Sunday, May 17, 2009

Leveraging Social Media for Fundraising

Social media has played a critical role in keeping us all connected--whether it is the real-time status updates we receive on Facebook or the continuous buzz generated by user comments on blogs. That connectivity has also jumped to the nonprofit world, where fundraising is undergoing a transformation.

Social networking sites have morphed beyond just keeping people informed about who broke up with who and have tried to adopt more socially conscious applications such as Facebook Causes. But, there is an important to question to ask--does this work? The Associated Press recently considered the effect of social media on nonprofits:

With millions of users worldwide, the sites would seem fertile ground for fundraising experiments — especially ones where users aren't asked to make direct contributions.

But it's far from certain that social networking will prove as effective as more traditional fundraising methods such as direct mail, telephone solicitation and even e-mails to past donors.

One hurdle to overcome is the sheer deluge of information online.

It is true that there is an abundance of irrelevant information brought forth by these sites (If I receive one more invitation to guess my own date of death or one more notification that someone threw a rubber chicken at me on Facebook, I might just poke my eye out!) but for the sake of argument, this is the type of awareness and publicity that can be extremely helpful to organizations.

Already working on tight budgets, nonprofits need publicity which can come at a costly price. In tough economies--such as the one we're in right now--the first thing to be cut back on or cut out completely is the communication, public relations and marketing efforts, which seems a bit counterproductive. If people are not aware of what you're organization is doing, or better yet, that your organization even exists, then how are you to maintain donors or bring in prospective ones?

Enter in social media--a.k.a free publicity.

So, while it is perhaps over zealous to say that social networking sites are going to completely revolutionize fundraising and bring in droves of donors, it is accurate to say that it will strongly influence fundraising.

It is an easy route for organizations to take advantage of but it is necessary to understand what social media tools work best for each individual cause. A critical question is who is your donor audience and where are they most likely to spend their time online?

Awareness is the key factor to bring in money. The more exposure given, the more likely people will be aware of the cause. It is just a matter of being strategic and smart about it, which is another obstacle for nonprofits as they are tight on human capacity and it takes time and research to understand these tools.

Here are some other recent articles that explore social media's effects on fundraising:

Media Shift:
How Charities Harness Social Media to Raise Awareness, Money

New York Times:
Charities Reap Benefits of Contests on Internet

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Boston Globe Lives On

The Boston Globe reached a deal with the New York Times Co. early this morning. Unfortunately that means a 23 percent pay cut for employees. You can find the full story here.

I'm glad the paper is safe...for now.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Case for Blogging

On more than one occasion I have had the discussion with my brother-in-law and a couple of other family members about the point of blogging. Some of them don't see it.

I guess you could easily figure that I do.

I know I just posted about how sad I'll be if the Boston Globe ceases its print edition, and I will be, but I also think it's important to acknowledge the significant effects blogging has had on journalism.

While my brother-in-law argued that there are too many blogs out there serving as empty ramblings from people with nothing better to do (I'm paraphrasing here), I had to make the case that there are many that have made an important contribution to the industry as they have uncovered stories that the mainstream media has managed to overlook.

So maybe he's right--there are millions of bloggers out there who may use this platform as a means to sound off on anything and everything in which one might argue, who cares? But I still say more power to's not hurting anyone. It might not be contributing to anything in the larger sense but it's harmless.

It's the bigger picture that counts. Blogs have made a huge impact on how people absorb the news and how news is broken. Back in 2007, TechNewsWorld provided a roundup of the top ten news stories brought to the forefront by bloggers. The firing of U.S. prosecuters by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the Dan Rather scandal in which he aired a false report on "60 Minutes" that supposedly provided valuable information about former President Bush's time in the Texas Air National Guard during Vietnam were all brought to light by bloggers. I'd say that's a pretty significant impact they've made.

Recently, Marcy Wheeler from emptywheel helped break the story about the use of waterboarding by CIA interrogators on prisoners from Al Qaeda. She also had a role in liveblogging for the Lewis Libby Jr. trial. Apparently, Wheeler has had a tough time getting funding from major donors to help her put her investigative journalism skills to use, according to firedoglake. In response, a campaign has been started to raise $150,000 to support Marcy, another investigative blogger to work with her, and a researcher to help them. In less than two weeks since the post about her predicament was written, $63,000 dollars have been raised so far. The great part is, all of the donations have come directly from readers. It says something that readers recognize the impact that bloggers can have.

In addition, it's the analysis and dialogue that blogs generate that make them a valuable asset to the industry. A post on MediaShift summarized this concept well:
The blog has emerged as a powerful platform for journalists to provide context, analysis and interpretation, often including behind-the-scenes information that does not fit into the structure of a traditional news story. It has also provided journalists with a way to communicate with readers in a more conversational and informal tone, rather than in an abstract voice of authority.
All of this is important in journalism as it keeps the conversation flowing and guides journalists to be better reporters and investigators. By inviting readers to join in on the discussion, as blogs have a knack for doing, journalists help expand their reach for sources and information and often find that readers are willing and happy to be a part of something.

Blogs have continued to create that element of dialogue among those that I mentioned earlier whose main purpose is not to contribute to journalism. It still creates a sense of community among people, whether they've started a blog on vegan cooking or hunting or fashion and celebrity gossip or whatever else people feel the need to discuss. When it comes down to it, that can be valuable too as it promotes writing, thinking, creativity and a marketplace for ideas that people can share.

So while some may ask what's the point, there really doesn't need to be this cosmic, world-changing movement for every blog. What matters is that there will be some that do make a drastic impact and others that just keep the conversation going. With that in mind, where's the harm in that?

The Suspense Continues for the Boston Globe...

The May 1 deadline for the Boston Globe was extended to midnight tonight as negotiations continue to determine the fate of the paper. Here's the latest coverage.

Personally, I'll be deeply saddened if the Globe stops printing. I've lived in this city for nearly six years and I was an intern at the paper. It's been a familiar face throughout my studies of journalism in Boston and as a resident of the city. As much of a fan as I am for the online world of journalism and social media, I still see the value in the printed page and I hope the Boston Globe is able to stand its ground as the industry continues to change.