Having passion for a cause is a good start but passion alone is not enough. If you want to make positive changes you’ll need resources, namely volunteers and donations. Traditional fundraising channels such as a banquet or raffle remain the most effective ways to create hype around your cause and generate donations. However, as the web continues to grow, it is becoming paramount to strike a balance between online and offline fundraising activities. Many businesses have already discovered, if used aptly, the web can be an incredibly powerful mechanism to reach new audiences.

But with all the online tools available, it can be a bit overwhelming for nonprofits who often have limited time and resources to even know where to begin. This series will help you sift through the online opportunities that exist for nonprofits and provide a simplified, manageable view. Six distinct online channels have been identified and are discussed further in this guide. Each portion of the series will focus on a single topic and discuss how your nonprofit can leverage the web to better your nonprofit organization. Topics to be discussed include:

  1. Social Networking
  2. Online Auctions
  3. Email Campaigns
  4. Wiki Pages and Event Calendars
  5. Blogs

1. Social Networking

Social networks facilitate those with similar interests or who are interested in understanding others interests to interact with one another. Why are they so important to your nonprofit organization? Each social “connection” forms a vast network of users who can share information instantly with each other…Its word of mouth at high speeds. The days of blindly blasting messages into the web hoping someone, somewhere would listen are over. Nonprofits which truly become involved and interact in social networks can share information about their cause to those who have expressed interest in your cause. Not only will you be marketing your cause to those who care, but they can also effortlessly market for you to their own network. Before we look at which social network(s) is right for your nonprofit, let’s discuss the basics of interacting with others on a network.

Create a Profile
To get started on a social network, you will need to create a profile for yourself and/or your company. For most nonprofit organizations a profile for the organization will be the best choice, although starting an individual profile can be a good way to get to know the social network. As a rule remember that members of social networks value being open and honest and do not take well to companies or organizations misrepresenting themselves. So be sure that if you choose to have an individual profile it is really you represented and not your organization masquerading as you! Something else to remember is that setting up a profile is not a one-time chore but rather an ongoing process. To create a truly viral campaign that spreads throughout the network, create a profile that is compelling, fresh, catchy, and ultimately makes others want to share. You want to make a good first impression, so think about what will be on your profile before you begin adding friends.

Connect with People
To make your profile relevant, you will need to establish a network of supporters who are willing to discuss and share about your organization. The easiest way to begin finding online “friends” is to first look to your close real-world supporters such as organization members. Encourage them to connect with your profile and to invite others they feel would add to the network. Remember people will value your online relationship more if you are active and respond often and in a timely manner.

Connect with Groups
At some point however, you will likely need to reach more people by becoming involved in online groups. Groups allow users to express and share their interests and passions with others within the online network. With millions of users, social networks have groups for almost any imaginable purpose. For instance, if you are looking for those who support fighting breast cancer you could choose from one of more than 177,000 groups found on MySpace alone (MySpace 8/21/08). Groups are also a good way to stay up to date on the happenings relevant to your cause. Become personally involved, interact, and establish your network.

charity-badgeSet up a Charity Badge
Charity badges allow you to create a tangible online link that connects your awareness campaign with your fundraising. After you have created a profile and established a network, you are ready to utilize a charity badge. If you are not familiar with charity badges, they are basically online widgets that can be easily copied and shared with others. So these small pieces of code can be transferred effortlessly throughout your online network. Badges will often include a brief description, fundraising goal and progress, and a button to assist in a quick, easy donation. The image shown to the left is an example of a charity badge powered by the Network for Good.

When using a charity badge remember the following tips:

1. Make your fundraising goal reasonable.
2. Begin with a small success in mind and work your way up.
3. Place your badge on your website, blog and anywhere else you possibly can!
4. Send thank you emails!

Selecting a Social Network
Wikipedia’s full list of social networks may prove to be a bit overwhelming. When selecting a social network be sure to consider who your audience is. It may seem like the best idea to join the social network with the most users; however you want to target individuals who share passion for your cause. This task may prove easier on smaller, niche audience networks. This will translate into a better return on the time invested.

Popular Non-Profit Social Networks

  • – is a social network dedicated solely to nonprofits and individuals with a specific cause. Unlike many social networks, where the primary purpose is basic interaction, is designed as a facilitator for users to: Connect, Take action, Donate.
  • Care2 – Approaching nearly 10 million strong, this is an incredible platform to create lasting relationships with people who share similar goals. This website allows users to start petitions, groups, post news stories, and create blogs all relating to a specific area of interest.
  • Squidoo- Squidoo is a unique social network site; it allows each user to create his/her own “lens” which is basically a single web page (much like a profile). Creators use this one page to describe their passion or interest. Unlike other social networking sites, the purpose of Squidoo is to spark readers’ interest in a certain topic and then direct them via links, videos etc. to further information elsewhere on the web. Another unique element of Squidoo is that it does not require those viewing your page to be a member and boasts an average 11 million viewers a month.

Popular Social Networks

  • Facebook – Facebook is one of the largest social networking sites and has a strong following with college aged students. While not the appropriate platform for all nonprofit organizations, it can be an effective way to attract an audience of generally active young adults. However, Facebook claims that currently their fastest growing demographic is those 30 years old and older.
  • MySpace – MySpace users interact via pictures, video, blogs, forums and more and often create groups based on common interests. As of August 22, 2008 there were 24,144 nonprofit and philanthropic groups. MySpace pages are also easily “crawled” by search engines, so it will help you gain ranking in search engine results.
  • LinkedIn– While LinkedIn is not one of the top largest social network sites it is a great resource for your business. LinkedIn is designed to facilitate professional relationships between business men and women and also a great place to give and receive advice in regards to your organizations operations.

As a final thought, be sure to build your social network before you need it. Asking for donations right as you become someone’s friend is a good way to lose an online friend. Gain rapport with your online community by consistently updating your pages with new content. Also have a designated person who will take the time to accept friend requests, post comments groups and other people’s pages and invite others to become friends. The more people feel you care about them; the more they will care about your cause.