fundraising

What Are the Challenges to Social Network Fundraising?

14 Comments 27 October 2009

Image courtesy of madnzany

Image courtesy of madnzany

Proving that social media can be used to raise significant funds for nonprofits is “the brass ring” that every nonprofit utilizing social media wants to reach. But it is quite an elusive brass ring! There are a number of challenges to overcome before social network fundraising is as easy (and fruitful) as email donation solicitation, offline donation appeals, or the “donate now” button on the website. On the other hand, social network fundraising is growing: both by adoption, use and acceptance. This post explores the existing challenges to acceptance and raising large amounts of funds using social networks – and brainstorming ideas to overcome the barriers.

Here are some thoughts about the leading challenges in social network fundraising:

Cultural: Social media is still primarily Social

Except for explicit business networking sites (Linkedin, Plaxo, association networks, and the like), social networking sites are still primarily used for…being social. Users are not generally thinking about these platforms as donation portals – yet. I think the social networker’s mindset is slowly changing as more organizations encourage their online fans to donate through social media platforms.

Where is the opportunity? Create real online relationships with stakeholders. By becoming an integral part of a fan’s social web, a donation request will be seen as an extension of the relationship. Nonprofits should identify and cultivate online influencers, and leverage the influencer networks during online campaigns.

Structural: How to Begin, How to Do It?

In these times struggling economic times, nonprofits are looking for new funding sources everywhere. Social networks are an obvious place to turn, but nonprofits aren’t sure how to begin.

In other words – how to do it? Do you create a small fundraising site that pushes people to share on their social networks? Do you run a fundraising campaign that is pushed on all of your relevant, engaged social networks? Do you create a campaign that is only run on one social network? I think the strategic effort involved in figuring this out is a barrier in and of itself. It’s not easy to plan any fundraising campaign, but the “new fundraising” on social networks has a lot of nonprofits wondering where to begin, and how to begin, and it’s a legitimate challenge they face. I don’t think there is any one answer – the approach depends on evaluating the organization’s campaign goals, current social media assets, and available resources.

Financial: Return on Investment

Hesitancy about the “return on investment” of a social media campaign is another concern. Organizations must devote staff, time, and financial resources to any online fundraising effort, and the return is still unproven, and without many benchmarks. We have some data about online donors: “engaged American donors,” the “wired wealthy,” and “social media power users who donate.” New research from Blackbaud shows that peer-to-peer social network fundraising in the past 12 months, using Facebook and Twitter, has generated $o.12 per impression, which offers a specific benchmark. However, social network fundraising is relatively new and untested, without long-term studies. The tools are constantly changing, and the success is wildly varied depending on the specifics of the organization, its social media implementation and use, and its online campaign. Taking this into account, organizations have to develop social network fundraising campaigns and strategies based on a realistic assessment of the return on engagement.

Challenges aside, I firmly believe online donations on social media platforms are the future.

  • Social media offers incredible opportunities for nonprofits to reach out to the “borderless activist,” who is a source of new inspiration, energy and funds for every organization.
  • More and more social media users want to get their information from blogs and social networks, and these sources are among the most trusted sources of organizational information.
  • The viral nature of social networks means that strong social campaigns can spread more widely, and penetrate more markets, than traditional fundraising campaigns and events.
  • Platform-based donations offer the perfect opportunity for transparency, which donors crave.

I’ve raised a few of the issues facing social network fundraising, and a few thoughts about how to address them. I’m sure there are a whole lot more. I’d like to open up this conversation and hear what you think are the current issues facing organizations raising funds through social media platforms – and the best means to overcome them.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say!

Additional Food for Thought: Social Networking for Fundraisers by Frank Barry and Jeff Patrick

»
  • Your post left a lot of food for thought…I think there are two types of social media relationships out there.

    I sometimes refer to social networks as “optional friendship.” The relationship does not take place in real-time, is totally voluntary, and generally pressure free. Facebook, for me, is a great example of this. And it’s the reason why I turned off Facebook chat–I don’t want this interaction to be compulsory or instantaneous. Similarly, I don’t respond positively to friends asking me to become fans of their causes. I view it like knocking at my door during dinner time asking for money. Just not good timing. Email solicitations definitely fall under this category.

    “Follows,” on the other hand, are things that I opt in for, like Tweeter, blogs or joining a fan page/group. I have already signaled that I want to be updated by this person or group. Bother me, convince me, or hit me up for cash – I have signaled that this is ok.

    To answer your question, I see the challenge for nonprofit organizations as creating a social media campaign or online presence that is a “follow” relationship and not an “optional friendship” relationship. Only followers have opened themselves up to the types of campaigns that will drum up donations for the charity.

    Shuey
    @nonprofitbanker

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Shuey- you raise some interesting points, especially defining the relationships as either “follow” or “optional friendships.” Aren’t all relationships “optional?” By following a friend on facebook, I think I’m signalling that I’m interested enough in what the person is doing to be updated. The difference between a friend, and a cause/group/page on Facebook may be what you are getting at, and it IS a difference of the kind of relationship you want versus what you get. Especially on Facebook, we “friend” people we know or want to know better, personally. (However, some people ARE their brand, so we cannot expect to know them on a more personal level given the challenges of managing many friends as a brand – and this an exception to the Facebook “friend” idea.) As you write, when you “fan” a page, you are expecting to be solicited in some way. You are signalling to that brand that you are interested in being updated.

    That said, I agree that it is tricky to solicit “friends” unless the relationship is clearly personal enough that it is not seen as an abuse of the friendship, or a “friend” is really a business aquaintance that is clearly seeking business/professional connections.

    I love that you have differentiated between these two types of following/friend requests – it’s an important differentiation that will make a difference in thinking about fundraising through social networks.

    As for the challenge you pose at the end – I think nonprofits that create Pages and Groups and Causes ARE creating those “follow” relationships you mention. Are they not?

    [Reply]

  • Your post left a lot of food for thought…I think there are two types of social media relationships out there.

    I sometimes refer to social networks as “optional friendship.” The relationship does not take place in real-time, is totally voluntary, and generally pressure free. Facebook, for me, is a great example of this. And it’s the reason why I turned off Facebook chat–I don’t want this interaction to be compulsory or instantaneous. Similarly, I don’t respond positively to friends asking me to become fans of their causes. I view it like knocking at my door during dinner time asking for money. Just not good timing. Email solicitations definitely fall under this category.

    “Follows,” on the other hand, are things that I opt in for, like Tweeter, blogs or joining a fan page/group. I have already signaled that I want to be updated by this person or group. Bother me, convince me, or hit me up for cash – I have signaled that this is ok.

    To answer your question, I see the challenge for nonprofit organizations as creating a social media campaign or online presence that is a “follow” relationship and not an “optional friendship” relationship. Only followers have opened themselves up to the types of campaigns that will drum up donations for the charity.

    Shuey
    @nonprofitbanker

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Shuey- you raise some interesting points, especially defining the relationships as either “follow” or “optional friendships.” Aren’t all relationships “optional?” By following a friend on facebook, I think I’m signalling that I’m interested enough in what the person is doing to be updated. The difference between a friend, and a cause/group/page on Facebook may be what you are getting at, and it IS a difference of the kind of relationship you want versus what you get. Especially on Facebook, we “friend” people we know or want to know better, personally. (However, some people ARE their brand, so we cannot expect to know them on a more personal level given the challenges of managing many friends as a brand – and this an exception to the Facebook “friend” idea.) As you write, when you “fan” a page, you are expecting to be solicited in some way. You are signalling to that brand that you are interested in being updated.

    That said, I agree that it is tricky to solicit “friends” unless the relationship is clearly personal enough that it is not seen as an abuse of the friendship, or a “friend” is really a business aquaintance that is clearly seeking business/professional connections.

    I love that you have differentiated between these two types of following/friend requests – it’s an important differentiation that will make a difference in thinking about fundraising through social networks.

    As for the challenge you pose at the end – I think nonprofits that create Pages and Groups and Causes ARE creating those “follow” relationships you mention. Are they not?

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention What Are the Challenges to Social Network Fundraising? | Community Organizer 2.0 -- Topsy.com()

  • Paz Cohen

    Very interesting.
    The cash value of social networks is the updated information. I think the profit should come when the network has enough “friends” that supply enough information and a third party can benefit from that data.
    I.e. LinkedIn earns from those who are searching for new employments. Facebook earns from relevant adds (just like Gmail). Twitter is starting to earn money from selling tweets to Google and Microsoft searching engine etc…
    Donations from friends may be much difficult…

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Paz- nice to see you here! Good point that the “cash value” of social networks is the updated information. Social networks are both considered one-sided networks (the socializers gain more value as more socializers are attracted to the networks) and two-sided networks (as you mention- both the network and the participants gain value with higher participation rate). I do differ with you slightly in that I would define the “cash value” of a social network for an organization as the updated information that participants get about each other (e.g. twitter followers get information from each other, facebook Page owners gain insights into their Fans). So, taking this one step further – a key asset when trying to raise funds (for an organization) using social networks is measuring/determining the influence/connections that followers bring to the specific organization.
    Really interesting thinking, Paz. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • Paz Cohen

    Very interesting.
    The cash value of social networks is the updated information. I think the profit should come when the network has enough “friends” that supply enough information and a third party can benefit from that data.
    I.e. LinkedIn earns from those who are searching for new employments. Facebook earns from relevant adds (just like Gmail). Twitter is starting to earn money from selling tweets to Google and Microsoft searching engine etc…
    Donations from friends may be much difficult…

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Paz- nice to see you here! Good point that the “cash value” of social networks is the updated information. Social networks are both considered one-sided networks (the socializers gain more value as more socializers are attracted to the networks) and two-sided networks (as you mention- both the network and the participants gain value with higher participation rate). I do differ with you slightly in that I would define the “cash value” of a social network for an organization as the updated information that participants get about each other (e.g. twitter followers get information from each other, facebook Page owners gain insights into their Fans). So, taking this one step further – a key asset when trying to raise funds (for an organization) using social networks is measuring/determining the influence/connections that followers bring to the specific organization.
    Really interesting thinking, Paz. Thanks!

    [Reply]

  • I agree with Paz. Two other returns I can think of are:

    1.) Information on what people are saying about you. Brand awareness, reach.
    2.) Relationships.

    John

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Great points, John! So now, we’ve got a list started…information on what people are saying about you, information networks gain, information about the users, relationships, influence…
    Like the way this post is morphing and growing. Thanks for contributing!

    [Reply]

  • I agree with Paz. Two other returns I can think of are:

    1.) Information on what people are saying about you. Brand awareness, reach.
    2.) Relationships.

    John

    [Reply]

    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Great points, John! So now, we’ve got a list started…information on what people are saying about you, information networks gain, information about the users, relationships, influence…
    Like the way this post is morphing and growing. Thanks for contributing!

    [Reply]

  • Pingback: A Brief History of Social Media Fundraising | HelpAttack!()

About

Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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