Viewing entries tagged
Social Fundraising

Comment

How to Handle the Slow Death of Strategic Philanthropy

As the hip giving method of the early 2000s goes down in flames, what changes should nonprofits be ready for as they try to impress donors?

The Stanford Social Innovation Review recently published a thought-provoking symposium on strategic philanthropy. If you’re not familiar, “strategic philanthropy” is the movement that got obsessive about metrics, and tried to get children’s ballet studios to demonstrate their success with a bunch of complicated numbers. For a few nonprofits that hadn’t put any effort into finding out if they were actually doing any good, this was helpful. For most, it was immensely distracting and even damaging.

Now, top foundation leaders and consultants are ready to admit widespread failure on this project. Most of the writers in the SSIR symposium suggest that strategic philanthropy doesn’t adequately account for human nature, let alone the nature of humans in groups. The problems of human social networks, and their solutions, tend to be messy and organic, as conditions constantly change and even “root causes” are rarely possible to identify completely.

On top of this, as William Schambra pointed out a few weeks ago in an incisive treatment, the vast majority of nonprofit funding (73%) comes from individuals, not foundations…and after years and years of being told to be strategic philanthropists, 84% of Americans still aren’t. Most don’t pick which nonprofits to support based on objective performance metrics. That doesn’t mean they are irrational. It means they’re motivated to give by factors other than the ones that go into the metrics—personal experience, a relational connection with someone involved in the organization, geographical proximity, an emotional tug, etc.

Yet many of the nonprofits I see are putting a lot of work into keeping foundations happy, rather than tailoring their measurements and communications strategies to the majority of their donors. As some foundations are considering new ways to measure success (like the scary utilitarian “effective altruism” approach), many nonprofits will no doubt scramble to change their ways to match.

But what if they didn’t? The vast majority of nonprofit donors won’t turn into utilitarians any more than they turned into strategic philanthropists; they’ll continue to give based on influences from their personal and social experience. What if nonprofits built their primary communications (and reporting) strategies to impress and retain their primary donor base? What would it look like for them to demonstrate their value in a way that corresponds to how their donors actually think?

The real nonprofit donor base

First, some context for thinking about this: the next generation of nonprofits will be hubs of American civic activism, not specialized initiatives of experts who demand that the rabble fund “their” work.

I’ll say that again. The next generation of nonprofits will be hubs of American civic activism, not specialized initiatives of experts who demand that the rabble fund “their” work.

This is true partly because of social problems. Feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement are increasingly the norm rather than the exception. Social breakdown isn’t just a crucially central cause of the problems nonprofits exist to fund—it’s also a central reason for nonprofit donors’ involvement. For most nonprofit donors today, who often don’t even vote for president in person, nonprofit involvement is their primary civic activity—it gives a sense of meaning and connectedness in a way that almost nothing else these days can.

It’s true partly because of changes in the donor base. Baby Boomer donors (and even more so their children and grandchildren) want to feel a part of what’s going on. Unlike their parents, they don’t want to just write a check once a year. But retirement norms have changed; they also need to be involved in a way that can be juggled with a full-time job, kids, and other commitments—so current volunteer systems, which are built around retirees with World War II-era involvement habits, will need to be rethought.

But these changes only exacerbate a more fundamental reality: the “hub” claim above is true because of the way the human mind works, and has always worked. People get emotionally invested in things that have a personal impact on them (even if it’s a degree of separation or two away). Causes catch fire because people perceive them to be things “everybody is doing,” or everybody believes. And people stay invested in things when they can see practical value for them, and the social currency that comes with it. Total altruism is a myth. The complex organism that is human charity has benefits for everybody when it’s allowed to work naturally (when was the last time you felt bad for being nice to somebody?).

Far from being irrational or outdated, the human connectedness that makes effective, sustainable charity possible is top of the line moral and social psychology; taught in graduate and business schools, written about in bestselling books, and employed by the best-performing organizations out there. The social changes and the human nature behind them are real, and will only be more dominant as the Boomers move into their role as the primary donor base.

The next generation of nonprofits will be hubs of American civic activism for one reason: they have to. The expectations and desires of the people behind 73% of their budget dollars will dictate it.

How to capitalize on it

So, how to capitalize on the looming change? The vast majority of my consulting work involves helping nonprofits answer this question. Unlike Strategic Philanthropy, Effective Altruism, and other trendy solutions from Big Philanthropy, the answer is very different depending on the individual organization; the nature of its work, its location, its geographical rootedness, the nature of its connections with its existing donor base, and other questions. But here are some general questions to consider:

  1. How can you demonstrate value to a donor in a way that allows him/her to feel and see, rather than simply measure, it? Numbers can play a role here, but the closer you can get a donor to seeing what you see on the ground every day, the better. People aren’t computers; their brains are hard-wired for story and emotion. At a basic level, this is a question of content creation—telling your story effectively with stories, videos, etc. At a more advanced level, this can be done through events, in-person volunteer opportunities and other interactive ways to engage your work and its core issues, development of regional support for national nonprofits, and digital vehicles (like a Google Hangout) that can provide a partial approximation of in-person activity online.
  2. Why would a donor feel a part of your work? Simply accomplishing #1 above doesn’t cut it—even the best nonprofit communications are just faking #2 if they’re not supported by real opportunities to get involved; ways that work for young people and professionals, ways that capitalize on and build on relational reasons for involvement.
  3. How can you build infrastructure so that your development people are spending their time building relationships, not keeping up with paperwork? There are creative ways to streamline, outsource, or even crowdsource (with volunteers) administrative development work, especially if re-prioritizing around individual donors is the goal. Find those ways and use them. Then use all that extra spare time to connect with people, and to brainstorm ingenious ways to connect with more people! I’ve seen clients reduce their development director’s workload by 70-80%. Imagine what yours could do with that kind of time, if it were properly directed. Speaking of which…
  4. How can you make involvement social? It’s pretty easy to think about volunteer opportunities socially. But what about giving? What about first contact with your organization? Are you generating content that’s worth John Doe Donor’s time to share with his friends, even if they know nothing about your organization? (If so, then congratulations; John Doe just netted you a couple dozen introductions by sharing your link.) Are you thinking about ways to capitalize on website visitors and introduce them to your organization’s work through email marketing, personal contacts, etc.? Are you creating clever campaigns that give your existing donors incentives (and easy mechanisms) for tag-teaming their donations with friends, so that you’re capitalizing on social networks to grow your donor base, rather than feebly trying to find new people yourself?

Where to from here?

These questions are just a starting point. If you want more things to consider, or want to see more of the history and social science behind these changes, read “Enlisting the Amateurs.” You can also check out my website for a look at how my company can help improve your communications and free up your development director’s time—or contact me to talk about a strategic planning or training session to work through the big picture with your staff or board.

Comment

1 Comment

Should Nonprofits Give Up on Facebook?

It’s up to Facebook—but there are steps nonprofits can be taking to deal with Facebook problems.

If you’ve been frustrated by Facebook lately, you’re not the only one.

Facebook keeps changing things behind the scenes, and it seems like every time it does, nonprofit and business users suffer. While individual users complain whenever the company changes the site interface, organizations have it much tougher. I recently spoke with a colleague who does communications consulting for a number of California nonprofits, and she’s noticed some pretty decided trends. I’ve seen many of the same things. So I reluctantly decided I had to address this, and let you know two things:

One, I do still think Facebook and nonprofits can have a future—but Facebook is going to have to make some changes pretty soon. Two, there are some important steps nonprofits should take to make life easier for themselves, regardless of what Facebook does.

The problems with Facebook

The problems I’ve seen with Facebook boil down to three things:

Cost.

You might have noticed the recent changes to Facebook ads. I, for one, noticed that they don’t let me automatically promote my most recent post any more (which had been a big time saver). I also noticed that the dollars don’t seem to go as far. With a 5,000-like page, I used to be able to reach 2,000+ people with most posts in half a day with $3-5 in ads. Now I’m lucky if I reach 1,000 in 24 hours. This, of course, was on top of the changes from a few months ago that had already made your page likes nearly worthless—because instead of being able to, you know, post things to the people who had told you they wanted to see your stuff, you had to pay to do it. Organic reach, i.e. the percentage of your followers who see your posts without you having to pay for it, was already way down. Now, so is paid reach.

If you’re Burger King, that’s not a big deal. What was once free advertising became cheap advertising, and now slightly more expensive cheap advertising.

But if you’re a small nonprofit, the cost-benefit ratio starts to go way down when the cost starts to go up. And I’m not just talking about the ad cost. There’s the time cost; staff has to put in a lot more hours keeping a page active hour by hour than they do to send an email update. And there’s the financial cost of the almost inevitable consultants (like me) you have to hire in order to know how to use a constantly changing platform effectively--not a problem with, say, Twitter. (To see more of how all this is affecting nonprofit customers, look at B. Traven’s graphs here—I’ve had similar experiences; this is real.)

On which note…

Unpredictability.

The algorithms. The interface. The options. Facebook changes all the time, and rarely is it easy to figure out where something went or why. When nonprofits are making tough budget decisions about how to spend their precious communications and development dollars, it’s a little hard to get excited about an option that keeps changing. Can we reach 100,000 people this month with X dollars? Will it be the same next month? A year from now will it cost us thousands of (nonexistent) dollars a month just to stay in touch with our own followers?

Nonprofits make their budget decisions a year in advance. Things that aren't predictable enough to fit into that model often don't make it into the budget (or not in significant numbers). It's tough for even the most Facebook-loving communications director to sell his boss on a major expenditure when he can't show with any expectation of accuracy what it will buy. (Here's a good look from Hubspot at the kind of conversation he SHOULD be able to have with his boss!)

Value.

The unpredictability question, in turn, leads to very reasonable concerns about the value of investing time and money into Facebook. Fewer younger people are using it (a small but noticeable number of my friends have eased off it over the past three years). Initial addiction to the platform tends to lead to dropoff as it becomes more of a time-waster at the expense of real life. Thus engagement rates go down more and more the longer a user maintains an account, so does investing in a Facebook “relationship” with someone actually mean something, or will it just taper off?

What about fundraising results? I monitor the nonprofit social media scene daily, and work with dozens of clients directly, and while I’m aware of many Facebook ad success stories, I haven't spoken with a single nonprofit that has seen a major increase in donations due primarily to Facebook. One of my clients put all its eggs in one basket and did a Facebook-only fundraising campaign for four months, checking most of the right boxes along the way, with minimal results.

A lot of nonprofits are concerned Facebook has just become another big, untrustworthy corporation that’s more interested in its investors than its customers. And yes, organizations are customers, not “users of a free product who have no right to complain,” now that they’re paying for so many things--contrary to some of the snark I've seen, they do have a legitimate reason to be upset.

What's going on?

At this point, Facebook has a lot of priorities to juggle. Besides investors (and that’s a big “besides”), its priority at the moment is individual users. As a user, you don’t see every post from every friend. Facebook tries to prioritize things for you so that you’ll see the things that will most interest you; for example, posts from friends you’ve interacted with a lot in the recent past (comments, likes, etc.). The motivation is understandable—they want to make sure you enjoy using the Facebook product! But the algorithm doesn’t do a very good job; there’s clearly something wrong if I can like a page and stop seeing its content soon afterward, or lose Facebook touch with a close friend because I ignore the snapshots of her lunch for a couple weeks.

I asked a friend at Facebook about this situation, and she suggested there needs to be a significant shift in the way organizations think about Facebook. Instead of the newsfeed approach, where the goal is engagement levels, they need to think of Facebook more as a paid service for reaching a targeted audience for a specific initiative. This is a huge change. It means not only ceasing to put Facebook in the same camp as Twitter in marketing conversations, but also throwing out years of accumulated best practices in terms of engagement strategies.

Meanwhile, new social networks are being invented practically every day, and even Google+ already offers a superior array of services to Facebook that works better (and gives huge discounts to nonprofit customers via its Google Grants program). The audience isn’t quite there yet in any other given network, but sooner or later, nonprofits that want to use social media will trickle into alternative options. A number of my clients have quietly started pushing their content to a Google+ page or maintaining an Instagram account, mainly to stay in touch with their growing number of users who have stopped using Facebook, but partly (in Google+’s case) as a fallback option in case Facebook keeps making life difficult for them.

I recognize the different needs that Facebook is trying to juggle, and I don’t pretend to know The Answer to all of it. But if Facebook wants to retain the business of its nonprofit (and, for that matter, small business) customers, it needs to address the three concerns I outlined in the previous section—most of them with real changes, not reassuring words. The occasional case study of that guy who grew his pet turtle business using Facebook ads won’t cut it, because nonprofits have tried driving (say) event turnout with a modest investment in Facebook ads, with limited success.

What nonprofits can be doing

In the meantime, what can nonprofits be doing?

Have a comprehensive supporter engagement strategy.

If Facebook is the heart of what you do outside direct mail, you’ve been doing it wrong anyway. The real question is how to engage your supporters (including finding new ones) in a way that makes them feel up to date, involved, and important.

On the communications end of things, that starts with your content creation (your blog posts, videos, images, and whatnot that are the primary vehicle for telling your story), and branches out from there into different distribution mechanisms (direct mail, email, RSS, different social networks, Google Ads, etc.). So the first questions to be asking (and to never stop asking) concern who you’re currently reaching, who you want to reach, and what kind of content resonates with those people (free tip: shorten everything you write by 50%). The next (though NOT the last!) questions are about how to reach those people. Facebook should only be one small part of the answer to those questions. (For more on what this should look like, read my piece on “Enlisting the Amateurs.”)

And keep refining what you’re doing so that you spend the most time and effort on the pieces of the infrastructure that get you the best results. Most of the nonprofits I’ve seen that get upset about their bad Facebook numbers also have terrible email open and click rates, terrible website traffic, etc.—usually due to terrible storytelling (more on that in a moment). Social media might be the easy culprit to blame for an ED that thought it was fishy to begin with, but nonprofit communications problems, in my experience, rarely start with any one delivery system.

Use Facebook wisely within that strategy.

A smart supporter engagement strategy is the core of a successful social fundraising effort—“social” fundraising means treating all your supporters like personal friends of the organization who are, potentially, powerful ambassadors for you. (More on that here.)

Don’t ditch Facebook just yet. It still offers the biggest and most diverse audience of any social network, and the most powerful tools for growing your audience. It also provides the most organic-feeling way for people to stay up to date with you in an interactive way. But as long as it keeps hamstringing you, be smart about how you use it.

  • Don’t spend disproportionate amounts of time on it, where 30% of your day is being eaten up by something that’s likely generating a much smaller percentage of your revenue—generate universal content (e.g. a blog post) and be disciplined about the time you spend optimizing that content for Facebook (e.g. by creating a visually attractive graphic that draws attention to the blog post).
  • Focus more on drives for specific goals (e.g. event turnout) than on engagement rates, recognizes that that costs money. And yikes, I know that's a big change.
  • Spend your ad dollars wisely; only boost posts that are likely to get significant interaction (why are you making the other kind anyway?), monitor your results, and target your ad audience well.
  • Also keep exploiting holes in the system, which make it more cost effective, as long as they’re around (ask me about those sometime).
  • And keep giving Facebook feedback—let them know when you’re unhappy about something, why, and what you think they can reasonably do about it.

Recognize that “Real life is more interesting!”

In B. Traven’s post (mentioned above), the writer points out that some of the people who go from Facebook addiction to Facebook abandonment have noticed that real life is more interesting.

As Barney Stinson would say, that’s the dream!

Social media is at its worst when it ends up as a substitute for real life. It’s at its best when it serves as a catalyst for it. One challenge I’ve seen with a couple clients in the past is that they were trying to generate strong Facebook content, which meant making people a day-to-day part of what they did, when what they did day-to-day was unbelievably boring. If there’s no life to the organization, how can you plug people into it?

Good Facebook use, like good use of emails, phone calls, in-person meetings, print materials, website updates, and everything else, should connect people to real-life benefits. Relationships, glimpses into what’s going on in the office, real-world results with a human face, events, radically rethought volunteer opportunities, and the like. (More on what this can look like here.)

Whether Facebook chooses to make itself the powerful nonprofit social ally of the next five years, or whether it decides to drive out its nonprofit customers, your nonprofit should be setting itself up as the hub of a community that is passionate about what you do. That starts with thinking about people (both your supporters and your clients) and their needs first.

1 Comment

1 Comment

Should Nonprofits Give Up on Facebook?

It’s up to Facebook—but there are steps nonprofits can be taking to deal with Facebook problems.

If you’ve been frustrated by Facebook lately, you’re not the only one.

Facebook keeps changing things behind the scenes, and it seems like every time it does, nonprofit and business users suffer. While individual users complain whenever the company changes the site interface, organizations have it much tougher. I recently spoke with a colleague who does communications consulting for a number of California nonprofits, and she’s noticed some pretty decided trends. I’ve seen many of the same things. So I reluctantly decided I had to address this, and let you know two things:

One, I do still think Facebook and nonprofits can have a future—but Facebook is going to have to make some changes pretty soon. Two, there are some important steps nonprofits should take to make life easier for themselves, regardless of what Facebook does.

The problems with Facebook

The problems I’ve seen with Facebook boil down to three things:

Cost.

You might have noticed the recent changes to Facebook ads. I, for one, noticed that they don’t let me automatically promote my most recent post any more (which had been a big time saver). I also noticed that the dollars don’t seem to go as far. With a 5,000-like page, I used to be able to reach 2,000+ people with most posts in half a day with $3-5 in ads. Now I’m lucky if I reach 1,000 in 24 hours. This, of course, was on top of the changes from a few months ago that had already made your page likes nearly worthless—because instead of being able to, you know, post things to the people who had told you they wanted to see your stuff, you had to pay to do it. Organic reach, i.e. the percentage of your followers who see your posts without you having to pay for it, was already way down. Now, so is paid reach.

If you’re Burger King, that’s not a big deal. What was once free advertising became cheap advertising, and now slightly more expensive cheap advertising.

But if you’re a small nonprofit, the cost-benefit ratio starts to go way down when the cost starts to go up. And I’m not just talking about the ad cost. There’s the time cost; staff has to put in a lot more hours keeping a page active hour by hour than they do to send an email update. And there’s the financial cost of the almost inevitable consultants (like me) you have to hire in order to know how to use a constantly changing platform effectively--not a problem with, say, Twitter. (To see more of how all this is affecting nonprofit customers, look at B. Traven’s graphs here—I’ve had similar experiences; this is real.)

On which note…

Unpredictability.

The algorithms. The interface. The options. Facebook changes all the time, and rarely is it easy to figure out where something went or why. When nonprofits are making tough budget decisions about how to spend their precious communications and development dollars, it’s a little hard to get excited about an option that keeps changing. Can we reach 100,000 people this month with X dollars? Will it be the same next month? A year from now will it cost us thousands of (nonexistent) dollars a month just to stay in touch with our own followers?

Nonprofits make their budget decisions a year in advance. Things that aren't predictable enough to fit into that model often don't make it into the budget (or not in significant numbers). It's tough for even the most Facebook-loving communications director to sell his boss on a major expenditure when he can't show with any expectation of accuracy what it will buy. (Here's a good look from Hubspot at the kind of conversation he SHOULD be able to have with his boss!)

Value.

The unpredictability question, in turn, leads to very reasonable concerns about the value of investing time and money into Facebook. Fewer younger people are using it (a small but noticeable number of my friends have eased off it over the past three years). Initial addiction to the platform tends to lead to dropoff as it becomes more of a time-waster at the expense of real life. Thus engagement rates go down more and more the longer a user maintains an account, so does investing in a Facebook “relationship” with someone actually mean something, or will it just taper off?

What about fundraising results? I monitor the nonprofit social media scene daily, and work with dozens of clients directly, and while I’m aware of many Facebook ad success stories, I haven't spoken with a single nonprofit that has seen a major increase in donations due primarily to Facebook. One of my clients put all its eggs in one basket and did a Facebook-only fundraising campaign for four months, checking most of the right boxes along the way, with minimal results.

A lot of nonprofits are concerned Facebook has just become another big, untrustworthy corporation that’s more interested in its investors than its customers. And yes, organizations are customers, not “users of a free product who have no right to complain,” now that they’re paying for so many things--contrary to some of the snark I've seen, they do have a legitimate reason to be upset.

What's going on?

At this point, Facebook has a lot of priorities to juggle. Besides investors (and that’s a big “besides”), its priority at the moment is individual users. As a user, you don’t see every post from every friend. Facebook tries to prioritize things for you so that you’ll see the things that will most interest you; for example, posts from friends you’ve interacted with a lot in the recent past (comments, likes, etc.). The motivation is understandable—they want to make sure you enjoy using the Facebook product! But the algorithm doesn’t do a very good job; there’s clearly something wrong if I can like a page and stop seeing its content soon afterward, or lose Facebook touch with a close friend because I ignore the snapshots of her lunch for a couple weeks.

I asked a friend at Facebook about this situation, and she suggested there needs to be a significant shift in the way organizations think about Facebook. Instead of the newsfeed approach, where the goal is engagement levels, they need to think of Facebook more as a paid service for reaching a targeted audience for a specific initiative. This is a huge change. It means not only ceasing to put Facebook in the same camp as Twitter in marketing conversations, but also throwing out years of accumulated best practices in terms of engagement strategies.

Meanwhile, new social networks are being invented practically every day, and even Google+ already offers a superior array of services to Facebook that works better (and gives huge discounts to nonprofit customers via its Google Grants program). The audience isn’t quite there yet in any other given network, but sooner or later, nonprofits that want to use social media will trickle into alternative options. A number of my clients have quietly started pushing their content to a Google+ page or maintaining an Instagram account, mainly to stay in touch with their growing number of users who have stopped using Facebook, but partly (in Google+’s case) as a fallback option in case Facebook keeps making life difficult for them.

I recognize the different needs that Facebook is trying to juggle, and I don’t pretend to know The Answer to all of it. But if Facebook wants to retain the business of its nonprofit (and, for that matter, small business) customers, it needs to address the three concerns I outlined in the previous section—most of them with real changes, not reassuring words. The occasional case study of that guy who grew his pet turtle business using Facebook ads won’t cut it, because nonprofits have tried driving (say) event turnout with a modest investment in Facebook ads, with limited success.

What nonprofits can be doing

In the meantime, what can nonprofits be doing?

Have a comprehensive supporter engagement strategy.

If Facebook is the heart of what you do outside direct mail, you’ve been doing it wrong anyway. The real question is how to engage your supporters (including finding new ones) in a way that makes them feel up to date, involved, and important.

On the communications end of things, that starts with your content creation (your blog posts, videos, images, and whatnot that are the primary vehicle for telling your story), and branches out from there into different distribution mechanisms (direct mail, email, RSS, different social networks, Google Ads, etc.). So the first questions to be asking (and to never stop asking) concern who you’re currently reaching, who you want to reach, and what kind of content resonates with those people (free tip: shorten everything you write by 50%). The next (though NOT the last!) questions are about how to reach those people. Facebook should only be one small part of the answer to those questions. (For more on what this should look like, read my piece on “Enlisting the Amateurs.”)

And keep refining what you’re doing so that you spend the most time and effort on the pieces of the infrastructure that get you the best results. Most of the nonprofits I’ve seen that get upset about their bad Facebook numbers also have terrible email open and click rates, terrible website traffic, etc.—usually due to terrible storytelling (more on that in a moment). Social media might be the easy culprit to blame for an ED that thought it was fishy to begin with, but nonprofit communications problems, in my experience, rarely start with any one delivery system.

Use Facebook wisely within that strategy.

A smart supporter engagement strategy is the core of a successful social fundraising effort—“social” fundraising means treating all your supporters like personal friends of the organization who are, potentially, powerful ambassadors for you. (More on that here.)

Don’t ditch Facebook just yet. It still offers the biggest and most diverse audience of any social network, and the most powerful tools for growing your audience. It also provides the most organic-feeling way for people to stay up to date with you in an interactive way. But as long as it keeps hamstringing you, be smart about how you use it.

  • Don’t spend disproportionate amounts of time on it, where 30% of your day is being eaten up by something that’s likely generating a much smaller percentage of your revenue—generate universal content (e.g. a blog post) and be disciplined about the time you spend optimizing that content for Facebook (e.g. by creating a visually attractive graphic that draws attention to the blog post).
  • Focus more on drives for specific goals (e.g. event turnout) than on engagement rates, recognizes that that costs money. And yikes, I know that's a big change.
  • Spend your ad dollars wisely; only boost posts that are likely to get significant interaction (why are you making the other kind anyway?), monitor your results, and target your ad audience well.
  • Also keep exploiting holes in the system, which make it more cost effective, as long as they’re around (ask me about those sometime).
  • And keep giving Facebook feedback—let them know when you’re unhappy about something, why, and what you think they can reasonably do about it.

Recognize that “Real life is more interesting!”

In B. Traven’s post (mentioned above), the writer points out that some of the people who go from Facebook addiction to Facebook abandonment have noticed that real life is more interesting.

As Barney Stinson would say, that’s the dream!

Social media is at its worst when it ends up as a substitute for real life. It’s at its best when it serves as a catalyst for it. One challenge I’ve seen with a couple clients in the past is that they were trying to generate strong Facebook content, which meant making people a day-to-day part of what they did, when what they did day-to-day was unbelievably boring. If there’s no life to the organization, how can you plug people into it?

Good Facebook use, like good use of emails, phone calls, in-person meetings, print materials, website updates, and everything else, should connect people to real-life benefits. Relationships, glimpses into what’s going on in the office, real-world results with a human face, events, radically rethought volunteer opportunities, and the like. (More on what this can look like here.)

Whether Facebook chooses to make itself the powerful nonprofit social ally of the next five years, or whether it decides to drive out its nonprofit customers, your nonprofit should be setting itself up as the hub of a community that is passionate about what you do. That starts with thinking about people (both your supporters and your clients) and their needs first.

1 Comment

Comment

Yes, but how does this WORK?

"I get the concept of social fundraising, but what does it look like?"

One of the biggest challenges for a consultant in a complex field (let alone a new one) is communicating to potential clients what he does. For a while, my website has been pretty vague on this point. Mostly because my relationship with each client is so different!

But I finally decided that there was enough of a pattern...certain rough combinations of services that I was delivering most often...that I could be of some help here. I put up a "services" page with some sample packages I offer clients. I also added a "speaking and training" page to help people with booking speaking engagements, seminars, strategic planning sessions, etc. (including a partial list of topics I've spoken on before).

The best part is along with each package, I included a case study where a client used this package, and what the result was.

Take a look--and click "learn more" below any package to get to the details and case studies.

Click to read

Comment

Comment

Yes, but how does this WORK?

"I get the concept of social fundraising, but what does it look like?"

One of the biggest challenges for a consultant in a complex field (let alone a new one) is communicating to potential clients what he does. For a while, my website has been pretty vague on this point. Mostly because my relationship with each client is so different!

But I finally decided that there was enough of a pattern...certain rough combinations of services that I was delivering most often...that I could be of some help here. I put up a "services" page with some sample packages I offer clients. I also added a "speaking and training" page to help people with booking speaking engagements, seminars, strategic planning sessions, etc. (including a partial list of topics I've spoken on before).

The best part is along with each package, I included a case study where a client used this package, and what the result was.

Take a look--and click "learn more" below any package to get to the details and case studies.

Click to read

Comment

Comment

Saving Nonprofits

It's time to reinvent American civil society.

If you’ve opened a direct mail solicitation from an unfamiliar nonprofit, chances are I know a few things about you. One, you’re over 50 years old, probably over 60. Two, you may very well end up in the 2.5% of recipients of that letter who write a check to that organization.

More likely, you’re in the much larger percentage of Americans who throw away the letter unread and won’t donate to that organization--a percentage that is growing, along with the percentage of first-time donors who never donate again.

What do nonprofits need to do to survive amid these shifts?

I'm pleased to share with you that The Statesman has just published an essay I wrote that explores exactly what a reinvented nonprofit sector could look like, and how I think we can get there. Hope you enjoy it--leave a note in the comments and let me know what you think!

Read it now

Comment

Comment

Is social fundraising the same idea as Amway, Xocai, etc.?

  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.

Comment

Comment

What’s wrong with traditional fundraising?

Nothing. But you're doing it wrong.

What’s wrong with traditional fundraising?

The real issue: you’re wondering whether I’m some hotshot kid who thinks old people are just old-fashioned, and wants you to ditch tried-and-true methods for a fleeting piece of technology you don’t even understand and might blow up on you when it goes out of fashion in two years.

Social fundraising IS traditional fundraising.

Those of you who have gone shopping for a men’s suit in the last decade will know what I mean when I mention a “traditional” suit. What is referred to in, say, Jos. A. Bank as a “traditional” suit is boxy, with fairly wide lapels, slacks that fit loosely, and a tie that’s at least three inches wide at its widest point.

But that’s not really traditional. That’s just what was in fashion in the 1990s, and the proportions involved are unflattering to the human body—they just worked well in a time when most men wearing them were overweight. By contrast, if you go back to the 1960s (think Mad Men or White Collar), you’ll see men who dress a heck of a lot better, in suits that today would be described as “tailored fit” or even hipster.

Social fundraising vs. “traditional” fundraising is a similar dynamic. What passes for traditional fundraising—mass mail prospecting, quarterly newsletters, and annual giving campaigns—is actually a fairly recent invention, as the 20th century’s fetish for mass everything hit the nonprofit sector. The same fad that brought you the DMV, unpronounceable food ingredients that make you develop weird disorders over time, and TV talking heads telling you how to think also produced a nonprofit model that has some really inhumane elements to it. For example:

  • Donors divorced from the people they’re trying to help, eliminating much of the psychological benefit of giving and creating extra pressure on you to prove your value to them
  • Way too few employees doing way too much work for way too little money
  • Professionalized mass philanthropy where a foundation makes you jump through a hundred hoops to get a chump-change grant to do something you would do better if they let you work freely
  • Nonprofits that are more or less divorced from the public and private sector advancements that could dramatically improve their work

By contrast, I firmly believe that social fundraising is a more humane way of doing business. I don’t call it “social” fundraising because of social media; I call it social fundraising because it’s social. It’s based on relational connections, building trust, and empowering people to solve problems together. That may sound a little warm and fuzzy, but the model is actually structured to work that way—the way people did business before we got so disconnected from each other that everything had to be impersonal. Social fundraising just takes advantage of some technological tools that allow us to go back—to some extent—to a better way of life.

That doesn’t mean we’ve learned nothing good in the last half-century. I’m not suggesting you abandon everything you currently do to raise money. I am suggesting that if you care about traditional fundraising, about long-term investments, about strategies that will stand the test of time and build donor bases that will still be with you for years to come, then you may want to think about raising money in more humane ways.

If that sounds vague, or you’re interested in understanding better, I recommend my “Enlisting the Amateurs” report—it’s a detailed look at American charitable activity, how it got off the rails, and how we can create organizations with very committed supporters.

Comment

Comment

Why should I put money into Facebook when it doesn’t get me any donations?

An answer you've probably never heard.

Why should I put money into Facebook when it doesn’t get me any donations?

The real issue: whether you hire a full-time social media guy, contract with a consultant, or just give your poor development director yet another task, social media is an investment. And you don’t know anyone in the nonprofit sector who has told you they’ve hit it big with Mark Zuckerberg’s creation. So why bother?

Answer: you shouldn’t.

I know I’m in the minority when I say that. A lot of “social media gurus” will, in answer to this question, emphasize that social media’s value goes far beyond donations. They’ll tell you it helps people keep in touch with your organization without you needing to put together loads of work-intensive newsletters and reports. They’ll tell you it lets people share you with their friends, bringing in new potential donors. They’ll tell you it makes you seem more human, which will pay off sooner or later. They’ll tell you that you will benefit from it even if you never get a dollar from it.

All that is true, if you use it properly. But if you never see a dollar from it, there’s definitely a serious drawback to spending money on it!

But the reason you don’t see money from your social media is that you’re not using it properly. Having a Facebook page doesn’t cut it. Nor does posting little organizational updates periodically. Nor even does responding to people’s comments.

Social media is a tool, like housefile letters, email newsletters, annual reports, phone calls, and everything else you use as part of your fundraising apparatus. If it’s the black sheep child in the corner, it’s of no value to anybody. If it’s part of the family, if you do social fundraising rather than just “post on Facebook,” it can do a great deal of good. For example:

  • Facebook research can identify and connect you with literally millions of people around the world (or thousands right in your city) who are passionate about your cause, and would be thrilled to learn that you exist
  • Intelligently linked with your website and a smart email marketing strategy, social media can add dozens or even hundreds of people to your email list every day

So in sum: don’t spend a dime on social media unless you’re willing to do it properly.

If you want to get a better sense of what that might look like, I recommend this series of posts I wrote on how social fundraising works.

Comment