Article
March 21, 2011

10 Burning Questions About How Charities Should Use Social Media

Washington

During a frank town-hall style meeting, nonprofit workers, who gathered at the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference here last week, discussed how to use social media to advance their causes. Some questions had good answers and examples of what worked, but others did not. So we invite readers to add their suggestions in the comments section at the end of this post.

* Do blogs with a call-to-action at the end of each post do well?

Oceana, an ocean-conservation group, says its blog items often include fund-raising appeals or requests to take action. They're "particularly effective when timed along with an e-mail campaign" that also urges supporters to take action, a representative said.

* Do any organizations offer incentives to court more fans or dollars?

Camfed USA, which builds schools in Africa, offered a trip to Africa to the person who recruited the most people to follow it on Facebook. An 18-year-old who recruited 500 people won. It took the organization 10 years to attract 10,000 donors but less than six months to attract that many followers on Facebook. Camfed now has more than a million supporters. Also, Camfed offers an incentive every time someone joins its e-mail list: It gives 10 pencils to girls in Africa.

The National Parks Conservation Association, with Nature Valley as a corporate sponsor, got 100,000 new fans in 24 hours after Nature Valley offered to donate a dollar to the organization for each new fan.

The Conservation Trust for North Carolina, as part of a coalition of organizations, used a contest ("North Carolina's 10 Natural Wonders Contest") to get people to its Facebook page. A link there directed people to a Survey Monkey page, where they entered their e-mail addresses. Now it has 1,400 fans, up from 300.

Inner City Computer Stars Foundation, a Chicago group that educates students about technology, got 500 Facebook fans in three days when a local company offered to provide a dollar for every new Facebook fan. But it hasn't converted those fans into donors yet.

* Do Facebook ads work?

They do, said participants, and often they do better than other prominent outlets. An attendee said to the audience: "Sorry, New York Times. Buy Facebook ads, not New York Times online."

Filiberto Gonzalez, a fund-raising consultant in Los Angeles, says charities should aim their Facebook ads at people with traits that are like the people who already give. "Do they listen to NPR?" says Mr. Gonzalez, founder of Social Impact Consulting. "Do they like a particular book?"

* Is it worthwhile to promote causes through Groupon?

The United Nations World Food Programme is participating in a Groupon daily deal that would provide stoves to families in Third World countries. It's found a donor who will match what it collects on Groupon, but it won't have results until July, a representative said.

* How do charity departments get credit for money that comes in response to a social-media appeal combined with direct marketing or other efforts?

Some charities mentioned having a different link from each place a donor can give so the organizations can keep track of where those gifts come from, but most groups haven't integrated their online and offline fund-raising budgets.

To determine how people like to interact with the charity, the Nature Conservancy is conducting a survey asking, among other things, whether they prefer donating through e-mail or through social networks. "I think e-mail is still huge for us," a representative says.

* Do fund-raising sites that encourage people to raise money from friends work?

Not many charities have made them work, participants said.

Conservation International says the effort works when celebrities promote them. But even then, they might not do so well. A Crowdrise campaign pitched by the actor Harrison Ford raised just $10,000. (To learn more about fund-raising sites that spread messages through friends and relatives, see this article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

* How do you persuade people who "like" your group on Facebook or retweet your posts on Twitter to give?

Many didn't have an answer to this. They're trying but not successfully. Some are using third-party vendors to handle the process.

* Is anyone measuring what effect mobile devices and text messages have on donations?

Attendees didn't know and didn't have concrete examples to determine whether people are giving less because text-message campaigns typically don't allow donors to give more than $10 at a time or because raising money through iPhones is cumbersome.

And no one had answers to the following questions:

* Have staff members been cross-trained to work in social media? Are direct-mail workers moving to online fund raising?

* How do you persuade your organization to budget for fund raising using social media?

Got answers to any of these questions? Please share your comments.