Nonprofits and Social Media Fundraising: Chasing the Mighty Dollar Down a Dead End Street

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Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) across the country support just about any and every cause imaginable. While their missions may differ, the need to raise money is a constant. As more and more entities join the chase for the mighty dollar, many are turning to social media to fundraise. What most NPOs don’t realize is they’re headed down a dead end street.

Social media is the latest and greatest buzz word in the non-profit industry. Organizations of all sizes seem to be racing to the Web to create profiles, post blogs, tweet messages and ask the public to like them – all with great hopes that they will raise more money. While online fundraising has certainly grown in the past few years, NPOs are missing the mark on how to utilize social media to get the most return on investment and the most money in the bank.Social media shouldn’t strictly be used as a direct fundraising tool; it should be used as a cultivation tool. NPOs should be engaging new and current donors through social media platforms by sharing their mission, programs, support systems, personal stories and anything else their audience may be seeking. People don’t follow organizations online if they don’t get something in return. NPOs that use their online presence to strictly solicit money from their followers will never find long-term success.

There are certainly cases out there that show successful fundraising efforts driven by social media. The problem is sustainability. People who make online donations and never receive any direct communication from that non-profit or who aren’t cultivated in any way are not inclined to give again and certainly not give larger gifts. NPOs need to focus on building relationships with donors and moving them through the donor pyramid. We need to find ways to connect with the $25 online donor in a way that makes them want to become a $1000 volunteer and grow to be a $25,000 board member who makes a planned gift.

Social media campaigns are fast but they aren’t cheap, contrary to what many folks may think. While you might not be paying for access to Facebook and Twitter, you are paying for staff resources. Anyone interested in knowing what your social media campaign is actually costing you should check out this calculator by Frogloop. While it’s a little outdated (2007), it gives you a general idea about how much money you’re really spending.

Social media is a powerful tool for NPOs. It’s a fantastic tool. It can lead to big money. But using it as the direct route for fundraising isn’t the answer. Cultivation of relationships is key. People don’t want to engage with computerized messages, they want relationships with people. NPOs need to make their messages come to life through social media engagement and give their audience a reason to connect and stay interested.

Link-Interest-Ability. Those are the three things a donor must have if they are going to be a major contributor. While someone’s ability to give is out of the control of organizations, the link and interest can be created. Social media is a wonderful opportunity to show people why they need to care about what you are doing. Once you’ve accomplished that, the fundraising becomes much easier. NPOs need to remember that people give to causes that move them. People give because they feel connected. Cultivation is what leads to major gifts. Social media is a great tool to facilitate cultivation and organizations to need spend more time focusing on just that.

Amy Stephan
This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Amy Stephan. Amy is a consultant and non-profit professional with more than 10 years of field experience working in fundraising and development. She provides nonprofits with help in fundraising and major gifts, capital campaigns, board and volunteer development and staff leadership, working with organizations of all sizes to plan, implement and assess social media strategies. While holding leadership positions with local branches of organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Diabetes Association, Amy developed a passion for all things related to fundraising and non-profits. In addition to her non-profit work, she is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked as a full-time writer and editor for daily newspapers and magazines. +Amy Stephan
Amy Stephan


  1. says

    You’re right on – it bugs me how we sometimes see this attitude of expecting resources to flow into NPOs once they establish a Twitter account. A great example of building community with “donors” is Kickstarter. Though not established for NGOs, it does a good job of allowing backers and recipients to engage with each other. More than anything, potential backers have a good idea of what they’ll get in return, something you don’t often see in the NPO world.

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