How To Put Social Fundraising On Steroids | Beth's Blog

How To Put Social Fundraising On Steroids


Social fundraising is when your nonprofit integrates tried and true fundraising techniques with social media to inspire your supporters to raise money from their networks on your behalf.  Earlier this week, I had the pleasure to participate in the SF Foundation Center’s 35th Anniversary Open House where I had an opportunity to lead a mini-workshop on best practices in social fundraising for almost a 100 people from Bay Area nonprofits.       I was an early adopter of this approach back in 2006 and over the years I have had the opportunity to raise over $250,000 for a charity that supports Cambodian children using these techniques as part of  online giving contests like the Case Foundation’s America’s Giving Challenge.

For more in-depth learning experiences,  I do a pre-workshop assessment, but for this mini-workshop I did a living assessment in the room.  I needed to get an understanding of who was in the room (type of organization, position, and organizational size),  experience with different tools, and what they believed about social fundraising.    I unpacked the latter with a series of spectragrams asking folks to share their opinions about whether or not social fundraising as a fad or whether or not dollars raised was the only metric for success.

I always enjoy the opportunity to present on social fundraising because while the tools come and go, the  principles for success don’t change.    I illustrated each principle with examples of nonprofit social fundraising campaigns that highlight a particular practice.

  • Set realistic expectations and objectives for pilots, focus on learning and engagement
  • Pick a campaign  and platform to experiment with integrating social fundraising , but build your network and get organized first
  • Let your stakeholders share their story and passion about your organization – from the heart and humor work
  • Cultivate and cheer on champions for your cause
  • Engage influencers and free agents
  • Engage before, during, and after
  • Thank you not the last touch

One of the case studies I shared was about NTEN’s recent social fundraiser to raise scholarship money for NTC conference attendance.   They set up a community champions campaign on Razoo and asked their champions to commit to raising $500 each and that the money would be matched by the NTEN board.   This campaign was filled with best practices about how to engage your community — and the importance of good storytelling, matching grants, and champion comradeship.    The video above is from Corey Pudhorodsky who challenged his network to raise $2,500 along with his baby daughter.    If he made the challenge, he promised to do a dance with her in an adult onesie.   (He made his campaign goal and here’s the dance video).

Many nonprofits view social fundraising with a degree of skepticism.    If the dollar amounts for campaigns are modest, why invest the effort?     They don’t often value community engagement as a metric for success.   But what if you could take a systems approach to social fundraising that would leverage social fundraising done by individual organizations and give it focus?

Enter online fundraising contests.   The Case Foundation was a pioneer in designing and implementing social giving contests like the Case Foundation’s America’s Giving Challenge in 2007 and 2009  which inspired many nonprofits to experiment and incorporate these practices as illustrated above.   Contests have also helped inspire nonprofits—motivated by cash prizes —to dip their toes into the social fundraising waters.  Online contests have also had their critics (including me).  More recently, social fundraising practice has accelerated due to the popularity of online social fundraising platforms, like Razoo, Causes, and others that make it easier for  nonprofits empower their most ardent fans to ask their personal networks to donate.  These platforms allow nonprofits to seamlessly integrate social media into an online campaign.

But, what is even more powerful is when nonprofits embrace these social fundraising techniques as part of a Community Giving Day, an online contest where local donors and nonprofits come together for a day of giving, unifying a geographic area.     Add in some training for nonprofits,  a communications campaign,  and a well designed online contest that make it a win-win for all nonprofits and you have a powerful strategy for giving a financial boost for a community’s nonprofits.  So, maybe we don’t have to blow up online giving contests after all!

The Case Foundation commissioned a report, “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities” authored by Geoff Livingston, author and a consultant to Razoo, that analyzes the results of the DC Giving Day.  ( I was honored to have participated in the kick off one-day training event last October. )    The report looks at how Giving Days can impact a metropolitan area’s nonprofit community and is a gold mine of data as well as success stories from participant nonprofits.

In November, 2011, the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, The United Way of National Capital Area,  and the social giving platform, Razoo,  hosted a multi-million dollar local giving day.   Almost 18,000 people participated in this online fundraising contest and raised more than $2 million for the 1,200 participating nonprofits.    Giving Days have been a proven technique to raise millions of dollars and generate attention for the local nonprofit community.    The grandfather of all online Giving Days – Give the Max Day in Minnesota has  helped raise $46 million for nonprofit organizations across the state of Minnesota since launching in November 2009.

The report analyzes the results of the Give to the Max Day in Greater Washington, DC.    The event had three components:

  • A contest that stimulated gifts from individuals and encouraged nonprofits to give attention to acquiring new donors or re-engage lapsed donors
  • A series of one-day bootcamps that would share best practices of social fundraising that would help prepare them for the campaign
  • A significant outreach campaign to raise awareness of the nonprofit community and the local event

As a trainer who participated in the training activities,  I was most interested in what the report had to say about the training design.      As I mentioned, I had the honor doing a key note for one of the live training events and focused on sharing best practices including using the Razoo giving platform, content, storytelling, social media strategy, and donor cultivation.    These were one-day events that were complemented by a comprehensive online toolkit that included video tutorials, local expert sessions, work flow templates, sample materials, and other materials.   Resource packages like this are important because one of the big challenges, especially for smaller organizations, is the time it takes to get organized.    With resources like this, organization’s don’t have to start from scratch.

While the report cites  a high degree of satisfaction with the training events,   the research revealed something that I have seen in every training session I’ve ever presented on social media:  different levels of comfort and experience or as the report points out those experienced with social media and those are just beginning.   This is why it is important for training sessions to incorporate differentiated instruction based on some assessment of skills and knowledge prior to the design.   In my own work, I developed “Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly”  and peer learning models and have cultivated an instructional practice that gives participants a voice.    I think that for long-term capacity building and improvement of skills, it is necessary to go beyond a one-day event and to form communities of practice or peer learning exchanges so that participants can continually practice and update their skills.

The report is filled with useful information if a local community is considering designing and launching a Giving Day combined with capacity building and an awareness campaign.    The report is also useful to nonprofit – not only those might be participating in a Giving Day, but those who want to test out social fundraising techniques and have more impact.     The case studies profile the winners in-depth.   (I love the success story about Little Lights Urban Ministries which was the Cinderella story of the Giving Day.  )

What do you think of online Giving Days — do you think these efforts can help give local nonprofits a financial boost and serve as useful introduction to the practice of social fundraising?

Update: See also, Tom Watson’s “Giving Days vs Giving Daze”  and Amy Sample Ward’s “Can Giving Days Strengthen Your CommunityGeoff Livingston has a summary of the study as well as links to other blog post.

Update:  See also, my FLIP interview about social fundraising at the Foundation Center’s grantspace

5 Responses

  1. […] Beth Kanter: How To Put Social Fundraising On Steroids: Community Giving Days […]

  2. I think online giving days will be a positive step for nonprofits. It’s always good to explore new methods and be happily surprised about people’s very positive response.

  3. Great stuff as always Beth, if you have a sec, take a look Social Media on steroids to help my local food bank. I would love to chat with you about #socialmedi4good sometime. Do-able?

  4. Cheryl says:

    The only thing better than a dancing baby is a dancing baby with a dancing (onsie-wearing)daddy.

  5. Beth says:

    Cheryl: I agree. How lucky you are to work with Cory!