Category Archives: Social Media and Nonprofit Communications

When Crowdfunding Fails, It Can Fail Big

bees and hiveIf a nonprofit sends out a direct mail appeal for funding and no one answers it, who will ever know? Except for some long faces in the hallway and somber analyses at the next board meeting, the matter may attract little attention.

Not so with online crowdfunding. When you set that financial goal and try to rally community support and some social networking buzz around it, you guarantee that everyone will know — or at least be easily able to find out — whether you ultimately make it.

In fact, with some crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter, you have to actually offer donors their money back if you don’t make the goal.

Unfortunately, even the big-name nonprofits are discovering that crowdfunding fails happen.

A recent article by Elizabeth Olson in The New York Times called “Soliciting Funds From the Crowd? Results Will Vary,” highlighted this issue in the context of  museums. The Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC, for example, tried to raise $35,000 via Causes.com to support bringing one of Ai Weiwei’s sculptures in for an exhibit of his work.

A mere 14 people ponied up, with donations totaling $555. Ouch. (Funny, I couldn’t find mention of this on the Hirshhorn’s own website.)

Olson’s article offers what must be some of the pithiest quotes ever garnered on the frustrations of crowdfunding, such as, “Everyone wants to do it, but the amount of work involved is enormous, whether it’s to raise $10,000 or $100,000 (Yoonheung Lee, director of digital philanthropy at the Smithsonian) and “It’s not just putting up a page on the Internet and hoping people will come” (Lesley Mansford, chief executive of Razoo).

Making a crowdfunding campaign work seems to require a combination of preparation, cleverness, and luck. No one can control the luck part, but you can work on the others, for example using the guidance in Nolo’s article, “Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit.”

 

Three’s Not a Crowd After All!

iStock_000006257328XSmall-thumb-184x121I’ve got a great answer if people are asking you why your nonprofit hasn’t tried crowdfunding yet: Tell ‘em you’ve been waiting for others to put in the tough advance work — making the inevitable mistakes and figuring out what’s effective and what isn’t!

But guess what: A lot of that advance work has now been done. Crowdfunding is proving to be an important tool in the fundraiser’s kit, but one that’s best used after reading the instructions. You’ll find numerous useful insights from early adopters and other nonprofit experts in this article by Janna Finch, Managing Editor of Software Advice: “Expert Roundtable: How to Choose the Best Crowdfunding Platform for Your Nonprofit.”

Contributors such as Beth Kanter, Premel Shah, and Rob Wu offer tips on everything from evaluating features on the various crowdfunding sites to how to give donors a sense of participation in the project.

I asked Janna Finch which thoughts from contributors she found the most surprising. She says, “I was very surprised to learn just how much thought and planning needs to go into designing a campaign and choosing a platform. Go to any crowdfunding platform website and the process looks so simple–sign up, create a campaign, launch it, share it, get funded. In reality it’s not so easy. Anyone can create a crowdfunding campaign, but a solid strategy is required to create a successful one.”

Do Donation “Discounts” Devalue Nonprofit Brand?

stormThere’s a winter storm coming in, and I’m not talking about the weather. It’s the relentless flurry of emails from both commercial and nonprofit marketers, all wanting to get my attention and hopefully the last of my end-of-year dollars for either gifts to people or gifts to charity.

They’re all starting to sound bizarrely similar, especially when it comes to “discounts.”  Taglines like “Adopt a wild animal for 50% off!” or “Membership half price through 2013!” are not uncommon.

I get it that, in some cases, you’re literally getting something for less, like a regular newsletter reporting on the nonprofit’s doings. But in others, the nonprofit is actually promising to provide the same service for less money. And that’s disturbing, when our whole notion of nonprofits is that when they ask for something, or tell us, “It takes $x to save a wild animal,” they didn’t build in a profit margin. They’re a nonprofit, after all.

I assume that someone out there is testing these supposed discounts, and that they work to get email readers’ attention. But what are the long-term implications of convincing donors that, like a for-profit company, your original “price” was just puffery, and you’re actually willing to do the job for less? I predict some rough sailing ahead.

New Donor Group Interested in Charitable Deductions: Same-Sex Married Couples

iStock_000000131834XSmallAs explained by Sandra Block in the December, 2013 issue of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, this is the first year in which same sex couples who have entered into a marriage that’s legal where it occurred are also considered married for federal tax purposes.

(At last count, 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia offer same-sex marriage.)

This has some important implications for such couples’ interest in tax matters. As with any married couple, says Block, dual-income same-sex couples “who earn about the same amount will likely end up paying a marriage penalty.”

But nonprofits should be happy to hear one of Block’s suggested ways to avoid or reduce the penalty:

Increase contributions to charity, and take a tax deduction.

If you’re with a nonprofit that promotes LGBT marriage and other rights, you’re particularly well-placed to remind potential donors about the importance of this deduction. But, as society is finally figuring out, gay and lesbian folks come from all walks of life, and may have multiple interests.

Therefore, any charity should be thinking about how to reach out to newly married donors (of the same or opposite sex, come to think of it) who are seeing, for the first time, some significant tax benefits to giving to their favorite cause.

Study of Kids’ Giving Patterns Raises New Questions

kidPlenty of surprising statistics can be found in the recent study known as Women Give 2013, New Research on Charitable Giving by Girls and Boys, conducted by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Most notably:

  • Nearly nine out of ten children between the ages of eight and 19 have given at least some small amount to charity in at least two of the previous several years.
  • Around six out of ten girls had volunteered at least once during the relevant time periods, and five out of ten boys.

Too bad we can’t predict how many of these kids will go on to become charitable donors in adulthood. I’d hazard a guess that the numbers will drop off as soon as they’re in college and facing tuition and other bills, but that’s just a guess. In fact, there are a lot of other things that we might wonder about but can only guess at, such as:

  • Why are giving levels so high among the young? Speculating about this isn’t too difficult — kids take part in numerous organized activities through school and church, and some of these may involve giving to a charity. Also, use of social media may mean their friends ask them to give to a cause.
  • Why do girls volunteer more than boys? One could easily speculate about adults — there’s a long tradition of women volunteering, based in good part on their history of staying out of the workforce for some period of time while raising children. But young girls are far away from such social structuredness. What’s up?
  • How can nonprofits foster continued interest in charitable giving among these children? One factor, unfortunately, is somewhat out of our hands: The study found that when parents actually talk to their children about charitable giving, beyond just modeling giving behavior, it made a big difference in the kids’ likelihood of making donations. But nonprofits can certainly remind parents, via social media sites or newsletters, to talk to their children about their reasons for giving.

Because this study is new, we don’t know whether today’s adults come from a similar history of childhood giving. But as the children in this study themselves grow up, nonprofits can act with the knowledge that the concept of supporting a good cause is not a new one for them.

Hey, Nonprofit: Are You Talking to Me?

armyI just received an email from a nonprofit with the subject line, “We Need a Tiny Fraction of You to Donate.” Exactly which fraction of me are they after? My pinky? My appendix?

All kidding aside, this awkward construction, using the plural “you,” is all too common among writers at nonprofits and elsewhere. The writers unconsciously picture themselves as addressing a crowd.

They forget that, by the time the email reaches my inbox, it’s just me. I’m expecting a personal touch — a direct appeal for funds based on a supposedly one-to-one relationship between the nonprofit and me.

But with a subject line like the one above, I quickly notice that the nonprofit is not really talking to me at all. It’s talking to a whole bunch of people. In that case, all I have to do is step aside and let the others make the donations, right?

We’re not talking complex grammar here. All anyone has to do to avoid this problem is to look twice at every use of the word “you” in addressing prospective donors. Make it singular, as if talking to just one person.

Then, don’t forget to carry this usage throughout the email or other missive — another common place where writers go wrong, as illustrated by another email that just landed in my inbox. It had such a promising, personal-sounding subject line: “My work with you.”

The writer proceeded to blow it within the first two lines: “Ilona, I’m writing to let each of you know about an important change at [our nonprofit.]” Each of me? Oh dear, I didn’t know my multiple personalities were that obvious.

Got Milestones to Celebrate?

childrenThe East Bay Children’s Book Project recently announced to its email followers that, “We are getting ready to celebrate an amazing milestone. We will give away our millionth book sometime this year.” In recognition, the group is sponsoring a contest to guess the exact time they give away that millionth book, collecting one million pennies, and otherwise inviting publicity.

Let’s think about that milestone for a minute. It’s impressive, and it’s legitimate. But unlike, say, an organization’s tenth anniversary or the graduation of its first class, “millionth book” is not a milestone that stares you right in the face. This group basically had to decide to measure, mark, and announce it. And kudos to them for their nonprofit marketing savvy.

Milestones are an excellent way for nonprofits to engage with their members and supporters on topics that don’t scream desperation. Even if a group doesn’t build an event around them, they can be fodder for email campaigns and social media. And some milestones will, in fact, be worthy of a special event. Let this be inspiration for you to think about what milestones your group is reaching, beyond the obvious ones, and make the most of them.

For free tips on how to hold a special event, and how to engage with supporters via social media, see the Nonprofit Fundraising section of Nolo’s website.

 

 

Setbacks and Emergencies? Turn to Crowdfunding

One of the issues that established nonprofits sometimes have in taking advantage of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Fundraise.comRazoo, or indiegogo is that most of their projects are ongoing. They lack the time-delimited, snazzy, “Hey, with your help, look what we can achieve!” allure of, say, an artist who’s trying to raise money for a film, or even a small group trying to raise enough to buy its first piece of equipment.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t be creative in thinking up bite-size portions of your work or projects that your social networks might support, as described in, “Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit.” But there’s one type of occasion in which hardly any creativity is required: when your group has suffered some sort of setback, or has an identifiable, emergency need for a quick cash infusion.

dachsundThe Berkeley East Bay Humane Society (BEBHS)’s recent Razoo campaign to replace its stolen van provides a perfect example. This isn’t a case of a nonprofit that just ran out of money and thought Razoo could plug the leaks — the organization had a perfectly lovely, working van, which it regularly used to drive to local municipal shelters and reduce their animal populations by picking up dogs and cats for adoption via BEBHS.

That van was stolen, thus leaving the agency unable to implement a key part of its operations. The $25,000 needed to replace it is no small change for a small nonprofit already in the middle of a capital campaign to rebuild its fire-damaged structure — but a sum that could realistically be raised by enough contributions from concerned supporters. As of today, they’ve brought in $8,525 . . . not there yet, but a good start.

Suicide Prevention Orgs: Have You Weighed in on the VICE Magazine Suicide-Fashion Spread?

VirginiaWoolfAny nonprofit communications expert will tell you that part of an organization’s communications strategy should be to not only post its own news, but get engaged and comment on the stories and issues being circulated by others — even if they’re outside the nonprofit world.

That can seem difficult for busy nonprofits whose entire communications model has, up until recently, been devoted to carefully crafted mailings, newsletters, and so forth. And then there’s that nagging question: Do such opportunities for engagement really exist, or is everyone just recirculating each others’ news?

This week, a story spreading virally on Facebook offers a prime example of where nonprofits could, by following the social media world and getting engaged, not only establish their relevance, but play a useful role in a debate.

The magazine known as VICE posted a fashion spread depicting well-dressed, well-coiffed famous female authors in the moments before they committed suicide, or attempted to. They include Dorothy Parker, Virginia Woolf, Iris Chang, Charlotte Perkins, Sylvia Plath, Sanmao, and Elise Cowen. It was called “Last Words,” but as pointed out by Tanwi Nandini in Fashionista, “These writers are completely stripped of their words.”

The reaction from the press (such as The Atlantic and Salon) and Facebook commenters has been mostly horror at Vice’s poor taste and commercial cynicism, with occasional voices wondering why we’re drawn to these images. But I haven’t seen much at all from the nonprofit world, which could certainly deepen the discussion with facts and comments on issues like the effect of suicide (and glorified depictions of it!) on family and friends, the state of despair (as opposed to fashion consciousness) that drives people to suicide, and of course the bizarre marketing mash-up of women, sex, and death.

But if you’re still crafting your well-considered response: The magazine has already taken this spread down, and the public’s attention will soon, no doubt, move on to the next outrage.

Before a Nonprofit Can Publish Its Stories, It Needs to Gather Them

book pagesIt used to be that two or three inspiring stories about a nonprofit’s work could supply all the material it needed for mail appeals and newsletters — with any luck, for months at a time.

But with the growth of blogging and social media, nonprofits are developing an unrelenting hunger for new, publishable stories about their own work.

Even if it’s for just a quick photo or blurb about recent activities, the communications or development arm of a nonprofit organization needs to hear from the program people and volunteers. The trouble is, many of the latter folks are either too busy to talk or don’t understand the value of passing information along.

The organization Share Our Strength, with its well-known No Kid Hungry campaign, has plenty of stories to tell: for example, about the volunteer who drives around in a non-air-conditioned truck to deliver summer meals to hungry children, or the mother who declared that, thanks to the Cooking Matters class, she could triple the value of her WIC check.

But the organization also realized a few years back that gathering such stories wasn’t going to happen by chance.

I spoke with Jason Wilson, Associate Director of Digital Communications, who explained, “We set out to deliberately create a culture of storytelling within our organization. This involved identifying members of each department or team and making story transmission part of their responsibilities. They are literally asked to set aside time to tell the story of the work that’s happening, and then to connect with the people who are putting this information together for the Web or other materials.

“Once we got this culture built, and staff people began to see their stories presented—perhaps in an email campaign or as online content—they realized the double satisfaction in not only accomplishing something through their day-to-day work, but also through the telling of that story.

“There’s no set schedule for sharing. Either the staff will pass news along, or the people in charge of content may approach them with questions like, “We’re looking for stories about X, what do you have to share?”

“An effort like this really needs to be organization-wide, and involve accountability. For our team members, storytelling is a formal part of their performance goals.”