This article was originally published by Fundraising Success in September 2011
Get the Word Out: Event Fundraising Using Social Networking
By Stacy Dyer
Fundraisers know the key to successful special events is good attendance. A well-attended event garners not only more revenue from registration fees or ticket sales, but also broader exposure for your cause to your community and their networks.
But, event fundraisers are on a hard deadline. Unlike an annual campaign or endowment drive –which can be ongoing throughout the year – in order for supporters to participate in your special event, they must be aware and take action before the big day.
How can you best spread awareness to as many potential supporters as possible when you have limited budget and resources? Leverage social media to get the word out quickly and efficiently throughout your nonprofit’s network.
In The Networked Nonprofit, authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine write, “Networked Nonprofits work as social networks, not just in them.” According to Kanter and Fine, by connecting individuals with common interests and goals, nonprofits create an ecosystem of organizations and people eager to help.
And, by utilizing “free agents” – individuals working outside the organization who can organize and raise funds – nonprofits can capitalize on the power of social media to get their message out.
Social Networks Disseminate Information
Individuals are more likely to support a cause when asked by someone they know, even if it is not a cause they would have otherwise supported. This is especially true if the audience you are trying to reach is Millennials.
According to the 2011 Millennial Donor Survey, a recent study from Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates (JGA) and Achieve, 56 percent of young donors between ages 20 and 35 report they get information about organizations to support from their peers.
The same study found that 33 percent of donors in the same age group learn about organizations to support from Facebook. Ninety-three percent of those surveyed report giving to nonprofits in 2010. The power of social networks to disseminate information and motivate supporters to act is clear.
Case Study: Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg
While using social networks to maximize event fundraising may seem like a new concept, it actually is not. Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg is a nonprofit utilizing a team-based fundraising structure.
Since 1993, Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg has organized an annual special event called the Cycle of Hope.
“Riders journey 1,600 km and raise enough money to enable Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg to build a new, affordable home for a very deserving family,” says Heather Scott, the organization’s database and administration supervisor.
Each Cycle of Hope rider is required to raise a minimum of $2500 to participate. Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg encourages team members to tap into their own social networks for support.
“The cyclists said the easy-to-use, peer-to-peer fundraising tool we put in place made it easier for them to reach out to more people they knew,” explains Scott. “We also host about four meet-and-greets in the office, so new riders can talk to and learn from experienced riders. They discuss fundraising and other tips and techniques.”
The above-mentioned team members function as Kanter and Fine’s “free agents” for the nonprofit.
Enabling supporters with online fundraising tools they can share through their various personal social networks (email, Facebook, Twitter) is critical to Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg’s success.
“Using an online fundraising and event management tool made it very easy during the postal strike that occurred during this year’s Cycle of Hope,” says Scott. “Some supporters who would have normally mailed in cheques used the online system and I’m hoping they now see how effortless and quick it is to give in that way.”
Cycle of Hope participants can even embed special fundraising forms directly on their own blog or web site, allowing them to capitalize on people’s tendency to donate to causes their friends ask them to support.
“We raised $60,000 more this year over what we had hoped,” says Scott. “We received donations from all over Canada, the U.S., and Europe. In the past, I had only seen one donation come from overseas. Next year, I’m looking forward to seeing that market grow even more.”
The donors reached by these “free agents” may not have any particular affinity for Habitat for Humanity Winnipeg itself, or may not even live in the same country, but they have a great affinity to support their friends, so they contribute.
Social Media is a Contact Sport
As you can see, using social networks to increase support for an organization’s special events is quite powerful. If your organization has been sitting on the sidelines, now is the time to stand up and start engaging. As Kanter and Fine say in The Networked Nonprofit, “Social media is a contact sport, not a spectator sport.”