Friday, February 5, 2010

Networks for Nonprofits

Hearts around the world broke last month as the devastating images from Haiti flooded the screens of our televisions, laptops and iPhones. Millions of people, anxious to find a way to help, made web site donations at familiar relief organizations such as the American Red Cross and World Vision. Others called in during the global benefit concert "Hope for Haiti Now," hoping that maybe Julia Roberts or John Krasinski would take their credit card number. Still others reached into their pockets, pulled out their mobile phones and sent the text message "HAITI" to 90999, making a $10 donation to the Red Cross. How easy was that?

According to this article of Jan. 21, over $30 million has been raised for Haitian relief efforts from text donations alone. The article links to "Technology easing the path to charity," a video segment from the Rachel Maddow Show featuring the founder of Mobile Accord's mGive, a for-profit company that processes most of the text donations. Text giving was novel to me, but obviously not to everyone, as this donation method has been around since the 2004 Tsunami—that's a long time in tech years!

One could argue that mobile texting doesn’t really fall under the realm of social media. However, nonprofits who were paying attention could see that the success of the text donation campaigns could not have been possible without the social networking element. People don’t just donate; they also want to tell everyone they donated and to solicit more donations from their friends and families.

Social networks are the newest trend in nonprofit fundraising. Causes, Facebook's largest application, reaches over 30 million active users and boasts donations of over $20 million to 35,000 causes since its launch in May of 2007. My recent search for causes including the word “Haiti” returned a staggering 2,080. Granted, not all of them have been set up as a result of the earthquake, but 2,080 is still an impressive number! I added the members and donations from the first page of my search results: almost 1.5 million people donated over $500,000 from the first 25 causes—just over 1% of the 2,080 causes. With numbers like these, it’s easy to understand the urgency for nonprofits to engage in social networks to raise awareness, volunteers and dollars.

In 2007, and again in 2009, Causes took part in America’s Giving Challenge, a 30-day fundraising campaign backed by the Case Foundation; 100,000 individuals contributed a total of $2.1 million to almost 8,000 causes. With two campaigns under its belt, Case has learned a thing or two about how to connect with fundraising in the blogosphere. The Case website offers tutorials designed to teach nonprofits how to leverage social media.

I have a new appreciation for social networking tools, after reading so many heartwarming stories of individuals and small groups who are trying--and succeeding--in making a difference. For the record, I still think updates and tweets are ridiculously self-serving; but, it’s nice to connect with kindred souls who are all trying to make this world just a little bit better.

1 comment:

  1. Nonprofits have always sought ways to make giving easier. They have long known that ease of donation makes for more and larger donations. I am reminded of the annual NPR fundraisers, where if the listener will just call in and pledge, then all of that pesky paperwork can be handled later. Or the annual United Way drives, where the hope is to get employees to agree to payroll deductions before the paycheck ever hits the pocket. It is no surprise to me that these principles have now crossed over to the web and into social media.