Fundraising through online social networks

The number of social networks is approaching dizzying numbers. While many are supported by commercial advertising, nonprofits are also experimenting with fundraising through the connections the networks make possible. Web 2.0, after all, goes hand in hand with the viral marketing principles that have risen to prominence in the last few years. [Are you a maven? Where do you get your product/cause recommendations?]

For an interesting, cross-generational, discussion on the topic, see this post from the Non-Profit Tech Blog,, including this post from Heather:

There is a new generation that doesn’t even check their e-mail more than once a month and barely watches TV and doesn’t read newspapers. They are online. They are social networking. The hand-written note is great for the older generations who are used to that and appreciate it, that’s how they have been cultivated, but the younger generation (35-40 and under) is communicating and getting their information in radical new ways. They want you to post a comment on their MySpace or Facebook wall that says “Thanks for the donation!” so everyone else can see they donated (and hey they want to donate too because they want to see their picture on Change’s giving network). They don’t care about the handwritten note (and don’t you dare spam them with direct mail funding appeals… two a year tops)… they’d prefer you save the paper and resources. And this generation has cash and is passionate and just needs a little help learning about nonprofits… because the communications most nonprofits are using now don’t reach them. They are very happy to find a cool new nonprofit on MySpace.

The question, again, is where to devote limited resources — cultivating the current donors and reaching out in new ways for new ones.

Thinking of a branch (or SIG, or ???) as a social network

I’m still in search of a reasonable platform to support an AAUW group (whether a geographically based branch/state, a team/committee, a special-topic based discussion with members nation-wide, or whatever).

  • – you’d think this would work, but it won’t unless there’s some effort put into rationalizing the topics, finding “facilitators” for the different boards to seed/drive the discussions, putting the “moderation” of private boards and such in the hands of folks who have the time to do it, etc., etc. Right now, the “latest news” board has a “last post” date of 2005. What’s wrong with this picture? Currently the underlying software is the low-end of the FuseTalk line of products — but the issues aren’t really technical. Something to keep in mind through all of this is “just building it doesn’t make them come”.
  • – this is obviously more engaging than the discussion boards – but doesn’t address all the issues. Facebook’s current structure –
    • Individuals – can have rich, application-enhanced profiles, share news and notices of updates with “friends”
    • Groups – easy to set up, but unless the members of the group become friends with each other, their interaction with each other is fairly limited
    • Networks – unrealistic for this application at the moment since they’re based on shared e-mail addresses. Some organizations do have “courtesy” addresses (i.e. I’m shoemaker AT based on my membership in the Association for Computing Machinery), but any chance of AAUW setting up mail forwarding for members is not on the horizon.

    In general, Facebook may be an excellent replacement to provide a richer environment for those who’ve been using Yahoo! groups and whose members can be encouraged to use the web interface in addition to e-mail.

  • – I haven’t explored this, but see Ning vs. Facebook for a few reasons why one group switched from Facebook to Ning (which allows for easy setup of a “network” — though I’m not sure what they mean by a “group”). Like Facebook, the free service is ad supported.
  • – Not free, but not that expensive, either. Seems to have features that could be used by a tech-savvy discussion group where folks would want to connect to each other as individuals as well as to share group information.
  • – The software that powers the affinity groups at Could be affordable if leveraged across several layers of the organization.

Okay, so I’m saying that technology isn’t the problem, and then I list a number of technical solutions. I see the contradiction here. But for many of our members (e-mail is the pinnacle of electronic communication) part of “selling” them on the benefits of a richer model is making sure that model fits what they’d need to do with it. And until more of us take advantage of that kind of networking — maybe it’s more of us getting on facebook to communicate with the kids, just like that was a driver for e-mail — this whole discussion may be woefully premature.

Comments welcome!