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How Do You Measure the Success of Fundraising on Social Networks? Dollars or Doggie Treats?

Resource Center - Foundation

By Beth Kanter

(March 9, 2009) The Humane Society of the United States launched an online photo contest in honor of Spay Day. The contest combines wisdom of the crowds with person to person (or rather dog to person) fundraising. This is one organization not afraid to learn new tricks.

Over the years, I've watched Carrie Lewis, who is the social networking maven at the Humane Society, do a fantastic job managing the organization's social media strategy and projects.  In 2007, it implemented its first photo petition campaign to protest the Wendy's restaurant chain’s treatment of animals. They tracked the number of photo submissions they got, but they also listened carefully to the responses they received from participants.

As Carrie Lewis mentions in the comments in the blog post, "Since this was our first run at a photo petition, it was difficult to get across exactly what we wanted people to do without writing a book. So every person that wrote in and needed help was answered personally. This gave us a good idea of how to more clearly explain ourselves next time." This particular photo campaign had many technical glitches and ultimately the number of submissions was less than impressive. Did HSUS proclaim that photo competitions were a waste of time? No.

Keeping at It

The next iteration of a photo contest, LOL Seals, (LOL is webspeak for “laugh out loud”) made it as easy as possible for people to participate. That's what the Humane Society had learned from the first campaign. In the first contest, it asked people to upload their photos and tag them themselves, which meant they had to create a Flickr photo-sharing web account and know what “tagging” was (photo labeling). The second contest, the society used a slightly different online tool that made everything automatic, tagging and uploading without the user having to even touch Flickr. They had about 3,000 submissions and captured about 2,000 new email addresses.

I think the secret to the Humane Society's success with social media is that they have used metrics to learn what works and what doesn't. They are also masters at the Listen, Learn, and Adapt methods, which I detail on my website.

Over on Convio’s Connection Cafe Blog, I found this gem of a video presentation by Grace Markarian who is the online communications manager for the Humane Society. Grace mentions how the Humane Society has successfully broken down staff silos. Their team has daily nine-minute strategy meetings. These short briefings have helped them to be more efficient and effective with every aspect of multi-channel campaigns. This is a great example of how a nonprofit has embraced social media in a such a way that it isn't an isolated activity by one person.

In the presentation, the Humane Society shares both the tangible and intangible benefits that their social media strategies provide. This is the first step in a traditional ROI (return on investment) process.

Tangible Benefits:

  • Increased email database
  • Obtained original content
  • Obtained free public service announcements
  • Raised some money
  • Recruited new donors
  • Recruited members, fans and friends

Intangible Benefits:

  • Raised awareness about our issues
  • Engaged people to participate in the issue
  • Generated discussions on our issues
  • Received buy-in from the top (organization leadership)
  • Received recognition and media attention (online buzz)

How do they know they've been successful? They use metrics to measure the results and translate into values. Here is a list of the metrics they use.


# of submissions/comments
# of friends, fans and members accrued over time
# of new names added to email file
# of donations/amount of donations
# of video/photo views
# of subscribers (RSS online web feeds, blog)
# of blog and wall comments
# of voting participants
# of blogs linking to us/covering our story (consider quality)
# of friends recruited
Frequency of bulletin reposts on MySpace
Content of keywords, comments (what are people talking about?)

What They Learned

Grace Markarian also offers some tips to get started where she emphasizes the importance of getting buy-in from your organization's leadership, getting over fears of "losing control" of messaging and accepting that it takes time to listen and build your presence. Her conclusions—and I wholeheartedly agree, are:

  • Integrating social media into your nonprofit's marketing and fundraising campaigns can help build buzz and online actions (like donations) slowly, but email marketing is the #1 driver of success.
  • Social media allows HSUS to reach audiences that it may not reach through other channels or at all, but you must allocate the resources to monitor and communicate with this audience to sustain success.
  • Participating on social network sites allows them to experiment with new technologies, but it requires constant willingness to learn.

The Humane Society has certainly landed on all four paws with its venture into social networking. It’s now a part of the bigger picture for their marketing, outreach and fundraising. Now, how about your organization?

Beth Kanter is the author of Beth's Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media, one of the longest running and most popular blogs for nonprofits. A frequent contributor to many nonprofit technology websites and magazines, Beth has authored chapters in several books, including "Psychology of Facebook Applications," edited by BJ Fogg, Stanford University and "Managing Technology to Meet Your Mission: A Strategic Guide for Nonprofit Leaders," edited by NTEN both to be published in 2009. Starting this March Beth will serve as the 2009 Scholar in Residence for Social Media and Nonprofits for the Packard Foundation.

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