Social Networks: It’s (still) about the Relationship | npENGAGE

Social Networks: It’s (still) about the Relationship

By on Jun 5, 2008


Last week, TechCrunch published an article about the Causes Application that was also syndicated in the The Washington Post and picked up by many nonprofit media outlets and bloggers. Causes reported the online fundraising results from their first year in use.

Most of the discussion surrounds the simple mathematics: $2.5 million raised from 12 million users = $0.21 raised per user / per year. But that's a little bit too simple of an analysis. Kinda like declaring the value of an email address based on just online giving data. Something rather important is missing from the equation.

What you're missing is a complete view of the donors in question. Are they new donors or existing donors? Are they lapsed donors? Are they switch donors? Did they also give through other channels? Did they give more, less, or the same through any other channels? Have they given again since the first gift? Have we done anything to engage with them since that gift? And what's our plan to engage them now that they've taken the first few steps. Ya know…fundraising 101 kinda stuff.

Much of the buzz around social networking and fundraising reminds me of the "Underpants Gnomes" episode from South Park. The kleptomaniac creatures of short stature had a simple money making plan:

"Phase 1: Collect Underpants
 Phase 2: ???
 Phase 3: Profit"

This flawed thinking process isn't that far removed from what many players in the nonprofit world have tried to apply to email (collect email addresses → ??? → donations) . And now the same logic is being applied to social media. That strategy won't work either. I'm sorry to say that there are no shortcuts. That's true whether your technology partner is Blackbaud or someone else.

The only place where "commitment" comes before "engagement" is in the dictionary. No sane person would walk right up to someone and make a marriage proposal. Yet somehow many organizations want to believe that people will go from "friends" one moment to "donors" after the next click.

Social networks allow for different forms of engagement to happen on a mass scale. And those engagements need the same TLC and stewardship to turn them into commitments. It's something that I like to call: The Momentum of Permission. The simple act of engaging through loose or tight relationships opens up the doors for further interaction.

But if you're not prepared or setup to take these initial engagements to the next level in the relationship then I don't think you can complain about less than optimal results.

In a recent live discussion held by The Chronicle on Philanthropy this topic came up. Seth Godin voiced the following comments: 

“You don’t need 1000 shallow relationships, you don’t need a long list of friends. What you need is deep relationships, people willing to mortgage their house to support you, willing to host a party to support you, willing to devote a vacation to support you. That’s not about volume, nor is it about the site. It’s about how you build relationships that matter."

That might sound like purple cow crazy talk, but it doesn't make it any less true. Without taking the "shallow relationships" to the next step in the relationship all you have is a long list of friends. You need to engage them, retain them, and steward them to get their long-term commitment. And there are several organizations that have been able to successfully do this as part of a broader social media strategy.

I've had the chance to chat about this with Matt Adkisson, the co-founder over at FreeCause. They have worked with a lot of nonprofits, like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, to leverage social networks successfully. Matt commented that:

"From what we've seen, younger users want more engagement – less of a transaction, more of an on-going experience. They are willing to spend more time and effort involved in a process, or taking actions, to help the non-profits. We should try to capture their constituent data within our traditional CRM systems because from there, we DO know a bit about the giving experience and how to engage, develop, and manage donors over time."

As both acquisition and retention rates continue to be in flux this issue is only going to become more and more important. Or you can dismiss all this stuff as a passing fad. That's your choice to make.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

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