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by John F. Maeder
How can 'peer-to-peer', or 'friend-to-friend' fundraising benefit your organization? With so many options now available, which one do you choose? Do you simply put your cause on Facebook, or set up a webpage stating your cause and goals then email everybody and hope for donations to roll in? What do you do a week later if you haven't gotten any response? How do you get potential donors interested and keep them involved?
The modern concept of online friend-to-friend fundraising is appealing because of its relative ease and far-reaching potential. Donors anywhere on the globe can be exposed to your cause because of the world-wide web. Simply asking people to donate is highly effective, yet most people would feel more comfortable sending a solicitation email than cold-calling people asking for money. According to an omnibus survey conducted by Forrester Research for Convio, found in the December 2009 issue of the NonProfit Times, "Those surveyed who said they planned to give said emails or e-newsletters (27 percent) and direct mail (28 percent) also influenced the decisions, the first time the two channels have been almost equal. Peer-to-peer fundraising is still making its mark – 23 percent said an email from a friend or family member encouraged them to support fundraising efforts." [http://www.nptimes.com/instantfund/09Nov/IF-091201-1.html].
By combining email with social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, the requirement to ask face-to-face and in real-time is diminished. In the comfort of their own computer desk, what will motivate them to give? If you aren't looking your potential donors right in the eye, how do you maximize your opportunity for them to commit?
With the right on-line fundraising tools you can engage your supporters in ways that were not possible in the recent past. It is a known fact that a story well-told motivates people to give. Pitching your cause via video allows potential donors to put a human face on your cause and enables information and emotion to be passed to the viewer. Because donors like to have closer ties with those that they are supporting and want to see results and the difference their donations are making, video-sharing is an effective tool to accomplish this by keeping donors updated and informed about a cause's progress. This allows donors to feel that they are partners in the cause's work that you are asking them to support. It doesn't matter if they are donating to a large charity or to help their niece's cheerleading group go to camp, supporters like to see the smiles their donation helped put on those real faces. Since feedback is important, showing gratitude to the donors with acknowledgments, or even a special 'Thank You' video is also a nice finishing touch. The actual making of the video can be as simple or as sophisticated as the cause requires or is able. Schools and churches may find that the production of the video may be leveraged into a class or group project that brings people together, fostering community and additional sense of purpose. It is a plus if the video-sharing platform allows multiple video uploads and archiving to better keep supporters engaged.
According to THINKSOCIAL at the Paley Center for Media Advancing the Public Interest of Social Media: "Supporters want to know the destination of their donations, and non-profit organizations and donation platforms like charity:water, DonorsChoose.org, and Kiva are answering that question with information and powerful storytelling and images. Furthermore they are making it easy for their participants to share specific people and initiatives in need to celebrate the successes along the way. Examples include . . . 'Invisible Children' as part of its 'Schools for Schools' campaign, blogs photos of schools being built thanks to donations from 'Invisible Children' supporters. DonorsChoose.org posts photos and thank-you notes from the students whose classrooms received requested school supplies or were able to go on an educational field trip based on donations from the site." [http://www.slideshare.net/thinksocial/social-media-blueprint-10-report]
As in real life, one effective strategy for a successful online fundraiser is to conduct an event or a campaign with a timed duration. Having a defined beginning and end to your campaign creates a sense of urgency that open-ended donation sites lack in their appeals. According to a study by techsoup.org [http://www.techsoup.org/learningcenter/funding/page6917.cfm] average donation amounts were higher in deadline-driven appeals than in open-ended campaigns.
With that said, where does one start? It is important to know that email solicitation and social networking; deadline-driven campaigns; or video-sharing alone, will not be as effective as a multi-channel approach which integrates all features as a means to facilitate fundraising. As of this writing, only one fundraising website –the newly-launched www.streamthatcause.com – integrates video-sharing and social networking, a deadline-driven campaign function, as well as blogging in a unified platform. These are tools that when effectively yielded by determined users will not only allow your organization to save lots of time and money, but will provide a unified base to use your blog to engage supporters in conversations about the challenges you are facing, build relationships with your base, tell your story, and show your gratitude, all with one tool from the comfort of wherever you are. When you enable your potential donors to actually see what you do, or are planning to do, through the use of video, they get a true sense of your mission and why it is so important. They feel that they are included and will want to become involved. Having everything in one place creates the sense of community that people are coming to expect in this new era of social networks and sharing. Additionally, utilizing a unified video-sharing/social networking/deadline-driven fundraising campaign as an adjunct fundraiser to a primary fundraiser is also a good idea. Having a walk-a-thon or car wash? Why not video it and share it with others via the internet to reach even more supporters unable to participate locally and raise even more money and awareness?
According to the same NonProfit Times article mentioned above: "Respondents also gave at events (38 percent), used the Internet to sponsor a friend or family member in a run, walk or ride (17 percent), and responded to a telefundraising call (16 percent), in addition to online giving. What the online consumer is saying is, ‘I’ll engage with you in a variety of ways, but it has to be easy.’”
“We live in a multi-channel world, and nonprofits have to accept that and make sure that all their channels are working together as efficiently and effectively as possible. If your Web site isn’t consistent with the other things you are doing, [donors] are going to question whether this is an organization that has it together.”
The NonProfit Times article also reported that, more than 5,000 respondents were asked about their giving plans that holiday season. “When asked how often respondents access the Internet, 74 percent said several times a day, 17 percent said once a day, 7 percent said several times a week, 1 percent said once a week and 1 percent said several times a month. Other answer options for amount of online time, including logging on once a month, less than once a month and not going online at all, did not receive any responses."
So sell your best assets: yourselves and your cause's story via video sharing and social networking on the internet - and see how you can engage your supporters more meaningfully and effectively than ever before.
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About the Author:
John F. Maeder is the former assistant director of the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, a 501c(3) located in Bristol, Va.-Tn. that promotes the musical and cultural heritage of the Southern Appalachian region.