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Fundraising

The Flock to Social Media

Are nonprofits risking alienation from traditional donors?

You’d be hard pressed to find a voice in the nonprofit world that wouldn’t speak to the power of the social web. Nonprofits are embracing the newest and shiniest tools in the fundraising chest like never before, and every day seems to bring a new headline with staggering growth statistics.

Here’s one: In Italy, nonprofits’ use of social media is expected to double in 2013. Yes, that’s … double.

And in case there were any naysayers with lingering doubts about social media’s effectiveness for bringing in dollars, the figures in a recent infographic put together by MDG Advertising and posted on tech news blog Mashable would leave even the hardiest skeptic stonefaced. A few highlights:

98 = Percentage of nonprofits on Facebook
$161.30 = The average value of a Facebook “Like” for a nonprofit over 12 months
$38 = The average donation through social media in 2010
$59 = The average donation through social media in 2012
91 = Estimated percentage increase in money raised through crowdfunding sites from 2011 to 2012

Social media is here to stay, and its impact on the world of fundraising, not to mention the world as a whole, will very likely continue to evolve unabated and to surprise us daily. But it’s worth asking: In an effort to capitalize on this seeming modern-day gold rush, are nonprofits at risk of concentrating so heavily on digital outreach that they risk losing their personal connection with their core support altogether? And: Is it possible that face-to-face fundraising methods such as events, considered a more traditional practice, are at real risk of dying out altogether as they are replaced with webinars and other forms of online gathering?

It’s important to remember that while it’s the more remarkable stories about social media based fundraising efforts that make the headlines, these examples are likely the exception rather than the rule.

Even with well-considered and properly executed strategies, nonprofit organizations that have a reliance on social media to source, inform, and influence new donors are likely to be disappointed. That’s because, ironically, the very characteristic that makes social media function—the “social” part—is just not social enough.

The very basis of a donor’s willingness to donate is trust. And this is where the chasm between the perception and reality of online fundraising occurs. People don’t trust organizations because they’re on social media; they trust them because those organizations are social. And that social ability, the interaction, and the humanity that is exchanged is the basis of relationship and trust.

When social media is grounded in offline activity, it begins to gain otherwise unrealizable momentum. Organizations have power and value when there are hearts, minds, voices, and faces attached to them. This creates familiarity, which creates trust.  This is where the nudge towards donating is most powerful.

Social media therefore should not be relied on as the sole means of raising donations; it should be a powerful complement to an established offline program.

There are exceptional and remarkable examples that seemingly contradict this point. Take the results of emergency fundraising campaigns like the tsunami in Japan or the earthquake in Haiti. While those events were the impetus for a flood of donations that totaled hundreds of millions of dollars, the online brands to which those donations were made were well-established and trusted organizations with strong offline programs behind them (think Red Cross, Unicef, and World Vision).

Like so many things in life, maintaining a commitment to fundamental, grassroots endeavors is what enables a strong and stable platform for growth and development.

Even with a rapidly evolving online landscape, the ability to engage with people directly is as important as it has ever been, and as long as nonprofits continue to do those things that inspire a loyal donor base, it is almost certain that utilizing online social mediums will only enhance and grow their influence.

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