Social Media and Online Giving

By Rachel Lim, PBS Station Products & Innovation

By now, you've probably been thoroughly convinced by the webinars, newsletters and conferences: social media is important. You have dutifully created a Twitter and Facebook account, experimented with a few other platforms, and followed the rise and fall of the latest "it" place to play (hello, Google+). For many, the investment of these resources have paid off through increased member interaction and the development of multimedia interfaces. However, social media seems to fall flat in one arena: monetization.

Facebook "donate" widgets, for example, have barely stirred the dust. And the fact that even giants like Twitter scramble to find a profitable revenue model raises questions about the fiscal efficacy of social media.

However, new data from the Blackbaud Index of Online Giving and the Quarterly Online Giving Index seem to suggest that this is soon going to change. There are lots of useful insights to be gleaned from these indices, but I'll highlight just a couple. First, online giving increased across all channels in 2010 as individuals continued to migrate toward online giving (Paypal: In. Checks and Snail Mail: Out.). Second, online giving models can be more cost effective than phone drives or other fundraising tried-and-trues, leveling the playing field between non-profit giants and smaller organizations.

But why the sudden upturn in online giving? As noted by Heather Mansfeld in her fabulous blog post, technology simply takes time to catch on. She explains that at the turn of the millennium, the rewards reaped from the spanking new "Donate Now" button and related technology were minimal. Today, as internet savvy marketers have learned to brand and publicize online giving efforts, online giving has slowly but surely edged out the check-and-envelope model.

And social media has a lot to do with that.

Mansfeld says, "We realized pretty quickly that online donors didn't just stumble upon your website on the information superhighway. Rather, they needed to be presented with a great, big, flashy exit sign to 'Donate Now.'"

Facebook and Twitter are those flashy exit signs. By providing heightened online engagement and a persistent avenue of communication, social media sites build the community context around which online giving drives can be conducted. However, like all good infrastructure, these communities aren't built in a day. Creating a social media presence takes time, persistence and strategy in order to drive traffic, interaction and engagement.

Has your station seen increases in online giving? Do you have any interesting stories about the intersection between social media and online giving? Let us know in the comments below!

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