Raising "Meaning" Before Money with Social Media

When we speak to organizations about social media, we're often asked, "How can we raise money using these tools?" or "How can we get all of our Fans/Followers to donate?" Unfortunately, Facebook and other social media platforms have not proven to be the panacea for raising money that some had hoped. Articles have even been written in major newspapers calling fundraising via Facebook and other social media platforms a dismal failure.


Although it is true that social media remains a relatively untapped resource for direct fundraising, we believe this misses the point: social media is an amazing tool for cultivating prospects and building community. Peter Deitz (from Social Actions) pointed out as far back as 2009 that these tools are great for raising "meaning" more than money currently. Where else can you send out a quick message (or photo or video…) that is immediately viewable to hundreds or thousands of your supporters? Deitz writes:

"As a strategy, your goal in using Facebook is to create as many meaningful opportunities as possible for people to learn about, contribute to, and most importantly, spread the word about your shared interest in a particular mission."

Facebook is potentially an incredibly effective cultivation tool. Organizations can engage directly with their constituents on topics of interest. More importantly, Facebook allows these constituents to communicate with each other and build a strong, vibrant online community, all tied together around your organization's mission.

Photo from URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp Facebook Page 

Building community is exactly what the nonprofit Jewish overnight camps we work with at JCamp 180 do best! Bringing that mindset to social media can result in an engaged constituency ready to take action when asked, whether it's to attend an event, volunteer, or (eventually) make a donation. But - like in traditional fundraising - it's important to cultivate these relationships before expecting them to give. Facebook and similar tools now make it easier than ever to build strong relationships that will pay off down the road.

An obvious conclusion to this line of thinking is that the amount of money raised on Facebook must not be the only metric to measure how effective these tools are in the overall development process. Deitz mentions that other metrics might include the

"... number of supporters or Fans recruited, number of comments on status updates, number of "likes" for status updates, number of visitors referred to the organization's website from Facebook, and number of Causes or Birthday Wishes created that benefit the nonprofit."

Once you've engaged your community online and built strong relationships, you are ready to move to the next step in the fundraising process: the ask. If you've been able to build your mailing lists from your Facebook Fans, you might make the ask offline via traditional methods like direct mail, or in a Newsletter (or eNewsletter). You might make the ask in person at an event or on a simple status update on your Facebook Page. Better yet, if you have built a strong community online, you may even convince your supporters to make the ask for you. As Deitz writes:

"When the time comes to raise money, the most basic approach is to ask supporters and fans to share a status update that links to a donation opportunity and to explain in their words why the donation opportunity matters."

As an example, Celia Baczkowski, Director of Development & Alumni Relations at Surprise Lake Camp, often uses her personal status updates for promoting ongoing fundraising appeals:

Think about how powerful it would be for a supporter of the organization to do the same, their personal plea for donations showing up in all of their Friends' News Feeds! When an organization unlocks that potential, the money will follow. But - just like offline fundraising - it takes time and effort to raise "meaning" and cultivate donors before this can happen. Facebook simply makes this engagement and community-building process easier.

How have you used Facebook or other social media platforms to engage your constituents, build community, or raise "meaning" in your organization? Let us know in the comments!