Revised with new information: Januayr 7, 2010
Don't Just Ask for Money!
Bloggers, media folks and various consultants are breathlessly telling nonprofits that they can raise all sorts of new money and recruit vast numbers of new volunteers through using so-called social media, like Facebook and Twitter and whatever tomorrow's Internet-flavor-of-the-day is. So many nonprofits are flooding their FaceBook friends and Twitter followers with fund-raising messages - every message is for you to donate something or to buy something. The result? Instead of new money and new volunteers, people are un-friending and un-following nonprofits, and nonprofits are wondering where their huge financial returns are.
So-called social media (which is actually nothing new) is but one tool in a nonprofit, NGO, government agency or other mission-based organization's communications toolbox, and like every other Internet tool, including web sites and those old-fashioned but still oh-so-effective email newsletters, these tools should be used to build trust and belief in your organization, not just to ask for money.
MOST of a nonprofit's messages via the Internet, including social networking, should NOT have anything to do with requesting cash donations. I recommend a 75% rule: 75% of your online messages to donors, potential donors, volunteers, email newsletter subscribers, FaceBook friends, Twitter followers, whomever, should not ask for cash donations or be focused on income-generation at all (including selling something). Instead, messages should:
All of these activities will make friends and followers feel much more connected to the organization, and will make the occasional fund-raising message much more effective, because it will be much more welcomed.
- highlight a recent accomplishment, or several accomplishments, by the organization (an accomplishment is the number of people you have helped or projects you have completed, for instance, not the number of meetings you have held)
- link to or highlight recent press coverage or blog coverage for your organization or coverage that relates somehow to whatever issue your organization is concerned with
- highlight the contributions/accomplishments of a particular volunteer or several volunteers
- invite people to an event that's main purpose is NOT fund-raising (an open house, a volunteer orientation, a training session, etc.)
- highlight staff activities that further establish their credentials to engage in activities to meet the organization's mission (e.g., a theater might highlight an honorary degree bestowed on their artistic director; a nonprofit animal shelter could highlight a credential the executive director recently received, etc.)
- link to a new resource on the organization's web site
- provide information that somehow builds awareness of whatever issue the organization is concerned with (e,g, a new study, upcoming legislation)
- invite commentary on something the organization is doing or changing
- link to a photo of something interesting, silly, surprising, pretty, whatever: your staff dressed up for Halloween, your executive director meeting with an elected official, wildlife in your parking lot, volunteers in action...
But wait, there's more! What happens when a person clicks on your organization's "Support Us" or "How to Help" link on your web site or in any online message? For too many organizations, this link leads to information only on how to make a credit card donation.
In addition to information on financial donations, this page should also provide:
For those who do fill out a form on your site to make a donation, do you also offer a field on the form for the person to give feedback about your organization's programs or activities? Do not just ask for information needed to process their donation; ask for information that can help donors feel more of a part of your organization and its mission.
- a summary of how to volunteer with the organization, and a link to more detailed information
- a summary of how to express support for the organization to government officials and the press, and a link to more information about advocacy activities
- upcoming events by the organization that a person could attend
- activities that a person could do any place, anywhere, to support the organization. For instance, an arts advocacy group could encourage web visitors to attend local arts activities. Or, an environmental group could provide highlights of green-activities a person could engage in.
Supporters of nonprofit organizations don't want to give just donation, and then only hear from the groups again when more money is needed; they want to feel a part of your organization, and feel like you value more than their cash. The Internet makes it easier than ever to give potential supporters a heightened sense of involvement with your organization -- with little extra work on your part.
Also see this document on using your web site to demonstrate your credibility and transparency and this page on Evaluating Online Activities: Online Action Should Create & Support Offline Action.
Further advice on using the Internet to raise funds.
See more resources re: Community Relations, With and Without Technology
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