A list of things we do NOT mean when we say "social fundraising."

The real issue: You’ve noticed that I’m not the only person to have ever used the term social fundraising. In fact, it goes back well beyond the digital age. Maybe you’re skeptical about whether it’s really anything new (the term is occasionally used to describe house party fundraisers), or maybe you’re worried this is something that damages personal relationships by asking people to sell to their friends (or some kind of pyramid scheme).

Nope, that’s not what I mean when I say social fundraising.

I’ve seen the other uses of the term. House party fundraisers aren’t really social fundraising—they’re just a social event that involves an ask at the end. And all the other things mentioned above are just for-profit marketing that exploits personal relationships.

When I say social fundraising, I mean a model of building a support community around a cause. People use the term “community” quite loosely these days. But a real community is a network of relationships where people know each other and are bound together by a shared commitment to something (most fundamentally a place and a shared life, but we now also use the term to describe commitments to causes and interests). A commitment with a social component is much stronger than one made in isolation—that’s why marriage ceremonies are always performed before a community (which in theory is supposed to help the couple succeed), and why studies consistently show that religion practiced in community has much greater positive effects on people. Social fundraising seeks both to involve supporters’ friends and to connect supporters with other like-minded people, for these reasons. It doesn’t treat the donor as an isolated bank account, as much “traditional” fundraising does.

I do also call it social fundraising because it uses social media as one of its tools. Modern technologies make it much easier for us to connect with friends of friends, and to help people’s passions become more visible (much the same way those old Livestrong bracelets turned support of Lance Armstrong’s charity into a public thing). They also allow us to coordinate activities in a public, social way that’s difficult in an age where we rarely live in close-knit physical communities—creating situations where involvement by some can lead to a domino effect of involvement by others, which wouldn’t happen in the anonymity of an email list.

To understand better what precisely is involved in social fundraising, check out the short ebook we wrote that explains it in a lot more detail.