Thursday, January 21, 2010

Fundraising Fun!

First, sorry about the overuse of alliteration the past couple of days.  It's just that it's so darn enjoyable, I can't help myself.  It's simply too much fun to say consecutive words that start with the same letter.  What can I say, I'm a sucker for the classics.

Lately, I'm sure you've all been seeing a ton of postings on your Facebook page, Twitter, associated blogs, websites, emails, Linkedin, etc, accounts asking for donations for Haiti.  Perhaps you've seen similar postings about fundraisers designed to raise money for Haitian relief.  Welcome to the world of social media and fundraising. 

Because social media fundraising is still a relatively new phenomenon, there are still questions regarding exactly how successfull it has been, or will be in raising the kind of donations normally raised by more traditional fundraising efforts.  My hunch is that while social media fundraising might still not be the powerhouse that proven efforts are, it's close, and getting closer. 

I mean, let's face it, social media fundraising sounds like a fundraisers wet dream.  Generate tons of interest, a following and donations by the boatload, all without having to shell out the money for onsite expenses, coordinating volunteers and dealing with the headaches of permits, vendors and rental space.

But is fundraising simply about raising money for a cause?  You might think it is, but as you probably already know as a non-profit or small business owner, actually raising money is only a part of why organizations get involved in charities.  A large part to be sure, but there are other goals to fundraising, goals that social media can't always achieve alone.

A recent article in the Courier-News online, a newspaper in the suburbs of Chicago, focused on the fundraising efforts of a few of the local charities.  Here's a short excerpt from the article:

Just dance: How nonprofits are raising funds

PADS is among several area nonprofits that put together their own events to raise money. Other upcoming examples include this Friday's Tenth Annual Distinguished Citizens Dinner, "All That Jazz!", a night of music and food which benefits the Boys & Girls Club of Elgin. The Association for Individual Development holds its 11th annual telethon on March 6 and is looking for 800 volunteers to assist at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove with the goal of raising $125,000.

Take a look at your own fundraising efforts and ask when the last time you were able to raise over $100,000 dollars.  What is PADS, and others like them doing that perhaps you aren't?  And why are they still spending their time on event fundraisers when social media is experiencing such great growth in rounding up donations?

Fundraising; not just for non-profits anymore.  Or, Community outreach works!

As you already know, for non-profits and small businesses fundraising is both a way to raise money and a way to meet important individuals who can be valuable assets to your organization.  Developing relationship with key people is a large part of networking and growing your company or non-profit.  Certainly social media is a great way to begin to establish and grow those relationships, but nothing is more effective than face to face meetings.

There is a reason why public relations firms continue to place so much emphasis on community outreach efforts.  When I was working for MGA Communications in Denver, we were handling Shell Oil as they were planning to expand their oil shale operation on Colorado's Western Slope.  This meant not only working with governmental agencies and dealing with a media that was split on the benefits of reviving a program that left the area high and dry 30 years earlier.  It also meant convincing the residents that the program was both not dangerous, but also a boon economically and socially to the small towns that dotted the landscape around the project.

To do this, we had to convince the residents, the editors of the local papers, the local bloggers and civic leaders.  This isn't something that can be done through some carefully placed stories, superbly crafted news releases and Facebook postings (although at the time, it probably would have been emails and MySpace notes). 

This had to be done face to face.  So MGA put together a travelling exhibit to be taken from town to town.  Residents and other shareholders were invited to meetings with Shell Oil management and spokespeople and researchers in an effort to ease some of the peoples' concerns.  Dinners were held, meetings were conducted, information disseminated. 

But perhaps the most important aspect of the community outreach effort in this case was the key relationships built with local leaders during the whirlwind tour.  Certainly the information released was valuable and important.  But the face to face interaction went a long way to gaining the support of civic and community leaders, which helped Shell gain more support from those who lived in the area.

Your business and non-profit benefits in the same way every time you foray out into the public.  I'm not talking about handing out pamphlets on the street.  There's little to no interaction in this method.  No, I'm talking about full blown, staged event, whether you organize the event yourself, or piggy back onto a previously staged event.

Not your father's Facebook:

But let's take another look at some of the charities mentioned in the above article.  These particular non-profits are staging events designed to attract a specific audience and they're doing it in the name of raising money for a cause.  Too often charities and small businesses do the absolute minimum in terms of staging an event when it comes to fundraising.  Hosting a guest bartender night at a local bar, or a costume night at a club or theater takes little imagination but they are quick and cheap.  They also don't bring in the kind of donors with deep pocketbooks.  On the other hand, golf tournaments ususally bring in an audience that has money to donate, but they are time consumign and expensive to coordinate and stage. 

Finding unique events, with a real theme that is fun, but will also attract the right people who will be able to donate and are individuals who you want to meet and can help your organization down the road, is difficult.  But that's only the start of your problems when staging a fundraising event.

This is where social media comes into play.  Certainly it seems as if a lot of folks are bypassing the face to face events for the quicker social media donation route.  But, again, this cuts out an important reason to host fundraising events in the first place.  That doesn't mean social media doesn't have a place in your fundraising efforts. 

Once you've created the event, set a date and time and location, you use social media to advertise said event.  You can also use traditional media to get the word out, but social media will allow you to reach out to specific groups and individuals that may not hear about your event through more traditional means.

So far, this is all pretty much par for the course, but why stop using social media just because the party has started?  One of the more unique uses of social media in terms of fundraising involves real-time connectivity to other locations involved in the same activity.

Recently a small business in Apple Valley used their Facebook, blog and video connections to host a fundraising event for the homeless in LA., Chicago and New York.  The parties took place simultaneously.  It was a simple idea in terms of the party itself.  But it was billed as a nationwide party.  Clubs in New York were done up to feel like LA, while clubs in LA had a definite New York Feel.  Chicago just got to party. 

Attendees were able to listen to bands play live from LA, and vice-versa.  They were able to talk directly to partiers across the country and leave blog comments during the party.  Meanwhile those in other cities unable to attend the parties themselves were encouraged to start their own parties to raise money and received live video feeds of all three events.  Remote partiers were also able to send live feeds of their event at the same time.

The event raised nearly half a million dollars.  The key to the success of this event wasn't just dressing up a club and asking for people to come, enjoy themselves and donate money.  The people came for an experience, for the opportunity to be part of something bigger than a single fundraising event.  The organizers promoted the event across social media circles and then used those same tools to allow others to experience the fun across the country.  Donations came in from across the country, from those able to participate even though they were hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles away from the main events.

Social media has certainly changed the way small businesses and non-profits interact with the public, and hence, how they handle fundraising and community outreach efforts.  The catch is that, in the end, face to face will still always prove more valuable than simple online interaction.  Social media can be a powerful tool in promoting those face to face events, and can even be used to enhance those events even as they're taking place. 

Just like public relations, social media is a much more effective tool to fundraise with when it's used in combination with other methods and tools. 

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