As more and more businesses are jumping on the social media bandwagon, it’s only natural that many non-profit organisations regard it as an essential tool in their fundraising arsenal. However, while social media on the whole does confer myriad advantages on charities, what non-profits should understand and be aware of from the outset is that its use does not directly translate into increased funds and donations; rather social media is far more effective in raising awareness of causes on a much larger scale, and establishing relationships with donors (existing and potential) which can later be leveraged to solicit funds, implying more of an indirect link to fundraising efficacy.
For one, most of the success stories we hear about non-profits using social media to raise funds tend to revolve around large, highly-recognizable entities which most often have their brand equity to thank rather than the ingenuity of their social media campaigns. As well, where smaller organisations are concerned, they tend to raise significant amounts of funds usually during major one-time events, such as the recent disasters in Japan and Haiti, as opposed to on a continuous basis.
To complicate things further, in order for any social media initiative or campaign to be successful, significant investments in time and staff are necessary. While this might not prove difficult for larger organisations, many smaller ones, especially non-profits with tight marketing budgets simply do not have the means of making such investments. Without devoting the necessary time, money, and staff into devising and executing an actionable social media strategy, any efforts on the part of organisations are destined for failure.
In addition, it has been well-recorded that many of the most popular social networking sites such as Facebook, and the platforms they have engineered to facilitate online donations (e.g. Facebook’s Causes) have, generally speaking, not produced significant financial results to date. As well, the overall lack of performance indicators on these sites makes it increasingly difficult for non-profits to measure the success (if any) of their fundraising initiatives, leaving many charities ‘lost in the dark’ as to what to do with respect to their social media strategies.
These points aside, on a recent trip to Toronto I visited the founders of many small charities, and not only did I witness an overwhelming rate of failure where social media fundraising was concerned, but also the unanimous belief in the ineffectiveness of social media as a fundraising tool. Almost all the charities I visited believed that social media was more effective in raising awareness of their causes and connecting with potential donors than in directly raising money online, and that traditional, offline channels would continue to generate the bulk of their revenues.
Thus, it may be wise for non-profits to reconsider exactly why they want to use social media and develop a clear strategy for doing so rather than blindly assuming it to be essential. If fast and hard cash is what your non-profit is after, stick with the tried and trusted methods and channels that charities have been using successfully for years. However, if you’re looking to significantly raise the awareness of your charity and cause on a scale otherwise unattainable (given the same set of constraints) and wish to create and maintain meaningful relationships with donors, both existing and potential, it may be time to hang on to your hats and jump on the bandwagon after all.