Asking for money is historically a social thing. There is a certain level of familiarity and context-awareness required to make the action of giving a positive experience. Nonprofits know this well and are especially adept at it.
As you know, giving is rarely one-sided. A donation is really more of a conversation than a transaction, and as a result, nonprofits have traditionally used channels familiar to their audience at that moment — usually the more personal (and in-person) the better. Think church alms, or going door-to-door with a collection box. In fact, many nonprofits still use dinners and galas as cornerstones of their fundraising program because of the in-person component.
Highly personal channels, however, often have problems with scale and efficiency. Luckily, human beings are quick to adapt and adopt new technologies that ease communication. Over time, direct mail, the telephone, and digital channels like websites and email all became familiar enough to be used for donation requests.
These innovations were eagerly embraced by nonprofits due to their scalability and low cost. Donors, in turn, appreciated the ease of which they could get involved, as well as the relatively minimal time commitment it took to help.
Causes became skilled in telling their story in different mediums. The live testimonial became effective copy, imagery, and video. Maintaining donor relationships meant keeping supporters informed of progress and, more recently, included in the impact narrative.
Then it all starts to change
Naturally, social media quickly became another channel in which nonprofits could spread the word about their work and their need for monetary support.
This new channel allowed nonprofits to spread awareness about their mission as well as pleas for monetary support. However, it was different than everything in the past in two major ways —1. Individual users were quickly building their own networks of family and friends that now could easily and quickly be reached in a matter of seconds. 2. The inherent sharing features of social media began to change what was socially acceptable to push out to those personal networks in volume
To put it in perspective, let’s imagine a scenario where a nonprofit is sending direct mail to their supporters, with the main call-to-action being ‘make a donation.’ Direct mail does work, and this is why almost all nonprofits still use it in their fundraising mix.
However, what if there was a modified call-to-action? ‘Please donate and then write a letter to 20 of your closest friends telling them why you gave to our organization and ask them to do the same.’ How many people could you get to do it? Most likely zero.
It’s way too much work for the supporter, plus it’s an odd request and an odd action that doesn’t naturally fit into the landscape of how we communicate in the direct mail medium.
Think about this same idea with donation requests over the phone. Again, it would be virtually impossible to request that the person on the other line go through the hassle of calling 20 of their friends to explain why they love your cause and requesting that they write a check to show their support.
An email makes it a little easier, but it’s still a little forced in the way that, on the receiving end, you’re not conveying the ‘why are you telling me this’ piece that’s necessary for an action or even an emotional response at that.
It’s a completely different game on social media... In just a short amount of time, the rules have changed on what is socially acceptable to push to your network in volume, acceptance, and type. In fact, the share has become so normative that it’s fundamentally changed how we think about ourselves online (or more to the point — how others perceive us).
Now, a donor can quickly, and not awkwardly, inform all of their friends and family about the cause they supported. They can relate it to their own life in a meaningful way that cuts through the noise and creates a concrete reason for why they’re telling you this information.
The real power of social fundraising
Social fundraising for nonprofits is when supporters want to engage with a cause, make it their own, and show the world how they care and give back… all through the megaphone of their mobile device and social network.
It’s a major shift in how people interact with causes and, at the end of the day, it’s an essential part of evolving and modernizing how fundraising works.
Most nonprofits have added some form of technology adoption to their fundraising toolkit. Along with in-person, telemarketing, and direct mail, many have dabbled in email, online ads, and now social media.
Social fundraising is, in my opinion, something that is necessary for nonprofits to adopt in order to navigate the new landscape of communication. It’s imperative that nonprofits recognize the importance and value that social fundraising brings to all of their initiatives.
When a supporter shares their interaction with an organization, whether it’s a donation made, a ticket purchased, a personal alignment with their mission, etc., their message is more personal and compelling than a brand reaching out to strangers to ask for their support.
Surprisingly often, these shares result in a new donation from someone not already in the nonprofits audience. That’s huge. But we shouldn’t overlook what the ‘friend-to-friend referral’ nature of these shares adds in terms of powerful social capital to cause awareness. This is often just as important to your organization’s work as a donation.
Lots of nonprofits are already embracing this shift in their fundraising initiatives. Instead of just asking for a donation, they’re empowering their community to retell their story, which brings in new fans — and new donors.
They’re providing the tools that their supporters need to launch individual (peer-to-peer) fundraising efforts, blending the nonprofit’s story with a personal one. And then, watching them bring their friends and family into the fold to give, support, and share.
The power of the crowd is real. When a passionate supporter takes on your story as part of their own, it resonates with their networks on a much more personal level, making it nearly impossible to ignore.