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Few Charities Raising Big Money with Social Media – Here’s Why

According to this recent article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, nonprofits still don’t appear to be raising much money using social media. This might signal that social media is a fad experiencing a dot-com-bubble-like collapse, but that’s an unlikely interpretation of the aforementioned study. What’s more likely, is that nonprofits aren’t raising much money using social media for two main reasons: 1) raising money directly through social media isn’t necessarily why your organization should be using social media and, most importantly, 2) very few nonprofits are doing it right when it comes to using social media.

Nonprofits aren’t using social media in the right ways

Getting in the social media game and learning on the fly has been the modus operandi for the majority of nonprofits,  large and small. While not necessarily a bad approach – it at least gets their name in the space – this has led to a number of accounts with little to no conversation. These organizations know they should be in social media, but don’t seem to know how to make social media work for their organization. Symptoms of this are Twitter feeds that only serve to broadcast news about the organization, never responding to or tweeting with their followers; Facebook pages with comments that go unrecognized; blogs that look more like sales websites than the conversation hubs they should be. All the previously mentioned symptoms indicate an organization is using Communications 2.0 tools with a 1.0 mindset, not recognizing the need for two-way conversation.

For a good example of a fundraising organization  that IS using social media the right way, have a look at The University of Kansas Alumni Association’s Twitter feed. Yes, they have news about KU, but interspersed between news-style tweets are honest engagement with their followers. Asking their followers questions about how they support the organization or simply thanking them for their support goes a long way toward building ambassadors in the social space. Why is this important? Peer-to-peer social influence. (First, check out this post with statistics on the power of peer-to-peer influence). People are increasingly turning to their friends and family when making decisions about where they spend their money. According to this slide show by Brian Cavoli, 87 percent of consumers trust a friend’s recommendation over a review by a critic. The traditional advertisement is becoming less effective, while a trusted friend’s Facebook post about a product or an organization is becoming more valuable. Develop relationships with the more-active social media users by providing them with valuable content and by having real, two-way conversations with them. These social media power users will become volunteer, online ambassadors for your organization and will do the work of promoting your cause to their friends and family. Then, watch support for you cause grow in a viral fashion.

Dollar figures don’t directly tell the whole story

How much money has your nonprofit raised directly off a positive placement in a newspaper or a story on the nightly news? With coverage in the mainstream media, it is impossible to say for certain what the financial gain (or loss) is for your organization. Yet, most would agree that positive publicity in the news media is of benefit to an organization. Thousands of people consume that news coverage and some of those consumers are potential donors.

The same is true of social media. Check out this Tumblr post by Josh Birkholz (Josh is a BWF principal). In Josh’s post, there’s a quick, two-slide presentation. The second slide talks about affluent Americans and how many of them use social media. Especially when it comes to Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, the affluent are more connected than the average American when it comes to social media. (72 percent of Americans with an income of $500,000+ are active Facebookers). Just like you want to see your organization featured on the evening news, you should want to see your organization talked about in social media.

If fact, the argument can be made that you’d rather see your organization discussed favorably in social media than any other medium. Where else can you deliberately accelerate enthusiasm, encourage positive attitudes, identify volunteers, dispel rumors, mitigate crises before they become a crisis – social media allows you to control your message in an arena where donors large and small are spending a lot of time. So even if you don’t have supporters flooding your PayPal account, a strong and engaged social media presence can lead to big gifts in other ways.

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