American charity is changing from a private thing to a public one. Drive that trend.

Historically, Americans have treated donating to nonprofits as a pretty private thing. In the mid-19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that even being wealthy in America was something you were supposed to be subtle about—dressing like everybody else, doing your charity work behind the scenes. Even after the rise of mega-wealth in the late 19th century, when suddenly there were philanthropists able to shower multi-million dollar gifts on cities, those high-profile gifts are the exception rather than the rule. Unless you’re building Carnegie Hall or something, charitable financial support is supposed to be something you do under the radar. And if you did mention your support of an organization, you never, ever mentioned the amount.

That’s changing, and it needs to change more.

The reason is, and I know I sound like a broken record on this one, people are social. They do what their friends do, they value what their friends value, they get their cues about what’s important from social messaging both subliminal and obvious.

You might be worried about donor privacy, and you’re right to be—after all, plenty of people (for now) expect that their donations are private things, and certainly nobody wants you giving out their e-mail address. But I’m not suggesting a violation of privacy—I’m suggesting adding fundraising (and non-financial support) tactics that create opportunities for visibility for people who want it.

And in this area, the demand from potential donors is way ahead of the supply from nonprofits. Your donors (and your future donors) are asking for this.

We now have crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where you’re supposed to actively promote the fact that you just gave, in order to help the campaign reach its goal (otherwise they get nothing). But even short of obvious examples like this, the way that people interact with nonprofits on social media demands that those nonprofits find ways to “make the private public” as marketing professionals like to say. Done tastefully, it’s good for the donor AND for the organization.

Skeptical? Think about these stats:

  • 67% of people who liked a nonprofit Facebook page said they did so because they wanted other people to know they supported the organization.
  • 47% of American learn about a nonprofit from social media (i.e., they hear about it from somebody else interacting with it publicly).
  • Nonprofits that involve Twitter in their fundraising (allowing their supporters to, for example, retweet donation requests) make 10 times as much in online donations as nonprofits that don’t
  • If a friend posts a charitable donation on a social media site, people tend to:
    • Take time to find out more about the charity (68%)
    • Ask the friend about the charity (58%)
    • Have more respect for the friend (i.e. the donor benefits socially, 51%)
    • Donate to the nonprofit themselves (39%)
    • Share the donation opportunity with even more people (34%)

And if you need one more reason to let your donors go public, consider this: this idea isn’t a social media idea. Marketers have taught this for ages. This is where Livestrong bracelets came from; it was a way of turning private support into a craze of support. But social media can empower you in this arena in unprecedented ways.

Let it.