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Social Media and the Future of Fundraising

By Nell Edgington

There is an interesting post on Peter Deitz’s blog about how social media is changing the future of fundraising.  Peter is the founder of Social Actions a US/Canadian nonprofit clearinghouse of social causes.  They use social media to spread the word and engage people in various social issue organizations.

Peter argues that the growth of social media (everything from Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, etc.) is dramatically changing the way nonprofits will successfully raise money in the next 4 years.  He argues that the presidential campaign tactics, fundraising and measures of success shifted fundamentally from 2004 to 2008, largely because of the growth and use of social media.  Obama won the presidency because of his team’s efficacy with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, online fundraising, etc.

Peter argues that by 2012 nonprofits that are still raising money in traditional, i.e. non-social media, ways will find it significantly more difficult to reach their goals:

Current best practices will serve nonprofits just fine in 2009. Between email solicitation, direct mail, major donors, and grant-writing, the vast majority of nonprofits will weather the economic hard times. But a shifting communications environment and changing donor demographics could render those best practices ineffective at best, and obsolete at worst, as early as 2012.

He definitely has a point.  Nonprofits need to be actively engaged in the social media world.  And I agree that donor engagement and investment will increasingly move into that space.  But I don’t agree that traditional practices, especially major donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, will become obsolete.  Rather, I would argue that nonprofits, as always, should diversify their fundraising activities, in order to strengthen their fundraising function.  Whenever someone argues that traditional models are gone, I am reminded of the dot com evangelists who spoke of the death of the traditional business model, i.e. where valuation is based on actual profit.  Yeah, that traditional model is still around somehow.

That being said, however, I do think Peter, and Beth Kanter, a social media consultant to nonprofits, who commented on his post, do have some good advice for nonprofits in the social media space.  Nonprofits absolutely need to be actively engaged in social media and working to add social media strategies into their fundraising mix.

Peter has 5 tips for nonprofits in order to move them further into the social media world:

  1. Use social media to communicate with all donor groups, not just the young.  People across the spectrum are using Facebook, MySpace, etc., so make sure your communications in those arenas have that in mind.  Don’t assume your audiences there are just young people.
  2. Create and participate in online contests in order to understand who is following your organization online.
  3. Make hiring decisions based on social media knowledge.  He argues that “you are better off hiring people who are at home online than trying to make them that way after they’ve been hired.” I disagree with this.  Since social media is so new, we are all learning what it is and how to use it.  There are no social media experts.  It is far better to hire someone who understands and has experience in fundraising overall and can learn about social media as another tool.
  4. Use your interns for ideas about engaging in the social media landscape.  A great idea.
  5. Get an iPhone, or other mobile device.  If you truly want to be part of the “always on” social media world, you have to go mobile.

In her response to Peter’s post, Beth Kanter discusses a new Twitter application, Twitpay, that allows people to donate to organizations and causes via a PayPal-like extension of Twitter.  You simply Tweet your donation amount to your intended recipient, in any amount under $50.  Now that’s a great and interesting use of social media in the fundraising world.

Social media is a very exciting space for nonprofit fundraisers.  And they absolutely should embrace it and add it to the mix as a further way to engage and invest donors more deeply in their organizations.  But I really don’t see social media ever completely replacing one-on-one fundraising.  Fundamental to fundraising is the individual relationships that develop between a donor, the organization, and the person making the ask.  Social media can certainly expand the reach of an organization and deepen relationships, but I doubt it will ever completely replace traditional models.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 Fundraising, Innovators

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5 Comments to Social Media and the Future of Fundraising

David Rice
December 16, 2008

Great posting! Thanks.
I think your comments about “adding it to the mix” is right on… using social media to help nurture and compliment the one-on-one.

[…] Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, etc.  I’ve written about social media and fundraising before.  But Amy gives a great, easily understood overview of what social media is, why nonprofits need […]

Monica Williams
February 2, 2010

Great post, Nell. But I have to disagree with the suggestion for allowing newbies/interns to have a social media voice for your brand or nonprofit.

First, social media isn’t for the young. It’s for experienced networkers who know how to build and foster relationships. Most young people just don’t have that ability because schools just aren’t teaching networking skills – though they really should.

Second, I always tell people to think of social media as a party where everyone you want to speak to – your donors, your volunteers, your fans, etc – are all there. Would you then send in the intern to represent your organization?

I’d love to see more development and PR pros – or even executive directors or board presidents – on social networks. People who are empowered by their organization to speak to and respond to their missions.

I know it’s easy to view social media as “extra work,” but remember that journalists used to view creating content for the Web as “extra work,” too. And those who haven’t been doing it for the past few years now wish they had.

Nell Edgington
February 5, 2010


I think you misunderstood what Peter and I were saying about interns. I absolutely agree with you that interns should not be the voice of an organization, whether on social media, in-person or in any other venue. What Peter and I were arguing is that you can look to interns to give you ideas about how to effectively use the new channel called social media. I absolutely agree that those creating the brand and the strategy for the organization should be the voice in that channel.

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