29 January 2010

Lunchtime post: Responsible non-profits and the SM gold rush

One idea many NPs fall victim to is the reliance on direct-appeal solicitation letters.  We've run into this on our campus - someone gets excited about an idea they have, and their first response to "how are we going to pay for it?" is "with a letter campaign."

In my last post, I said:
...non-profits need to do a better job of targeting their donors.  We are notorious for blanket direct appeals (AKA junk mail) that are poorly written and convey a lack of professionalism.  If I give $10 to a NP and they send me $5 worth of direct appeals, how confident can I be in their management of my gift?  
Let's roll up our sleeves and delve into this.

I don't know about you, but I receive a TON of direct appeals at home.  Just over the past two weeks I amassed a pile from The Smiles Foundation, Better Homes and Gardens, Chase, and even a few of those random coupon booklets that I've never had use for.

Want to know where I put them? Right in the shredder.  And I know I'm not the only one.

This truth is forcing NPs to rethink how they engage their prospect base, which is why you're hearing a lot about social media (SM) in fundraising campaigns.

The trouble with the idea was that, by and large, most efforts to fundraise through SM have produced little dollar support.  In Friday's Talk of the Nation spot, Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the majority of mid-sized non-profits reported raising less than $100.  

My office has been using social media as extension of our existing fund raising efforts for some smaller causes.  Specifically, I've been coordinating the Facebok fan page for the Marching 110.  After six months of experimentation, we found that it CAN be successful - but only when centered on specific, targeted campaigns with realistic goals.  

Our 110 is famous on campus - students come to watch the band at the football games and then leave after halftime.  They're entertaining, passionate, and a hard-working group of student athletes.  Its alumni base is historically very engaged, though financially there has been a bit of a disconnect.

We developed the fan page as an outlet not only to drive awareness about the band, build community and control our messaging, but also to encourage our fans to support the band financially.  

To supplement our current online giving page, we partnered with Razoo to give our fans the opportunity to use another SM technology to make their gift.  The idea behind Razoo is pretty brilliant - they want to give donors the ability to support and monitor all their philanthropic causes in one place. One great feature they have is the ability to login to their site using Facebook connect.  They also allow donors to remain anonymous (we'll get to that - that's a topic for another post).

There are a few shortcomings the tool has - for example, the progress against goal measurement won't allow you to account for outside funds raised - but by and large we were satisfied with it. With time, my expectation is that more donors will be comfortable with third parties 

Our online campaign with this new approach increased online gifts by four times what we'd been previously doing; but more importantly, our fans' engagement level increased exponentially.  The page now has more than 4,000 fans.

So, let's wrap up with three key takeaways:
  1. Social media isn't THE answer, but it's part of it.  NPs need to think proactively about how they can use these tools to further the mission of their organizations; the trouble with the past is that there were few early adopters and most of us are playing catch up now.  
  2. Don't rely on SM as your ONLY fundraising / stewardship arm - use it to supplement what you are already doing.  
  3. Finally, and most importantly, set realistic goals and expectations.
What are your thoughts?  Feel free to continue the dialog in the comments area.

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