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Social Networks


Guess how many adults are now on social networking sites?

Pew just released its 2013 data.

And 73% of adults (any age) are now on social networking sites.

Facebook and Instagram’s users are most likely to check daily. Pretty much every social network except Facebook has a niche (age, sex, urban location, etc.). If you’re thinking about branching out, these sorts of things are good to consider.

Read the full survey summary, with helpful graphics breaking down the data by social network:



Let Your Donors Go Public

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.



How do I know which social networks to use?

The daunting question with the simple answer.

How do I know which social networks to use?

The real issue: technology is moving too fast. There are a lot of social networks out there, and they seem to rise and fall in popularity. You’re wondering whether it’s possible to move forward when all your work to build a Twitter following might fall apart in five years if Twitter loses popularity. Or maybe you’re just wondering where on earth to start.

First off, the easy answer: it depends on your mission. You definitely start with Facebook, which has over a billion users and is easily the largest. But after that, what you do dictates which other social networks you should start with, because each network has its own demographics and its own best kinds of media. Broadly speaking, a few of the heavy hitters as of October 2013:

  • Twitter is about conversation. It works well for any organization that deals a lot with news, or policy issues, or fast-paced developments. If your organization is more long-range and slow-paced, Twitter may not be the most efficient use of your time at first. That said, you’d be surprised: I have a client that runs a food bank, and didn’t use Twitter much…but when Colorado Springs caught fire and people were driven from their homes, they were quite glad to be looped in with local news sources on Twitter, because it enabled them to effortlessly spread the word about their services.
  • Pinterest is about images. It’s most effective when you can work with pictures, and its user base is heavily female. It’s increasingly a popular third network after Facebook and Twitter because it has a good track record of driving traffic to your website.
  • Google+ is Google’s version of Facebook. It lets you post pictures, links, videos, everything. Frankly, it’s a lot better than Facebook in most ways. But while hundreds of millions of people have Google+ accounts, most of them are really just Gmail accounts and their owners never get on Google+. For the moment, G+ is best if you’re in a technological or creative space, because those are the kinds of people who frequent it.
  • Instagram is just pictures. Whereas Pinterest allows you to post anything (for example, a wine shop could post its favorite wine country scenery, or pictures of products with links to their purchase pages on an e-commerce site), Instagram only works through your phone’s camera. So it’s good for photojournalism but not so good for more holistic engagement. Its user base is also much younger.

On a larger level, though, the more important question is what you do with people after they’ve followed you on a social network—having a strategy that is about engaging and developing donors and can be tweaked no matter what social networks go in and out of vogue. This is why I advocate a holistic approach that is more about building a traditional donor base with contact info, e-mails, and so on. “Social media marketing” is about, say, getting thousands of Facebook likes. Social fundraising says those likes are inadequate if there’s no mechanism to translate any of them to donations.

My advice is to think of it in these terms: you want to build relationships with these people. Social media is a key starting point to finding them and introducing yourself, but the relationships need to go deeper.



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.



The Rise of Localist Politics

Rather than the top-down hierarchical strategy of directed control, successful companies are developing organizational cultures manifested through smaller networks in which local knowledge matters; they emphasize getting the best out of a team rather than micromanaging and bossing it around. This “localist” trend is beginning to reshape American politics as well. This report was Narrator's contribution to The New Atlantis's "Place and Placelessness in America" symposium.

Until very recently, the centralization of administrative power under expert control — what we might call, for shorthand, rational planning — was considered essential to public policy solutions. In the industrial and post-industrial eras, advances in science and technology seemed to promise a future of unprecedented efficiency. Centralized programs could coordinate masses of people toward desired goals, in areas from government to business to philanthropy to city planning. Modern policy problems were considered to be, fundamentally, systemic issues too complex for local citizens and requiring expert professional attention. Technology and globalization would only increase the value of this approach.

Now, however, trends have begun to shift in a very different direction. Some of the preeminent projects of rational planning are foundering or altogether failing. The entitlement crisis, the housing bubble, and other prominent stories and scandals have made Americans more skeptical of distant experts. Advances in technology and business have created new possibilities for individual and local empowerment. The pressure is on for products, services, and organizational practices that will enable consumers and participants to solve problems themselves.

By contrast, rational planning viewed human beings mainly in the aggregate, essentially as a collection of data points that could be predicted and manipulated based on such categorical differences as race and gender. The messy web of mediating institutions — families, churches, nonprofits — could be sidestepped. Mass programs, which could operate on a scale impossible in the pre-industrial age, would be able to deal directly with the masses, matching problems with solutions and products with demand. Freed from the complex and sometimes onerous network of relationships formerly required for political life, Americans would interact directly with the powerhouses of finance and planning: the government, major corporations, big foundations, and so on.

This model, it was believed, could be applied across the board. Its most obvious value was in the mass production of goods and services. Top-down, command-and-control business models, replicated identically across the world, would bring ruthless efficiency to the private sector. Corporations would get bigger and bigger, driving material prosperity. And these concepts were applied not just to government and commerce but also to aspects of social life, including city design, which became specialized so that people would live in one place, work in another, shop in another, and play in still another (the invention of the suburb took this model to its logical end). Cities and houses, said French architect Le Corbusier, were “machines for living in.”

But while rational planning allowed for success and efficiency on a greater scale than ever before, it also extended failure and inefficiency to the same scale — and nowhere has this been more obvious than in the political and social sphere. The impending fiscal collapse of the major entitlement programs of the twentieth century signals just what an enormous failure rational planning often proved to be. And “big philanthropy” ran into similar problems as “big government.” Large private foundations like those of Rockefeller and Gates dedicated themselves to wiping out social problems with millions of dollars and professional plans. These foundations have pursued technocratic solutions to such problems as school reform and AIDS in Africa — and they are baffled when, as so often happens, their multibillion-dollar efforts fail miserably. What these failures in government and philanthropy have in common is the idea that whole societies are just “machines for living in.” Experts, the rational planners believed, could descend on a big problem, substitute their theoretical (“scientific”) knowledge for the practical knowledge of the locals, and fix it.

Entire generations in the United States have now grown up in the society the rational planners envisioned, complete with established suburbs, schools, big businesses and foundations, and federal entitlement programs. They live in suburban socioeconomic segregation, and rarely participate in local politics (which has largely become professionalized). Some newer cities, like Houston, were designed by their planners around the car and the TV — not the citizen and the self-governing community. A parent today has good reason to take his family to the suburbs for cheaper housing and better schools, a low-income citizen has every incentive to collect a government welfare check, and neither has any clear reason to participate in politics except to lobby the bureaucracy to maintain his status quo. The experts will take care of the rest.

Yet over the course of a century, human experience has not validated the rational planning assumption — and a response is coming, if the rising generation is any indication. The people who grew up under the realized model of the rationally planned society are increasingly inclined to shrug it off. Rational planning seems to have created a demand for precisely the things it required people to give up. People who have grown up this way — particularly young people now in their teens, twenties, and early thirties — feel isolated and long for a sense of place. They want to make a difference, not in mass organizations or abstract causes, but in connections and relationships close to home. Where their parents protested, these young people volunteer. They often find their first taste of community life in college, where they live, work, and play in the same environment, and can participate in the community by choosing from among the hundreds of student groups and activities on offer. A 2010 study at the University of Northern Colorado found that students who were involved in at least one campus organization considered the university to be a community; those who weren’t involved did not. In short, it seems that to feel connected to the big, they need to be active in the small.

Forward-thinking CEOs, looking to hire these young people, are structuring their companies accordingly. The cutting-edge companies of today still use metrics and scientific techniques of the sort that characterized the rational planning era, but they are also seeking to develop a more place-centered, organic approach. The simple reason: command-and-control can solve some problems, but often creates others — chief among them the corporate ignorance fostered by a lack of on-the-ground expertise. The Prelude Corporation, at one time the largest lobster producer in North America, tried rational planning — and discovered (too late to save itself) that lobster fishing relies heavily on local knowledge. GM and Chrysler, bloated beyond the control of their centralized management, needed federal bailouts in 2009.

By contrast, Ford is on the upswing after making aggressive changes to allow its teams the freedom to innovate. In 2008, the management of Starbucks realized it had started to obsess over mass production and growth, and gotten away from what made its company work — small teams dedicated to making good coffee. Rather than the top-down hierarchical strategy of directed control, companies like these are developing organizational cultures manifested through smaller networks in which local knowledge matters; they emphasize getting the best out of a team rather than micromanaging and bossing it around. The organizations that have made these adjustments — or were founded based upon them, such as Apple, Amazon, and Google — are reporting higher job satisfaction, faster innovation, and greater profits than organizations still laboring under the old methods.

Read the full article at The New Atlantis