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Contagious Causes: Is Social Networking the Next Big Thing?

Posted by at Jun 04, 2008 09:17 AM CDT
Categories: Constituent Empowerment, Social Media

Compliments of John Skendall, contributor to the AFP eWire - a weekly electronic newsletter sent to members of the Association of Fundraising Professionals which covers news and trends in fundraising and philanthropy - this article was originally included in this week's eWire and later on the AFP blog . Thanks for sharing John!

Social networking presents tremendous opportunities for charitable fundraising, but much of its potential remains yet to be unlocked.

Social networking is a way to spread information or ideas person-to-person through online networks that have formed on the Internet. Two examples of social networking include blogs—web pages that can be easily updated in diary form by multiple users—and websites like Facebook.com that allow people to create an online profile and share and interact with friends and meet new people.

The potential for a nonprofit is exciting, said online networking experts on a recent panel held in Washington D.C. titled, Converging Campaigns: How the Internet is Changing Philanthropy, Advocacy and Politics. Panelists included both political and nonprofit fundraisers who have begun to make use of blogs, networking websites and even text messaging to spark a movement for their cause.

Though vast and mostly uncharted, the use of technologies that link people together have started to bear real fruit for large organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and Rock the Vote, a nonprofit that seeks to increase youth voter turnout.

The use of networking sites and online tools for fundraising and advocacy are still in the experimental stage, and the environment is changing all the time, said Nicco Mele of the social networking consulting firm Echo Ditto. Mele served as director of Internet operations for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign. “We are still far away from successful strategies,” he added.

Untapped Potential?

But as the Web 2.0 trend continues, a term for the new wave of interactive online tools, it’s not hard to imagine that word-of-mouth can start to make a real impact on the bottom line—especially when that word-of-mouth happens with the click of a mouse, transferring megabytes of video, images and written words about the worthiness of a cause to a friend next door or across the Pacific.

And, if the most convincing “ask” comes from peers and family members, the “viral” quality of the web offers the potential for exponential growth of your donor pool. (In social networking, “viral” refers to voluntary sharing of information from peer to peer over the Internet.)

Brian Rubenstein of the Cancer Action Network noted that in terms of government advocacy, their organization’s use of online tools has actually been a way to organize offline volunteer activity, such as meet-and-greets with officials.

Feasibility

But how can a nonprofit really make use of a blog or other web tools to make a campaign? And are these as yet unproven methods a worthy use of a nonprofit’s limited resources?

A post called “10 Ways Nonprofits Can Use Blogs” may be helpful to nonprofits considering taking the plunge.

Two recent articles on the subject (see below links) were written by notable blogger and consultant in the field of social-media for nonprofits, Beth Kanter. Her blog, called Beth’s Blog, can be found at http://beth.typepad.com. Kanter advises nonprofits to know what they are getting into in terms of time commitment, but also to feel free to experiment in this sprouting field.

Maybe your nonprofit will be the next to spark an online movement.

(For those of you interested in viewing the full length version of the Converging Campaigns panel, the recorded stream is available here. And for those of you unfamiliar AFP - AFP represents over 30,000 members in more than 197 chapters throughout the world, working to advance philanthropy through advocacy, research, education and certification programs. For more information or to join the world's largest association of fundraising professionals, visit http://www.afpnet.org/.)

Articles: Eight Secrets of Effective Online Networking & Determining Your Social Network Needs


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