I thought that this argument was over but I keep hearing again and again from people who claim to be marketing experts that digital media is great for communicating but terrible for fundraising. One described digital media “more of a popularity channel than a money-making exercise.”

Then when I spoke to one non-profit about this a few weeks ago they agreed, “I don’t see it as all that effective for fundraising.’ When I questioned this he conceded “I think its value for fundraising is indirect.” He happened to be the digital marketing director for one of the most well-known international environmental organisations.

It may sound a little harsh but if a non-profit organisation does not see the value in digital media as a fundraising tool I would question whether they should expend their resources in that area, after all everything we do should support our goals and have clear measurable outcomes.

Certainly raising awareness is an important part of our communications (and there are many ways to achieve this) but it has value only in as much as it enables a charity to fulfill their goals and while collecting Facebook likes may make us feel good we should be using these tools to engage with supporters and raise money that help us to deliver results.

For those who are doubters here are some of my favourite charities who understand the value of digital media and know how to use digital marketing for fundraising.

WaterAid – The Big Dig

When WaterAid launched The Big Dig appeal to raise money to provide safe water and sanitation in rural Malawi they wanted to use the project as a unique opportunity to bring supporters closer to the real work their donations made possible.

To achieve this they trained field staff in the use of smartphones equipped with the Instagram photo sharing app to live blog from the remote communities they were working with. Live blogging brought supporters closer to the cause by enabling them to follow progress day-by-day throughout the three months of hard work, recording the highs and lows of their work with the villagers as they happened, before the ultimate highlight of drilling safe water boreholes for the communities.

It was an amazingly successful project that was only possible through social media and mobile technology. It enabled them to create fantastic digital fundraising content for their appeal and to show supporters the outcomes of their work and the problems that they were working to solve.

Invisible Children – #ZeroLRA

It is not surprising, given that the charity emerged from a documentary film, that film plays such an important role in fundraising for the organisation. The three friends probably didn’t imagine that they would start a huge grassroots movement when they headed to Uganda in search of a story to tell, but when they arrived what they saw changed their lives.

The filmmakers stumbled across a brutal conflict in northern Uganda where children were kidnapped from their homes and forced by a violent rebel army to serve as child soldiers. They returned to the states with a determined to  tell their story. The documentary, called “Invisible Children: Rough Cut”,  was originally shown to friends and family, but has since been seen by millions of people.

The charity that emerged has been working ever since to end the war in Uganda by repatriating the rebel soldiers abducted as children from their homes. Like any other ambitious undertaking, the pursuit of this mission has required significant funding over the years. Invisible Children has risen to meet this challenge by crafting some of the most innovative fundraising campaigns in the world.

As filmmakers, creators, writers, they believed that one of the most powerful ways they could raise awareness of the cause was through visual media. With film, and through the distribution powers of social media, they have been able to communicate the horrific nature of the LRA’s atrocities and reach a massive audience that in turn has enabled them to raise significant funds to support this goal.

In the year since the organization’s first documentary, two of the top LRA commanders have been removed from the battlefield and killings have dropped 67 percent, according to the nonprofit.

Charity:Water – September Campaign

The availability of social media and mobile technologies has opened a range of opportunities in particular for nonprofits that work with communities. Visiting the places where we work and the people and communities you are helping provide opportunities to capture real life stories of those supporting the work you do, or those that will be impacted. This is a very important moment for you to capture the stories of those involved and share them in real time with you social networks.

Charity: water spends up to two weeks in the country they are going to dedicate their September Campaign to so they can capture stories and pictures that inspire people to support their mission.. They spoke to men and women whose live have changed since receiving clean water. They shared these stories through Instagram and video footage showing potential donors how that person’s life has been impacted and how they can help people with their support.

As with Invisible Children they have a fundraising platform dedicated to peer to peer fundraising that enables supporters to manage their own fundraising page and track how much money they have contributed and what they have achieved so far.

One supporter who took part in their annual campaign used Google Hangouts to raise money for water in India. They set up a series of 30-minute Google Hangouts offering access to thought leaders and entrepreneurs, raising over $10,000 in donations.

Google Hangout Fundraiser

The commitment of their supporters and their success in developing peer to peer fundraising is a credit to the long term work of the charity in building relationships with donors. They connect people with stories, share the outcomes of their work and are a model of transparency.

Invisible People

Mark Horvath is pioneering the use of social media and web video for change. He uses his followings on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to empower homeless men and women across America to share their experiences in the first person. His videos have gotten millions of hits on YouTube, with the help of his followers — 15,000 on Twitter, 10,000 on Facebook, and thousands on his blog and other social media platforms.

Mark has experienced the highs and lows of the American dream — from a successful career in television to barely surviving, homeless and addicted, on Hollywood Boulevard. On any given night, nearly 633,782 people in the United States experience homelessness — over 60,000 of them veterans. And the average age of a homeless person in the United States is only nine years old.

He decided to use video to tell their stories because he felt it was the best way to enable their voices to be heard, for people to understand homelessness and to experience what it meant to live on the streets, something he knows all too well as he once lived among them.

Watching people share their experiences about living on the streets is often surprising and moving, and he’s gotten tangible results. Thanks to Mark’s work, people have been housed, and communities have rallied together, and he has challenged stereotypes and got people talking about this issue.

I personally found these stories to be moving and surprising. I learnt things about homelessess and the people who have found themselves homeless that I did not know that changed my view about what it mean to be living on the streets and the problems they face. In this YouTube video I was surprised that because she was not a drug addict, not an alcoholic and not pregnant she was not able to receive help because she was lower risk. So, because she is doing everything that she should she will not get the help she needs.

Summary

Non-profits can benefit from using digital communications to find new storytelling approaches that can bring supporters closer to the work their donations are helping make happen. For organisations willing to be creative, the emergence of digital media has brought with it massive opportunities for organisations working across all sorts of causes.

How is your organisation using digital media to raise money for your organisation and what opportunities have this created for your organisation?

  • Dennis Fischman

    I think your examples are the exceptions that prove the rule. These are international causes with deep emotional appeal. Most nonprofits are local, and most of their work takes some explaining. Social media help them get over the “What do you do and why should I care?” hump. Mail and email appeals and in-person solicitation are still the most effective ways of converting supporters to donors.

    • Certainly they are the exception and that is why I highlighted them because they show that new media can be effective and hopefully other charities will start using the opportunities they provide.

      It is not just for international charities that can use these as I have highlighted here. Invisible People is a very small local charity. It was started by one man who had been homeless and decided he wanted to do something about it so he used film to share the stories of homeless people. He demonstrates that it can work whether you are international or a small charity with no paid staff.

      All charities have stories to tell that highlight their work and new media is a powerful way to share the stories directly.

      I don’t argue that charities should stop what they do, only that they should not ignore the opportunities that new media provides. Whether charities like it or not it is the future and if you don’t change and grow you are doing a disservice to your cause.

    • Dennis, the challenge to a moving generation is where do we acquire the ‘supporters’ to convert to ‘donors’. I would suggest that the marketplace conversation to bring awareness to a social cause is becoming more a social media conversation. Here we find people who’s hearts and minds have alignment with a cause to become a supporter. Then a well constructed engagement process that includes as you suggest, mail, email and in-person solicitation may get them to step one of the donor pyramid. The 1000 mile road to advocacy starts with the first step.

      Andrew

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  • Dennis Fischman

    I believe I agree with both of you, Daniel and Andrew. Social media have their very important place in the cycle of building a relationship. I would go further and say that without social media, nonprofits will have a hard time getting donations. It’s just that to date, social media are not an especially good vehicle for actually “making the ask.”

  • Polly Williams

    Yes these may be the exception, but it’s still inspiring to see what can be achieved. I help an NZ based charity with their social media strategy and while what we do isn’t on the scale of these examples, we are finding social media to be both an effective communications channel (building a passion for what we do) and fundraising tool (we use tracking tags to determine results). One thing we have learned is that not all of your fans/followers are in a position to financially support your charity – a good percentage are often people who benefit from the work that is done. Its important to understand this and take it into consideration when developing your conversation strategy.

    • Good points. Not everyone strats donating to a charity when the first learn about them. It is a process of engagement and building a relationship until they are ready to make that step to suport financially. Social media is a brilliant way to rach and engage potential supporters in a meanfully way i.e. conversation and not just distribution. Which charity are you helping in NZ?

      • Polly Williams

        IMO it’s ok to have multiple objectives especially if you want to ensure your conversation calendar has plenty of variety. There are so many ways you can say “please donate”! I advise clients to run multiple conversation threads – each with their own objectives. One conversation thread will definitely be around call to action (donate, buy etc) but the others are usually around engagement, informing and advocacy.

  • Mike Ambassador Bruny

    Daniel, thank you for sharing our charity: water campaign, “$10k on 10/1.” We’re creating the case study in hopes that folks can learn from what we did well and not so well. Thanks again and keep doing what you do.

    • It was very cool. Great use of new media tools. I would love to pick your brains about managing this. I am keen on raising some money for a project next year. I was in India last year ansd I would love to support this – though I imagine the September Campaign next year will target a different country