is a tiny slice of the giving pie now – but it is the fastest growing slice, so don’t dismiss it, it’s the future.
Bottom line: small but growing piece of the giving pie.
But, this morning, I read Allyson Kapin’s fascinating post on CareLoop called Will Nonprofits Raise Money on Social Media in 2013? In the post, Allyson raises the possibility that social channels simply aren’t made for giving, they are made for relationship building. She writes, “We learned that Twitter or Facebook on its own can get many retweets and shares (particularly when a celebrity tweets it or shares it on FB) but we found very few people actually donated money. However, after blasting out an email appeal to sizable and active email lists, people started donating money. The majority of the donations came from email blasts not social media asks, though social media was definitely helpful in getting people to share the campaign.” (FYI, the “we” is Allyson and Amy Sample Ward, the co-authors of the soon-to-be-released book, Social Change Anytime, Everywhere.
So, which is it: are social channels the future of fundraising or secondary channels that point people to giving opportunities elsewhere? The answer is complicated (naturally!) and neither and both. As Allyson rightly points out, first and foremost, social media channels are for building relationships. She writes, “…social media won’t bring in buckets of money in the short term, yet it’s one of several touch points that should be used in your communications plans to connect with constituents who you can cultivate over time.” But, of course, they are also vehicles for immediate, potentially very large, giving, such as the campaign started by Max Siderov on Indiegogo to support the bus monitor, Karen Klein. So, it’s a balancing act, the primary purpose has to be relationship building (something traditional organizations are not necessarily good at) while continuing to experiment with ways to raise money through social channels. However, and here is where I erred on the wrong side in my answer above, that’s a harder case to make to senior executives and board members who need to raise money RIGHT NOW! And what’s why I was counseling patience with an eye to the future, it’s an easier case to make internally. But perhaps it’s not the right case, perhaps the case to be made is following the bouncing ball of relationship building that is paying off for organizations like MomsRising which are, ultimately, getting their fans, friends, retweeters, etc. to donate. However, one thing to remember about MomsRising is that their communications and fundraising strategies are largely based on email. This is an issue Allyson also raises in her post – is it email, not Facebook and Twitter, that will continue to be the future social channel for fundraising?
Based on these arguments, I think I’ll try out a new answer to the question: are social channels the future of fundraising? Answer: I think it’s too early to tell. We know, for sure, that social channels best used as connecters and relationship builders. We know that people give generously when they are moved by a cause or a campaign. We know that giving online (meaning clicking the Donate Now button and giving through social channels) will ultimately be the only way people transfer funds to causes. We know that impulse giving, which is in essence what the Karen Klein campaign was, will always be around, something morally outrageous happens or a natural disaster strikes and we want to give money. And we k now that organizations need to raise money. But knowing these truths, but putting them together in the right configuration are different things. We need to continue to experiment and not take anything off the table yet. Keep going with email, with your Facebook page and Twitter account. And most of all, show your people a lot of love! Ask them for advice, make it easy for them to share your cause (one group said in a press release their cause was “complicated to understand” OUCH! So, why should anyone bother to try if you can’t explain it?) Most of all love your people and thank them every day for their help and good wishes – and donations.