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Welcome to Web 2.0: Where Community Comes First, Then Fundraising

Resource Center - Foundation

(March 9, 2009) Think you can simply add a page to Facebook and like a spark watch it build into a roaring fire of support? Think again. But Jono Smith, vice president of Network for Good, says a lot of good can come to those who follow a few key kernels of advice. The first step? Build community.

Network for Good, based in Bethesda Md., has been involved in social networks since they got a call from actor Kevin Bacon about how to turn the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” phenomenon into something more important—something charitable, explains Smith.

So began the organization’s foray into social networking: www.sixdegrees.org.  Network for Good now manages all of the online fundraising on a wide range of social networks, including Causes on MySpace and Facebook, Change.org, Razoo, Oodle and Capitol One. So far they have processed over $250 million in donations for more than 45,000 nonprofits.

But what did they learn after launching their inaugural social networking venture with a matching grant from Bacon? Number one: That it can tap into a group of what Smith calls “wired cause champions” who already interact on the web and who have an affinity for your cause. Number two: That these champions for your cause can become your “wired fundraisers” and use their own expanded network to build even more support and raise even more money. But, number three: there is no one “right way” to get this momentum going for your own cause.

No Silver Bullet

Each charity is different. Its constituents are different ages and have different interests. So even among the “wired” there are different strains and trends. And, people use each site in different ways. Finding out where your supporters “hang out” on the web is the first question, says Smith (assuming they are active on these websites at all).

“There is no silver bullet when it comes to building support and fundraising in the world of web 2.0,” Smith explains. “It is actually becomes an incremental part of your larger online marketing program. It’s community based, a two-way dialogue, and something that must start with that community.”

The next step happens before your organization even opens the door and makes its presence known on a social networking site: getting everyone on board with the project, devoting the time and staff to it, and most importantly, having a goal, Smith says.

“We strongly advise against random acts of marketing,” he explains. “Doing well in this medium requires a deliberate approach. Step back and see what you want to accomplish.”

The Right Goals

If your goal is to accomplish fundraising first, that’s probably the wrong goal, says Smith. Instead, seek to amplify word of mouth and build email lists. That is a goal to which social networking is well suited.

“Many organizations ask for a gift in their initial communications, but the average online donor cultivation consists of multiple touchpoints,” he says. Only after five or six (or more) separate instances of contact with a prospect, via email, web or web 2.0, does a supporter usually convert and become a donor. And realistically, the contacts you build are going to be as valuable, or more valuable, than the dollar amount raised within a particular social network, if cultivated strategically.

So you must drum up activity and get people involved. Get them posting videos about their pets, contributing photos of nature for your environmental organization or sharing their stories as survivors of an illness. Smith explains that when there is a creative, enticing opportunity for people to be active, the site can take on a life of its own and grow. You need to reach that tipping point before fundraising even begins, he says.

Other important points Smith offers: Don’t be afraid to experiment. Track the activity for your web 2.0 programs and test, test, test!

So whether you have an event that people can only register for through your Facebook page, or your organization holds a photo contest and publishes the winning photos in a calendar, the key is to have the site come alive. When you have that kind of buzz, it is quite likely to convert to monetary support and build a great group of prospective wired fundraisers and donors. 

Network for Good (www.networkforgood.org/npo) is a nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofits raise money and reach supporters online. Founded in 2001 by AOL, Cisco and Yahoo!, Network for Good has processed over $250 million in donations for more than 45,000 nonprofits.

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