Right on the Money: Lessons in Social Media Fundraising

Image of the twitter bird logo.

If you’ve been following online news about social media fundraising—the practice of raising money using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and so on—you might have reason to feel confused.

“Using Social Media Increases Fundraising by 40 Percent,” says one headline. “Raising Money Online Is Harder Than It Sounds,” says another.

For a little perspective, we turned to Holly Ross, executive director of NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network. Three years ago, Ross compiled what she saw as three big lessons about social media fundraising. We asked her to revisit the lessons to see if they still hold true.

1. Bigger isn’t necessarily better. In the constantly updated world of social networking, having a culture that allows for quick decision making and responsiveness to the public is more important than having a large fundraising team, Ross wrote three years ago. She says this lesson has stood the test of time: “We’ve seen small organizations with very little resources, including staff, flourish with social media fundraising,” she says.

But Ross has one caveat: Large organizations with big e-mail lists can more quickly and easily gain an online following—and a pool of potential new donors.

Everyone else needs a lot of patience. “It can take years to go from 100 people who like your Facebook page to 1,000 to 10,000,” Ross says. But don’t balk at the time commitment, she says: “You’ve got to build the base because you can’t raise money from zero people.”

2. Social media are just another way to raise money. Ross says face-to-face fundraising still rules. And email is more productive for most organizations than are social networking tools.

Still, she says social media—which are mostly free—can be a boon for nonprofits with little money and staff time to spend on fundraising, as well as for groups willing to take risks, fail publicly and communicate candidly with the public. (See Lesson No. 1.)

So don’t make social networking your whole fundraising strategy. “Don’t try to raise $15,000 all on Facebook,” she says. “It’s really about combining the channels”—social networks, email, direct mail, phone calls, personal meetings—“and using the channels well together that’s really going to goose your results.”

3. New media can help organizations gain new donors. “You can forward an email, but there isn’t the same psychology around it as sharing on Facebook,” Ross says. “Tiffany can’t give, but she shares on her wall, and Mom might give. Even just a simple share can turn into a $50 or $100 donation.”

To improve your ability to reach potential new donors, focus on growing your fan base between fundraising campaigns, Ross says. Put one person in charge of the effort (say, someone from your fundraising or marketing department, if you have one, or just someone with an interest in social media). Then get everyone on your staff—and volunteers, too—involved in blogging, tweeting, commenting and making decisions about what to post and how to respond.

Does your youth-serving nonprofit raise money using social media? Email us your story and we may use it in an upcoming Right on the Money article.

More to Read

“Tools for Fundraising With Social Media”

“Using Social Media Increases Fundraising by 40 Percent”

“One Thousand Points of ‘Like’: Raising Money Online Is Harder Than It Sounds”

“Has Social Media Fundraising Finally Arrived?”

“Five Things to Know About Social Media This Year”

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