In this post, I share some learnings as a free agent fundraiser (an individual who uses personal fundraising to raise money for a charity) who is leveraging their personal network to support a nonprofit's programs that help children in need. I've also summarized the story of a how one social media guru, David Armano, leveraged his large network to help a family a need and has stepped into the role of donor steward and even service delivery.
I'm An Embedded Free Agent Fundraiser
My most recent social media fundraising experiment was a birthday campaign that raised $6225 from 161 donors using Facebook Causes Birthday application to benefit the non profit organization, The Sharing Foundation. This was my 7th campaign since November, 2006, bringing the grand total raised for Cambodian kids to approximately $215,000 using social media tools.
While I am a long-time volunteer and board member for the Sharing Foundation, my experiments have been from the point of view of a "free agent fundraiser," that is an individual who leverages their network using social media tools to raise money for a cause or charity. I have not been met with resistance from other leaders inside the organization, so I'm operating as an embedded free agent.
I am convinced that incorporating social media successfully into a nonprofit marketing and fundraising plan requires a rapid listen, learn, and adapt sequence. This is reiterative learning. It's not easy to do because it requires balancing action with reflection. On an organizational level, incorporating this approach may be easy or hard depending your organization's culture.
How do nonprofits incorporate iterative learning about their social media strategies within the organization?
- Make It Personal: I've said this before and so has Katya Andresen. "The messenger is more important than the Cause." All of my messaging speaks to why I'm passionate about helping children in Cambodia and why it is important to my family. I tweeted about how my family was involved, how my kids dipped into their piggy banks and how other family members were contributing. Also, when people contributed, I sent them a tweet with a link that shared why the Cause is so important.
- Conversational Fundraising, Not Asking: Twitter is great for "viral spreading of your message" and is useful for donor acquisition. But I really wonder in the long term if that is an effective strategy. I think Katya Andresen's "Preach to the Choir and Get Them Singing Your Tune Outside of Church" is so right on. Are you focused on using social media to build deeper relationships and repeat donors over time or is your strategy simply viral spreading? In this campaign, I did less direct asking for money or retweeting on Twitter and focused on engaging followers in conversations about the campaign. The reason is because this was a more intimate campaign and The Facebook Birthday Cause focuses on your friends, who you have a relationship with.
- Show how a small amount can it make a big difference: Now here's where Facebook Birthday Causes application gets in the way of good fundraising practice. It forces you to ask for donations in the amount of your age or in my case $52. So, I messaged around that letting folks know that a donation of $10 will make a huge difference because it will cover the cost of a school uniform and allow a Cambodian youngster attend school. When I gave progress reports, I let people know how many kids would be able to go to school because of the total donated. I hope Facebook Causes makes the ask a little bit more flexible.
- Keep It Multi-Channel, But Within Your Capacity To Implement: I have 1,500 friends on Facebook, although it pales in comparison to some super connected social media gurus like Chris Brogan and Robert Scoble. When I first sent word out about my birthday campaign to my Facebook friends, I started to hear back about how they would like to donate, but not through Causes. For example, some of new Romanian friends wanted to contribute, but couldn't because Romania wasn't on the list of accepted credit cards. I already anticipated this would happen based on my experience with my 5th campaign, so I had a Network For Good badge set up and waiting to go if people asked. They did and I was ready.
- Keep It Happy, Keep It Fun, Keep A Deadline, Keep It Urgent: I try as much as possible to have fun with these campaigns. I think it works. For example, I started Tweeting about that I was writing a post about happy people on Twitter and people were curious about it. The post was a fun fundraising appeal, "I Feel Good Now That I've Donated" I also had a deadline thanks to the Birthday Causes application and the match I set up. We had to make that match by my birthday. I tweeted that I would donate 10 x my age if we made the match, and this message was retweeted.
- Saying Thank You In Personal Ways: This is something that is important to me - to say thank you in a personal way - even if it is a personalized 140 character tweet. I try to treat every donor like their they're special, not matter the size of the gift. Of course, there are scaling issues.
I spent less time chasing after people who were not in my network who may have a lot of influence and asking them to blog, post on their Facebook profile or retweet. While an endorsement from a social media rock star can help spread awareness, it's way more important to find the influencers in your network. Also, as someone who is constantly asked to blog about this campaign, donate to that campaign, please retweet this or that, I know how that feels.
Creating a Culture of Giving in Your Network
This is my 7th personal fundraising campaign. Not alone, of course, but with lots of help from my friends and network. This is a passion-driven effort on my part with two goals: to support Cambodian children through the work of the Sharing Foundation and to share my lessons learned with other nonprofits so they can use these tools for the greater social good.
This campaign wasn't about getting the huge donor numbers, velocity, or dollars amounts , it's about building a culture of giving in a personal network or "collective" - and that is about relationship building. I've learned some interesting ideas about why people are motivated to give. Some sincerely want to support Cambodian children and others wanted to wish me a happy birthday or express gratitude. With traditional fundraising, say for example with endowment campaigns, when there are personal solicitations - there is sometimes an undertext of transaction. "I'll donate to your charity, if you donate to mine."
Working With Free Agent Fundraisers
The Facebook Birthday Causes is designed for an individual, a free agent fundraiser, to fundraise on behalf of a charity, cause, or nonprofit organization that has a Facebook Cause set up. This means that any one of the half million daily active users of Causes could celebrate their birthday by raising money for your organization's Cause.
- How will you support and embrace their efforts?
I've already written a fairly detailed post about the positive and negatives of the application features and design. The biggest flaw I see is that lack of coordination and communication between the individual free agent fundraiser and the organization's Facebook Cause. I'm not sure exactly how it would work, but a simple message to the Cause administrator that someone has set up a birthday cause would be great. Or in the reminder tips sent by Cause, tell the birthday fundraiser to contact the Cause administrator.
For example, Amy Sample Ward implemented a birthday campaign for Free Geek, but unless she, as a member of the organization's Cause, tracked down the Cause administrators, there would be no way for the organization to support and build on her efforts.
I'm also the volunteer administrator for the Sharing Foundation's Cause on Facebook. I launched the Sharing Foundation Cause last year as an experiment. We raised $995 and recruited 206 members, but I haven't really done anything with the Cause.
As my birthday fundraising campaign unfolding, I wondered whether there was some way to incorporate some of the new features in Causes not available in the Birthday Cause. These features included a donor challenge match and setting a specific fundraising goal with a time period. If used strategically, these features could provide giving stimulus to a dormant cause. And, it did. The Sharing Foundation's Cause ended the campaign with an increase of 30% in members or 349 members and increased the total amount raised by almost 7 times or $6893.
All of the above is most relevant to nonprofits are actively thinking about how to integrate social media into their marketing and fundraising and work with free agent fundraisers. An event from the last week, makes this all the more compelling for your organization.
The Big Picture
Last week, I blogged about how social media rock star David Armano leveraged his network to raise over $15,000 for a family in need. He has a large network, is an influencer, and used Twitter and his blog to raise money at the speed of light. He was performing a human act of kindness for a family in need and in dire circumstances. I don't know him personally, but I believe he was sincere in intent and donated a small amount to his campaign.
Scott Henderson summarized the initial story as:
The response from his network was nothing less than impressive surpassing the $5,000 goal in two hours and ultimately raising over $16,000 as word of the family's plight traveled around the blogosphere and media and the community that rallied behind David celebrated.
I was sitting in a meeting with some people who work in the nonprofit sector and mentioned the campaign - and there was a less than enthusiatic reaction. Scott Henderson had a similar reaction explained as "Every
dollar raised doesn’t fix the root of the social problems that led to
Daniel’s situation. It all goes to privately benefit one family."
His post (and go read it) created a firestorm of debate as to whether individuals should raise money directly to help other individuals or to support the work of nonprofits who serve the greater social good. Fascinating conversation, I couldn't help but leave this comment and summarized here:
You've done a beautiful thing to help an individual who is in need right now and who is standing right in front of you. Helping other people in the way that you've done is a passion-driven endeavor and when you see human suffering in front of your eyes, you can't just stand on the sidelines. (Believe me I know. That's what has driven me for the past eight years to raise money from my networks to help individuals in need both in my community and other places in the world)
The collective, social graph, or whatever you want to call it - has opened the doors for new models of giving or a new definition of charity - whether we're donating to nonprofits who are the intermediaries who help people or directly to people in need.
What can those of use who have developed generous and responsive networks and use social media tools do when we want to help an individual in need or make the world a better place? What is the best mechanism to raise money and deliver services?
(1) They can raise money from their networks and directly give to that person or family in need as you have done.
There's nothing new about that .. it's been in churches, immigrant communities, and many other places offline for years. Or, there are loans from family members and friends - that are private transactions. But what happens to those individuals in need who do not have this support network? Where do they turn?
So, now we have this age of connectedness - and the ability to leverage out networks to get something done - and rather quickly - even good deeds. So, you've raised money from your extended online network to help a family in need. Which is a fantastic thing.
You've taken the model one step further in that you are now in the position of providing stewardship of the donated funds (being transparent about how they are being used, spent and reported on) as well as providing social service delivery. In this equation, there isn't a nonprofit intermediary involved to collect and steward the money, oversee the service delivery, and if the event of excess funds raised - apply towards other programs that help more than one individual and indirectly the root causes.
(2) The other approach is by raising money for a nonprofit that can deliver the program or services directly to the person/family in need or help others.
There's been a number of individuals that I've raised money to help (a young woman's college tuition, etc), but I decided to direct donations to a nonprofit that I trusted with the implementation. I also wanted to make sure that people who donated could get a tax receipt. I also didn't want to take on the service delivery aspect as it wasn't my expertise. And, I'm glad I did because I ended up raising more than needed and the excess when to help other students.
Now maybe raising money for a social services nonprofit that could help Daniella wasn't an option in your situation -- maybe there wasn't a social service agency that was nimble enough to steward the donations, set up a fund to assist Daniela, and provide services. Or maybe it wasn't an option that you thought of.
So, now in in addition to fundraising, you've taken on the responsibility of donor steward, creating a community of support, and making sure that Daniella is getting what she needs beyond the money.I wonder what this says about the role of nonprofits and charities in an age of social networks?
There's more to the story here. Scott Henderson posted some further thoughts on the situation based on a conversation with David Armano. (Please go read it)
Scott makes some astute observations about how this campaign was different from a traditional fundraising campaign and the new role that David has stepped into.
Furthermore, the Armano family and Daniela will be subject to scrutiny of those who gave and those who know about it. It’s just like if you raised money to help the family next door from everyone in the subdivision. Everyone’s going to be watching, some questioning any new purchase.
Fundraising Sidenote: This drive followed the exact opposite pattern of traditional campaigns. Donations started on the periphery of their social circle and worked inward. Those who gave first were more distant digital neighbors, most of whom were separated by at least two degrees. It was later when their first-degree digital neighbors and geographic neighbors started to join with their support.
Scott ends the post with a few points about his personal charity giving style in age of social networks.
Scott makes a point about what it means for nonprofits:
There are many aspects of this debate and fodder for discussion all around, including Scott's:
- How can you best help people in need?
- Is it direct giving on a 1:1
basis or through non-profit organizations?
- What do non-profit organizations need to do to stay relevant in the Interconnected Age?
Also thinking about Geoff Livingston's post about the Long Tail of Philanthropy and how the "leveled" playing field not only makes it possible for small organizations to leverage social media for the causes, but for individuals too.
What do you think?
Update: How is your relationship balance and why it is important to be in the black? by Scott Drummond with links and analysis
Update: AdvertGirl - Does social Media Really Connect Us?