social coherence: a non-profit success story

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a great article this week about the lupus foundation of america and its success in managing its social media presence and establishing a new fundraising platform. but is “show me the money” the only question nonprofits should be asking?

a great article appeared in smartblog on social media this week about the lupus foundation of america and its success in using social media as a fundraising platform. seems the new head of online and social media at lfa took a look around out in the social mediasphere and realized the revolution had started without him. unofficial facebook pages, many with the national organization’s branding, were scattered far and wide. where an old school marketer might have used a big stick to bring the unauthorized efforts to heel, wick davis took a more subtle approach. he offered the national group’s support to the individuals running the pages, most of which were fairly dormant. in doing so, davis gained allies in the prickly and territorial world of non-profit development. prickly because very often, the driving force behind a blog or facebook cause is an intimate connection to the cause in question. territorial because a dollar received by one worthy cause means another worthy cause will get a dollar less.

money talks, fundraisers walk

the article trumpeted the nearly-800% gain in funds raised since increasing focus on social media. a commenter asked one of my favorite questions on hearing huge percentage gains tossed around – yes, that’s great, but what about the numbers underneath? davis replied to the question with exact figures. in january, revenues through the facebook cause page to date stood at a little over $600. six months later, the official facebook cause page has raised over $5,700. let the finance guys at these numbers and you’ll hear annualized growth rates that put the 790% claimed to shame. true, we’re not talking retire to florida money here, but pretty impressive for six months from essentially a cold start.

but social media is people

ever the contrarian, I suggested in my comment that the big takeaway from davis’ work at lfa is not the hockey stick revenue growth, rather, the value is in the improved engagement levels. when davis started, membership for the lfa cause page on facebook was under 3,000. six months later, membership is over 21,000 and rising by several hundred every month. okay, and oprah has a zillion followers on twitter. what’s the big deal?

lfa and a ton of groups like it raise most of their money with events. walk for lupus. run for this. bowl for that. buy my kid’s cookies. the actual participants in these events usually have a direct connection to the cause they are doing whatever it is they’re doing to support. they ask other people, who may or may not have a direct connection to the cause, to give them money. an enormous factor in how successful they are in doing so is how engaged they are with the organization affiliated with the cause. do participants and supporters feel their efforts are recognized? do they see evidence that what they are doing matters? is involvement event-specific or are there opportunities to help throughout the year? social media offers organizations a way to dramatically increase supporter “touchpoints” – opportunities to maintain and increase awareness for the work they are doing.and that increased awareness translates to higher engagement levels and sustained support.

now what?

real success for lfa will depend on what it does with this large, actively engaged base of followers. I hope to see a follow up to the article in another six months highlighting additional low-cost social media outlets in the lfa strategy. event-centric recognition like video on youtube or flickr galleries. increased exposure on what is done with the money that’s raised – again using video and photo galleries. how about a video of some of the top fundraisers taking a tour of a treatment center and noting improvements made possible by the money they raised? a blog relating the stories of victims, their friends and families to make the cause more personal for supporters and the general public. and all promoted in viral fashion on facebook. twitter.

I was chatting the other day with a leader at another national nonprofit about how to get into social media. we went online and she was startled to see her “brand” already in social media. to reiterate, the revolution is starting without you. but play it the right way, as lfa did, and you can leverage these early arrivals to strengthen the organizational brand

the qualified yes is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache