Archives for November 2009
When Barack Obama turned millions of supporters into small-dollar online donors during his presidential campaign, he left me shaking my fist like an old man. That’s because Obama’s success has meant that everyone thinks raising money online is as easy as my eggs at Sunday brunch.
Sadly, it isn’t.
Online fundraising is a crowded space. This week alone, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been flooded with information about:
- Chase’s new campaign with Facebook;
- the WildlifeDirect using social media to increase their online donations fourfold; and
- Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day, which my colleague Julie discussed here earlier this week.
Nonprofits face a challenge in replicating the Obama campaign’s success because, well, they aren’t Barack Obama. Few if any nonprofit will ever have the same fundraising appeal as a potential U.S. president. And this comes from a woman who made her first charitable donation at age six.
As we help our clients develop and implement online fundraising campaigns (as we did for the Grameen Foundation), we are guided by the following principles:
- Fail fast. You have to be willing to try new tactics and move on quickly if a strategy doesn’t work. There is no shame in failing in online fundraising the first time … unless you refuse to try new things.
- Know your donor base. Begin by motivating your current donor base online. Once the base is motivated, you can work to broaden the campaign to clearly identified target audiences.
- Do more than ask for money. In this economic climate, people need to feel invested in an organization and its approach to part with their hard-earned dollars. The ask could be as simple as “follow us on Twitter” or “Join our Facebook fan page” so that potential donors begin to receive a steady stream of information about the impact of your work. The more engaged, the more likely they are to donate.
- Set realistic expectations. The Internet moves fast, but few outside of a presidential campaign are capable of going from zero to $10 million in a matter of months. Set expectations based on how broad your current social media presence is, not where you want it to be.
- Don’t forget why you are asking. You’ve got a great story to tell. Tell it. At the end of the day, online fundraising isn’t substantively different than offline fundraising. It is simply a different medium.
- There is no silver bullet. No one can guarantee success in online fundraising, which is still a relatively new venture for NGOs. If you believe someone who guarantees you overnight success, I’ve got a beautiful wool sweater I am happy to pull over your eyes.
With those principles in mind, take the time to think about the organizations that have done the best job with online fundraising and whether they provide a formula for future success.
It’s a classic challenge: you’ve identified the need, but how do you have impact? How do you create that campaign on a national or international scale that actually changes how people live for the better? Permit me to make a suggestion: the Art of the Small. Or, rather, scaling the Art of the Small.
If you’ve never heard of the Art of the Small, it’s a Jedi Force technique wherein if you narrow your focus, essentially you can create change. Applied outside of the big screen, the lesson from the Jedi master is that you can find the answer by breaking down a problem bit by bit and focusing on the smaller solutions that appear.
Our client, Be the Change, Inc. (BTC), a non-partisan national service nonprofit, took that approach with its recent campaign, MISSION SERVE. In trying to determine how it could help fill the gap for members of the armed services and their families during the often difficult transition from battlefield to home community, BTC narrowed its vision. It recognized that in individual communities across our country, small nonprofits are coming up with innovative and effective solutions to address the challenges facing our military community. Then, it took those solutions to scale by matching the small nonprofits with larger organizations that have networks of affiliates working in every corner of our country. Through these connections, they have been able to build bold, scalable and smart solutions that achieve maximum impact.
With over 36 partnerships underway and more on the horizon, the initiatives being created by scaling the Art of the Small are touching the lives of tens of thousands of members of the military community and unleashing the energy and innovation of the service sector to address some of the most pressing social problems in our country.
We’ve all seen groups of teens walking down the street listening to music, text messaging or talking on their cell phones. Or maybe doing all three at once.
What truly amazes me is that teens continue to carry on live conversations as they are interacting with other media. When it comes to social interaction, the line between actual lives and digital lives has become increasingly blurred.
Earlier this week, Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, introduced a new report, “Teens in the Digital Age,” at the 2009 NCTI Technology Innovators Conference. The report found that teen use of digital media is highly interactive.
• 97 percent of teens play video or computer games.
• 93 percent of teens use the Internet.
• 75 percent of teens have cell phones.
• 75 percent of teens view videos on video-sharing sites.
• 73 percent of teens use social networks.
• 68 percent of teens use instant messaging.
As you can see, the report finds that teenagers use the Internet and mobile devices in a social capacity — they go online to express themselves and share their thoughts and opinions.
These findings validate what we have seen with a client project we helped develop for Best Buy called @15, a platform to connect with teens by listening to what they have to say, give voice to their perspectives, and support their efforts to lead social change. In order to reach young people, you must meet them where they are – online.
Like detectives, we’re all searching for them – the signs, big or small, indicating when things will turn. And along the way, it’s fascinating to watch what companies and governments, both home and abroad, are doing to get things “moving again.” Some of the strategies are lumbering and bureaucracy-laden. Some, like Hyundai’s Assurance, are creative and bold, and seem to have had a measurable, long-term impact.
But where are the most creative and inspiring economic jump-starts happening in the nonprofit world? Here’s one to watch from my home state:
In early November, with funding and strong support from a wide range of Minnesota-based corporations and foundations, a new e-philanthropy site, www.GiveMN.org, made its debut. The site was developed to mine the combined power of social media and partnership, and spur online giving. What’s most interesting is one of the ways the site’s leadership is working to build early momentum. They’ve designated this Tuesday, November 17 as “Give to the Max” Day, and three local foundations – the Minneapolis Foundation, the St. Paul Foundation and the Bush Foundation – are matching donations made via the site up to $500,000. All in an effort to get Minnesotans giving again.
Watch with me and see whether this economic stimulus for Minnesota nonprofits catches on with consumers. Any interesting nonprofit stimulus examples you’ve see that are worth sharing?
I wanted to have a photo of a newsboy shouting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it” to accompany this entry, because I’ve always like the idea of fusing old and new, but even more so, because we have big news to share. In partnership with KRC Research, our team conducted a survey of 200 nonprofit and foundation executives to explore how their organizations are using social media and the value they derive from these efforts. Today, we’re releasing the results.
Here’s the headline on the findings of our Weber Shandwick Social Impact survey: 88% percent of nonprofits are widely experimenting with social media, but only half (51%) are active users. 79% are uncertain of how to demonstrate social media’s value for their organizations. The survey also found that social media contributes to nonprofits’ success, with 92% of executives saying their online presence raises awareness of their organization, keeps external audiences engaged (86%) and reduces costs relative to traditional media (77%).
To us, what’s exciting about these findings is how much they underscore that nonprofit organizations are exploring social media as a means to advance their work. That’s a topic that we’re interested in discussing on these pages. Download a two-page PDF of the survey findings and our perspective on their implications. You can also view a detailed PowerPoint.
Let us know how these findings map with your own experiences.
With nonprofits and foundations feeling the pressure to be more efficient than ever, audience and stakeholder research has become critical. Nonprofits must be sure they are not only talking to the right people, but have clear, compelling and appropriate ideas when they do.
While research can be a heavy lift (requiring financial resources, staff and time), it frankly doesn’t have to be. We fully embrace the idea that a lot of research is not always better than a modest, targeted research program, especially when there is existing research to build on – but we do believe that some research is better than building a communications strategy without research insights.
Insights from your target audiences and stakeholders ensure that you are communicating the ideas you want to relay, while also making sure you are meeting your audiences where they live and think.
This nexus is critical to having the conversation and engagement you want and need to have – and missing this crossroads literally or figuratively can mean wasted dollars on communications that simply aren’t hitting the mark. No organization (including yours) can afford that. So while research is an investment upfront, it’s a bit like Johnny Appleseed (my daughter just learned about him in Kindergarten) – plant the seed, then reap the fruit.
The author Dale Carnegie once wrote that "you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people to listen." His point is that people want to hang out with friends who listen to them and engage them. The best conversations are equal amounts give and take. This is the same philosophy you should have for your social media programs. Imagine you are at a cocktail party and having a conversation about your issue or cause. You want people to leave that conversation thinking “Wow, that was a great conversation.” You don't want them leaving thinking “That person never shuts up.”
This is especially the case in the way organizations use Twitter, where retweeting (reposting the tweets of others) and @replies (communicating directly with someone else) are direct measures of how conversational you are. It is incredibly important to make sure that your organization is fully participating in the conversation. Make sure that you are retweeting what peers or followers are saying that you agree with and engage in direct dialogue with people to show that you are listening and willing to engage. The more you engage with people the more likely they are to share what you are saying with their own network of friends. This word-of-mouth messaging via retweets is the equivalent of mainstream media mentions. You can track how you are doing with retweets with tools like Tweetmeme that track the most popular tweets on Twitter. So listen and engage with others and pretty soon you'll be the life of the conversation.
One of the reasons I enjoy open houses, aside from the chance to check out how people create a home for themselves, is that most hosts will put out a spread to welcome guests stopping by to take a look. It's a small gesture, and I know it’s about inspiring people to want to buy, but I appreciate it. So, apologies for not having any cake to offer you as you stop by to check out the launch of our new Weber Shandwick Social Impact blog. (Blame my colleagues. I wanted to give you cake.) What we do hope to offer on these pages is lively conversation, thoughtful ideas and our perspectives on how the evolving social web is changing how nonprofits and foundations communicate. We know there is real innovation happening within nonprofit communications, but we also know that there are challenges with how best to leverage social media to build brands and mobilize advocates. And, we've seen on blogs like Beth's Blog and A. Fine Blog, which we're big fans of, that this is a topic that many people are focused on. That's why we're excited to be launching, in just a few days, findings from a new survey on Social Media in the Nonprofit Sector. Over the next few weeks, we'll dig into some of the specific findings that really caught our attention, and talk about their implications. We hope you'll join in this conversation, and come back often. Next time, we'll have cake.