Nonprofits discover power of social media fundraising

For the past few years, nonprofits have used social media to build engagement around their causes. But, more recently, they have started using social and digital media to directly drive fundraising communications.

For the past few years, nonprofits have used social media to build engagement around their causes. But, more recently, they have started using social and digital media to directly drive fundraising communications.

The American Cancer Society recently launched its new "Choose You" campaign and website ( aimed at encouraging women to make an online pledge and a $5 donation toward reaching their personal health goals.

Those taking the online pledge can then ask their social networks for support donations.

"We like to think of it as 'friend-raising,'" says Alison DaSilva, EVP for Cone, which developed the campaign. "Nonprofits need to remember that social media is, first and foremost, there to help people be social and share information."

A new audience
Mike Swenson, president of Barkley PR, agrees that encouraging supporters to use social media to raise funds is a key strategy. "It is a great channel in terms of micro-giving - enabling supporters to ask a wide audience to donate a small amount of money," he says. "For nonprofits, it's a way to open up their story to a new audience who, at least at the moment, can't write the big check."

It is an approach adopted by the March of Dimes, a Barkley client. To help promote its March for Babies fundraising walk, supporters can download a widget to their Facebook page that tracks their goal and progress. It also allows friends to directly donate without leaving the Facebook page.

Patricia Goldman, VP and CMO for March of Dimes, says more than 56,000 of its 71,000 Facebook fans have installed the fundraising application and, more importantly, generated donations with it.

"You can no longer do major fundraising events without the involvement of social media," says Goldman. "People are much more willing to post something on their social media accounts than send out 500 e-mails. And from a fundraising perspective, Facebook reaches a broad platform of people."

But she warns that nonprofits can't simply have a social media widget and expect donations to come in; they need to engage on those sites as well. "They are free for all intents and purposes and easy to use," adds Goldman, "but the posts and comments happen so frequently that you need resources to keep on top of it. You can't languish."

Beyond Facebook
While Facebook might be the social network of the moment, Wendy Harman, social media manager of the American Red Cross, says other digital tools can be just as important to fundraising. The humanitarian organization raised $32 million to help victims of the Haiti earthquake through a text messaging campaign.

Harman notes that the initial appeal from the American Red Cross was sent through its Twitter account, and that tweet was subsequently retweeted by celebrities and other influencers who reach a much larger audience. "All we had to do was tweet about it once," she adds. "Twitter works great as an emergency notification tool."

The campaign also made the organization realize mobile's vast potential. "We knew this was a space that needed our attention, but having proof that it works helped us push forward on this," explains Harman. "Over time, it will become another way for the public to donate to us."

Donations made through social media and mobile can also be directly tracked - another bonus - but Harman says the American Red Cross has approached its digital presence without a fundraising objective.

"I felt by creating value in this space and giving information and different touch points, we'd set ourselves up to inspire people to donate rather than always be looking for money," she says. "So far, that has worked for us."

Nonprofits' use of social media

Directing PR efforts
"If we're getting the same question from our online community and we think we've answered it a million times, then clearly we're not communicating the message effectively," says Patricia Goldman of the March of Dimes

Finding effective brand evangelists
The Red Cross, for example, has been able to identify its most active online supporters

Better understanding of new prospects
"Many Millennials volunteer as part of the high school curriculum," says Alison DaSilva of Cone. "This is a generation looking for ways to rally around a cause."

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