If these tools are free, why does it seem like it costs so much to get anything tangible out of them?

Why is social media so expensive?

The real issue: you are not currently budgeting for social media outreach, so when you start hearing about Facebook ads, or hiring a new full-time staff member or a consultant, you can feel the weight of that extra cost, and it’s not fun. If these products are almost entirely free, why does it cost so much money to make them work? Is there a cheaper way to do it?

No, there isn’t. You can hire your college sophomore nephew to save money, or try to do it all in-house, but the reality is doing those things usually won’t get you actual financial results. That’s why most nonprofits (which tend to try to do social media these ways) languish with feeble Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts that are really just press release outlets that nobody reads. So why spend even half the money if it doesn’t buy you anything?

What if I told you that there was a free agent development specialist out there who I could pretty safely promise would bring in several hundred new donors in his first year? Maybe you couldn’t jump and get him instantly, but wouldn’t you be inclined to try to find the money in the budget next year? After all, most new development directors will barely have gotten started by the end of their first years; the learning curve is steep, they don’t know your donors, and they far too often end up drowning in paperwork just trying to keep up with old grants. A fundraiser who could sidestep that entire process and start dramatically increasing your base quickly would be a godsend—not least for your existing development director, who could suddenly start focusing on growing relationships with individual donors rather than finding them and bringing them on board in the first place.

Oh, and I almost forgot—this development guy is willing to work for you for less than half of what you’re paying your current one.

This is how you need to think about social fundraising. Done poorly, it’s nearly worthless. Done right, it’s like tripling or quadrupling the capacity of your development director, creating a pipeline of new donors and dramatically reducing the need for her to waste her time proving your value to people.

If you’re like a lot of nonprofits I know, your budget is pretty stagnant and it’s a lot of work just closing the gap at the end of the year. If you knew that spending some money now could expand your budget year after year, and you’d be consistently ending your fiscal year with conversations about what to do with the extra money, you’d be silly to complain that it cost money to make that happen. This, of course, doesn’t mean you can afford to do it right away—but it’s something to plan for.

(Feel free to get in touch with me if you want to discuss this further.)