Tag Archives: philanthropy

donor acquisition and the human element

Mark Rovner recently commented on the state of online philanthropy, and what I found most interesting about his post was that he framed it as an issue of “donor acquisition.” This, to me, is the heart of the problem with how nonprofits are approaching — or not approaching — social media.

The gist of his comments was that:

  1. Direct mail doesn’t work, and
  2. Soliciting donations online is no replacement for it.

True story.

The real issue, of course, is that people aren’t donors — they’re people. People like to give of themselves — donors can only give of their money.

(This is my major problem with much of the CRM software out there — many programs insist on referring to individuals as “donors” or “accounts” and offer little flexibility to attach information about a person’s time spent volunteering, skill set offered in organizing, or any other pertinent, non-financial information. Fortunately, this is starting to change.)

This culture shift, from direct mail to e-newsletter donation solicitation, to social media and (finally) to real online community building, is just a matter of technology forcing nonprofits to stop treating people like piggy banks, to stop ignoring the fact that they are routinely and profoundly alienating 98% of their communities (also known as their mailing lists) just to get a lousy 2% return on direct mail campaigns.

I hate direct mail. Don’t you? Doesn’t everyone? So why do we keep sending it?

Mark rightly points out that it has always been this way. He mentions that his mother gave more to her favorite nonprofit because she was more deeply engaged — as a regular volunteer. People have always preferred to be personally engaged in philanthropy, to be treated like people who have assets of value — like time, skills, expertise, warmth, empathy — that go far beyond their ability to write a check.

The problem is, it takes time to engage people personally. It takes time to get to know a person, figure out what their unique skills and strengths are, and how they can be leveraged in the furthering of a mission statement.

This is not, by the way, anything new. It’s what any good salesperson knows — relationships are the only thing that really matter. It’s not your pitch, your print collateral, or your wardrobe (although these help). The majority of your time has to be spent in creating, building, and sustaining relationships.

Time is notably not something nonprofits tend to have a great deal of.

Before we had the internet, before we had social media, it was virtually impossible to approach potential donors in a more human, personal way. No time. No way.

But now we do have the internet. Now we do have social media. Now it is at least possible to reach lots of individuals as people and engage them in a human way, by showing your organization’s human face, using the tools of the new media.

  • You can write a blog, and share with your community the day-to-day joys and terrors of your organization’s work.
  • You can get involved in twitter, and meet people you never would have met otherwise, learn more about them, connect them to others and to your organization.
  • You can make short videos every now and then, sharing exciting news or just backstage chatter, and share them on YouTube, on your website, in your blog.
  • You can use all these tools to make it easier for people to support you in ways of their choosing, whether it’s volunteering, spreading the word, or spreading the wealth.

Seth Godin, reflecting on Mark’s post, says:

“The internet allows some organizations to embrace long-distance involvement. It lets charities flip the funnel, not through some simple hand waving, but by reorganizing around the idea of engagement online. It means opening yourself up to volunteers, encouraging them to network, to connect with each other, and yes, even to mutiny. It means giving every one of your professionals a blog and the freedom to use it. It means mixing it up with volunteers, so they have something truly at stake. This is understandably scary for many non-profits, but I’m not so sure you have a choice.” (My boldface.)

I think he’s right.

The problem is, people (“donors”) are already changing. They are already becoming more sophisticated about philanthropy, and the old ways just won’t reach them any more.

Nonprofits have to change, because their lifeblood, the people who support them both financially and with their time, are already changing.


happy birthday beth kanter!

Beth Kanter, nonprofit technology blogger extraordinaire, is celebrating her 51st birthday on January 11!


Happy Birthday, Beth!

You can wish Beth a happy birthday, too, by contributing a small yet meaningful gift to the Sharing Foundation’s America’s Giving Challenge over at Global Giving.  In honor of her birthday, Beth is trying to get 51 people to donate just $10 each within 51 hours.

At one donor (and a lousy ten bucks a pop) per hour, that really shouldn’t be too hard to do!

There are three great reasons to donate right now:

  1. The Sharing Foundation is an amazing organization that serves Cambodia’s orphaned and disadvantaged children.  They run an orphanage, a Montessori preschool, language programs (Khmer and English), scholarship programs for high school and college, and lots more.  Read all about it.  If nothing else, give a little that goes a seriously long way with some kids who really need some care and support.
  2. The fundraising effort is also part of a larger campaig, the America’s Giving Challenge, which aims to inspire more people to give to more causes through online activism.  It’s a great way to prove the power of micro-philanthropy, the power on online community, and the strength of numbers — even when each of those numbers alone represents only a seemingly small gift.
  3. Beth Kanter is an amazing person, blogger, parent, and activist.  You should do something to help make her happy.  This will do nicely.

What more do you need to know?  Give Beth Kanter a happy birthday, give some kids in Cambodia a brighter future, and give America a clue.

Just Give.

we’re the young generation

The New York Times reported the other day on the growing use of virtual worlds by young children, who are getting engaged in record numbers on sites like webkinz.com, Club Penguin (A Disney site that looks like Habbo), Pixie Hollow (another Disney site), and Nicktropolis (a Nickelodeon virtual world).

As a nonprofit technologist, I’m interested in

  1. What social networks children are getting involved in on the web, because this is teaching them what to expect the web to do for them
  2. What parents need to feel comfortable with their kids’ online engagement
  3. How these children might use social networks (existing or yet-to-be-built) to learn about philanthropy and support causes that matter to them.

What Is It?

Of course, the virtual worlds discussed in the Times article are easily recognizable as just generationally-adapted (and VERY carefully moderated) social networks, as they share the basic components of any social network:

  1. The ability to create your own avatar, or profile
  2. The ability to customize your “home” or profile page
  3. The ability to interact with peers, both asynchronously and in real-time

Why Does It Work?

From a kid’s point of view, it’s characters and worlds that they want to be a part of. They see a popular movie or cartoon, and they want to extend the experience. From a parent’s point of view, it’s a trusted brand.

In this case, both Disney and Nickelodeon put information right on the front page for parents, explaining what the site is about, how it is moderated and vetted for safety, addresses concerns about fees and permissions, and gives parents a contact form or email for answers to any other questions.

So on both sides of the user-end, it’s about trust. Again, no big surprises.

What Does It Mean for Charities?

Obviously, not every charity can (or should) create a virtual world. The lessons here are larger-scale than that. What I’m learning is that:

  1. Kids are getting involved in record numbers on social networks
  2. They are drawn to SocNets that are created with them in mind
  3. Parents are willing to allow participation because of lessons the industry has learned about privacy, safety, transparency, and trust.

In meantime, more and more parents and educators are teaching their kids about philanthropy and social action at a very early age. At the same time, charities are struggling to adapt to the new web, to engage the folks who are online and using social networks. There is also considerable concern about where the next generation of nonprofit leadership will come from.

Today’s kids are the activists, donors, and leaders of tomorrow. And no, not ten or twenty years from now, but literally: tomorrow. Every month or so I come across a story in the news about a third-grader who used the web to send aid oversees, or a 12-year-old who rallied support for a local cause through the savvy use of technology.

I’m curious:

  • How does your charity’s web presence make it easy for youth to get involved?
  • How does it address issues of privacy, trust, and transparency?
  • How are you working to turn young activists into future leaders?

send a singer

I found this a little late for this year, but I’m really excited about the Send-a-Singer project that Bryan Miller blogged about back at the beginning of December.


Bryan is a strategist at WWAV Rapp Collins in London, and they developed this very inventive, yet charmingly simple campaign that lets you donate your company’s holiday card budget to the UK homelessness nonprofit Crisis. And in return, you get to send a video e-card of groups of people singing carols — all people who have been helped by Crisis in the past year.

I love anything that personalizes charitable donations like this — especially in such a fun, almost whimsical (but far from flippant) way.

I also love that the donations are set high (the base “carol” is available for £3,000, or about $6,000US), so that corporations can really make an impact with their donations.

However, it does remind me how successful Beth Kanter was last fall at her experiment in micro-philanthropy that ultimately raised enough money to send two Cambodian students to college.

Having seen first-hand the power of this sort of micro-philanthropy, I wonder how a send-a-singer type of campaign could be scaled to appeal for smaller donations, so that individuals could send cards (and not just holiday cards, but birthday cards, or cards announcing the amount of the gift that somebody just made in your name).

I wonder how low you could go? How inexpensively could you produce such e-cards, but still make them compelling to a broad audience? Or does this not scale down well? Would this only work with large donations and big email lists?

I suspect that it could work well for any number of charities, and the idea could certainly be adapted to work for performing cultural organizations like symphonies and theaters.

How would you adapt this idea for your nonprofit, given the chance? What sorts of technological skills and/or hardware do you think you would need to make it happen?

couldn’t DonorsChoose artists?

Beth Kanter’s recent post about the power and recent success of DonorsChoose caught my eye.  This recent success story of a blogger garnering a very impressive response in the form of big contributions to DonorsChoose doesn’t surprise me at all.  It’s an awesome idea.

When I first heard about DonorsChoose, a site where educators can post specific requests for charitable donations for their classes and projects, while donors can choose which projects to give (often small, manageable) contributions to, it struck me as absolute genius, and as as a potential model for other fields of philanthropy.

Why not fund individual artists in the same way?  Artists always need microgrants to fund various projects, forays, explorations, and experimentations, and giving them a place to post these needs where sympathetic donors could find them.

The potential for this is huge, I think.  This type of microgranting directly from one individual to another can be very powerful, and can give the donor a vested interest in the future and success of the project, while the recipient has an interest in maintaining the and nurturing the relationship with the donor.  I can see a relationship being sustained over time, where the donor — who was possibly attracted to the artist through an attraction to their art — becomes a collector, a supporter, an arts patron in the traditional sense of the word.

I will be interested to see how this model grows and expands – and how bloggers drive this evolution.