Virtually Yours

Primary Objective:

You have passion for your cause, but passion alone is not enough. To create positive change you need resources: volunteers and donations. Traditional fundraising channels such as a banquet or raffles remain the most effective ways to create hype 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 that the web can be a powerful mechanism to reach new audiences.

With so many online tools available, nonprofits relying on limited time and resources may be overwhelmed by the options. This series will help you sift through online opportunities 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
  6. Online Raffles

1. Social Networking

Social networks allow those with similar interests to interact. Each social connection forms a vast network of users who can share information instantly. It’s word of mouth at high speed. The days of blindly blasting messages into the Web are over. Nonprofits that truly become involved and interact in social networks can share information about their cause to those who have expressed interest in it. Not only are you marketing your cause to those who care, but your contacts 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 must create a profile for yourself and/or your company. For most nonprofit organizations, a profile for the organization will be the best choice, although an individual profile can be a good way to get to know the social network. Remember that members of social networks value openness and honesty, and do not take well to companies or organizations misrepresenting themselves. If you choose an individual profile it should represent you, not your organization masquerading as you!

Setting up a profile is not a one-time chore, but an ongoing process. Add interests and ideas as they come to you, and don’t be afraid to build and change your profile as your understanding of social networks expands. To create a truly viral campaign that spreads throughout the network, write 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, establish a network of supporters who are willing to discuss and share details about your organization. The easiest way to begin finding online friends is to start with your close real-world supporters. Look for people who are already members of your organization or on your mailing list. 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

Eventually, you will want 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. Groups are also a good way to stay up-to-date on the happenings relevant to your cause. Comment on their pages and respond to others’ comments. Become personally involved, interact, and establish your network.

charity badge

charity badge

Set 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. Charity badges are online widgets, simple applications that produce attractive links, which can be easily copied and shared with others. Badges will often include a brief description, fundraising goal and progress, and a button to assist in a quick, easy donation, and these small pieces of code can be transferred effortlessly throughout your online network. 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, social networking page, group pages, and anywhere else you possibly can!
  4. Send thank you emails!

Selecting a Social Network
Wikipedia’s full list of social networks can be overwhelming. Consider your audience. The social network with the most users may not be the best choice; your message can get lost in the tide. Targeting individuals who share passion for your cause may prove easier on smaller, niche audience networks, where you can make a greater impression. This translates into a better return on the time invested.

Popular Non-Profit Social Networks

  1.– 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, and donate.
  2. 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 or groups, post news stories, and create blogs all relating to a specific area of interest.
  3. Squidoo– Squidoo allows each user to create his/her own “lens”: 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 and videos to information elsewhere on the web. Squidoo does not require those viewing your page to be members, and the site boasts an average 11 million viewers a month.

Popular Social Networks

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

As a final thought, be sure to build your social network before you need it. Asking for donations the moment you become someone’s friend is a good way to lose an online friend. Create rapport with your online community by consistently updating your pages with new content. If you can’t maintain the page yourself, designate someone to accept friend requests, post comments on groups and other people’s pages, and invite others to become friends on a regular basis. The more people feel you care about them, the more they will care about your cause.