Changing Our World

The expertise to do it right.
The passion to see it through.

onLine examines all things related to philanthropy and "being online": online marketing, online fundraising, Web 2.0 technologies, new tools, new issues, and new strategies to help nonprofits find their audience, philanthropists find their causes, and technologists and marketers understand the Web.

 Subscribe to onLine

Subscribe by Email

Alltop, all the top stories

Other blogs from
Changing Our World

FLiP is dedicated to creating a community and a network where other future leaders can meet, learn, exchange ideas, and contribute to each other’s success.
Visit FLiP Online »

Buzz is Changing Our World's news and commentary blog, covering the latest stories and updates in the world of philanthropy.
Visit BUZZ Online »

September 15, 2010

Making Causes on Facebook Work

Remember in 2009 when the Washington Post told us that Causes on Facebook were ineffective for fundraising? Tell that to the Earth Island Institute, whose cause, "The Cove" - Save Japan Dolphins" has raised nearly $105,000 and built an active online community of almost 900,000 members. But then look at The Girl Effect's Cause, which, despite having one of the most viral nonprofit videos, has only garnered 2,300 members and under $2,500 in about the same time.

Causes has been hugely popular among nonprofits, as it allows them to tap into the peer-to-peer networking power of Facebook and initiate a fundraising cause for the nonprofit they like. The application currently has over 100 million installed users and 500,000 cause communities (started by those users) that attract over 1 million media views per day.

About 15,000 nonprofits have partnered with Causes, which grants them free access to a back-end account that lets them track progress and communicate with cause constituents. Collectively, nonprofits have raised $28 million from the application, which now brings in about $200,000 a week. But why the discrepancies between nonprofits? 

Curious as to what to make of this, I visited Causes' hip DC office off Dupont Circle to talk with Matt Mahan who has the enviable title, VP of Impact. The simple answer is logical - it's about how much care you put into it.

Causes' DC crew
Causes' DC team members (left to right): Matthew Mahan, VP of Impact; James Windon, Director of Business Development; Sydney Fleischer, Office Manager

"One thing we try to do is coach nonprofits on how to reach out to their cause members and cause creators, and give them the means to make it go somewhere," Matt said, pulling up the Save Japan Dolphins cause page on his laptop. "These guys have been at it for almost two years now, making it their primary online community."

One of the common lessons any online guru will press is that online fundraising doesn't just happen when you slap a big pretty donate button on your website. Online donors need to be engaged, welcomed and cultivated, and any new supporter who receives a direct correspondence from the nonprofit itself is exponentially more likely to donate and organize her/his peers than one who hasn't.

The same if-you-build-it-they-just-might-not-come ethos applies to Causes, of course, and Matt's team is working hard to make online community building easier. "In Facebook you have this vast sea of 500 million people, so part of our approach is to empower the philanthropic identity of those individuals," Matt said.

Impact scorecard Some of Causes' most recent innovations are in the features they've added to the Causes tab on people's profile pages, which includes messages from people associated with your cause, and the impact scorecard that lets you keep track of your cause's metrics (i.e. fundraising, recruiting and "karma"). Matt estimates that since making these improvements, the profile tab has become a substantial contributor to cause page traffic.

"It's something Facebook users use to see how they are doing," Matt said. "It's their personal 'do-gooder' scorecard that shows them how they and their friends are changing the world."

Another recent innovation is Facebook's OpenGraph API, which allows cause administrators to post updates on members' Facebook wall feeds (unless they opt out), making each cause member a potential broadcast platform for updates.

Despite these viral mechanisms, Matt is careful to point out that the nonprofit's role in prompting, reporting successes and coaching is essential. One option we discussed was for nonprofits to create a best practice guide for its cause members.

For someone who hasn't visited the cause they administer since the marathon they ran two years ago, the new interface is almost unrecognizable - and for good cause (bad pun). The clunky fundraising thermometer has been replaced by interactive impact graphs. Rather than scroll down the page to post multimedia, administrators can do that and more directly from the publisher interface (pictured below) which Causes added six months ago.  

Publisher interface

Causes has also extended the fundraising functionality of its popular Birthday Wish tool by launching a dedicated site last July that simplifies the process of generating a Birthday Wish. "What we were really grappling with was the question of how to facilitate organic action and offer better guidance," Matt said, "This gives them a front door to the Birthday Wish."

He then added, "On average, an active Birthday Wish raises nearly $100. Now imagine if you had 100 cause members creating and actively promoting their wishes - that's $100,000 in one year. Again, this is where community building and coaching come in."

Causes has certainly faced competition along the way, with the ongoing development of third party applications and integrated website event tools offered by Convio, Blackbaud, Artez or Global Cloud. Matt believes Causes' edge lies in its unique integration with Facebook. However, it's doubtful that Causes would be where it is had it not evolved in functionality. (Included in that evolution are Causes' project pages, which allow nonprofits to promote a new, fresh aspect of their work and encourage individual causes to raise money for it - this helps keep causes more timeless and relevant.)

But as Matt puts it, the key takeaway for any nonprofit using causes is to "be disciplined in rolling out consistent engagement."       

August 06, 2010

A DonationPay Takeaway

DpFor nonprofits, nothing demands security and reliability quite like online payment processing. So when I told a New York-based client about DonationPay, a full-service, customizable platform whose 3% per-transaction fee is the only charge its clients see, I shouldn't have been surprised when she laughed, "What's the catch?"

Today I got on the phone with Noah Sochet, who founded DonationPay a year and a half ago with Angelina Strosahl. Ever since the two met in college, they've been running Duo Web Marketing in Olympia, WA, consulting a variety of industry clients including nonprofits.

"We would often find ourselves having to explain to our nonprofit clients the incomprehensible fee structures of some online donation platforms," Noah said, adding, "And I'm not saying that to bash the great services that are out there, it's just a complicated business."

It is indeed. Try explaining to a university development officer who just invested half his budget in a CRM with payment processing that he has to manage a separate merchant account for transactions. Then try explaining that the university's name won't even appear on his donors' credit card statement, which will instead bear the name of the merchant account processor. And when donors request charge backs on billing descriptors they don't understand, the merchant account processor gets slapped with charge-back fees from the credit card company.

It's that parents-are-fighting anxiety that only happens when the nonprofit and for-profit worlds collide -- and when your parents fight. "The ugly truth about credit card fees is that they are purely for profit and not necessary," Noah said in a relaxed West Coast manner.

In this context, Noah and Angelina teamed up with Meritus Payment Solutions, a branch of Wells Fargo, for their payment processing. Noah explained that Meritus has its own merchant account gateway, which allows them to wave processing fees for nonprofit organizations. This "conveniency" setup also allows them to distribute funds collected everyday at 6:00pm -- some payment processors do this monthly -- and customize billing descriptors so that people who donate to XYZ nonprofit know where their money went.

Meanwhile, DonationPay's clients get the range of industry standard tools and customer service that nonprofits have come to expect from companies like Network for Good. The bottom line difference is that all costs are folded into the 3% transaction fee. DonationPay currently serves 126 clients, and has a staff of five, or three, depending on how you want to count it. 

According to Shabbir Imber Safdar, a San Francisco-based consultant and creator of TruthyPR, "The process of scaling for [DonationPay] will involve only scaling their customer service, not their payment infrastructure."

Shabbir recently migrated a nonprofit over to DonationPay because its previous platform had issues spanning inflexibility of form layout to limits on analytics reporting. "DonationPay appears to be a small startup, with a good focus on customer service, riding atop a very advanced payment processing engine from a larger financial processor," he said, adding, "We've worked with Noah, who has worked very hard to make us happy."       

July 19, 2010

Refudiate Your Social Media Inhibitions

Sarah Palin made Twipples of snickers and depression today when, in a tweet defending her assault on the English language, she compared her "creativity" to Shakespeare's -- one wonders if an aide was dispatched to spell check that one.

Unfortunately, there may be people out there who revel in such audacity of dope. Unfortunately, some people place more importance on swagger than on substance. Finally, and, again, unfortunately, nonprofits and their supporters have something to learn from this: Social media is an arena that allows you to own your message. It's just that some people prefer more intelligent sounding messages than others.

“The 21st century is a really terrible time to be a control freak,” the State Department's Jared Cohen said recently in a New York Times article titled, "Digital Diplomacy." (NYT editors clearly don't have the audacity to call it like it is: Twiplomacy.) Indeed, even stodgy federal institutions are letting go of their messaging inhibitions to venture into the powerful marketplace of ideas and human bonds that is social media.

But it's important to recognize what really matters about social media -- the social (and if you happened to see Katya Andresen's recent tutorial on this, you know I totally just ripped her off). Take Twitter, for example. Viewed one way, Twitter is a closet full of shoes. When you're about to go to some tweet-frenzied technology conference, you put on your running shoes. When you tweet a news link from the New York Times during your Monday morning coffee fix, you're wearing business casual. But what matters at the end of your walk or run in Twitter shoes is the person in them.

Did your followers connect? Were they enlightened? What did you inspire them to do and how do you know they did it? Was it what you had hoped they would do? These are all very critical questions to consider when setting out on your Twitter strategy and owning your nonprofit's message and cause.

Today Jocelyn Harmon blogged about the 5 roles you need to fill when building an online community team, and added her own number 6: the "bridge builder," a brilliant idea in this age of increasing diversity. I hate to add another node on an already growing list, so maybe we can call this a sub-role, or something, but online communities need a Message Maker. Not to be mistaken with an editor, this role is the human bond in social media.

There is no clear formula for achieving this. It takes doing, and growing into things. For some, it might also take having a dictionary on hand, but we've beaten that horse enough.

June 11, 2010

Philanthropy Is Evolving

Personal recap of Dr. Susan Raymond's (Executive Vice President at Changing Our World, Inc.) workshop at Fund Raising Day 2010, New York; Hope Is Not a Strategy: A Systems Approach to Revenue Diversification 

Scaled In the midst of all the statistics, the charts, the assertive tone, and the agreeing nods today at Susan Raymond's workshop at Fundraising Day - one message was clear: philanthropy is evolving. 

We're in an era of record unemployment rates and foreclosures. The "depression" that we endured (or are enduring depending on which newspaper or blog you follow) has traumatized us. Dr. Raymond calls this unique PTSD - "depression memory", because too many still remain afraid to be as generous, as trusting, or as engaged as they were years ago. Given all this, the way philanthropy is done urgently needs to evolve - or at least mutate in order to survive. In "Darwinian", the message is that it's survival of the fittest organization to compete and pro-create dollars that donors are holding much tighter. 


With the need to adjust in order to stay afloat, some organizations have accepted doing things differently. Cause-related marketing, for instance, has become an incredibly popular approach, in fact, it has quadrupled in the last 4 years. Also, mission related investments, where non-profits are aligning their missions with companies (clean energy companies for example) are beginning to be equally common. Basically non-profits, according to Dr. Raymond, have to take a more corporate approach. 


Think businessy.  

Create a business plan, not just a strategy. This involves thinking long term, rather than simply strategizing for the year (or - ahem - months). A business plan needs to "have legs", therefore, it's not just an applied plan, but something implemented with the idea that the organization is set for a few years. Additionally, non-profits should keep in mind their revenue base, their profit structure, and look towards diversification. 

Donors, while still remaining generous are looking at their money as an investment now. That is, donors are now more often looking to donate to organizations that can deliver a tangible return on their investment ("ROI" in business-ese). With respect to this, Dr. Raymond fears that philanthropy may become risk-aversive, but for now, "giving is not eroding".  

Holding to the old way of doing things will not work in the coming era. Accepting the business approach could help your organization thrive, so long as the mission continues to be your sail, and not viewed as an anchor (Dr. Raymond's analogy). You'll have to innovate, be more much more creative, accept technology and trends with a more open mind - otherwise, your organization will risk a fate worse than remaining unevolved - extinction.  

April 23, 2010

Facebook: New changes you might not "Like"

F This week, Facebook rolled out their new f8 platform. The changes have some organizations updating materials and some individuals worrying about privacy of their personal information.

To help you get up to speed, here's a list of the biggest changes you need to know about and resources to help you edit your privacy.

f8 changes you need to know about:

  • Become a Fan buttons were renamed to Like (if your organization has language on your website or printed materials that say "become our fan", it's time to review and make updates so that constituents know to look for the Like buttons).
  • The new Open Graph API simplifies how websites and Facebook share information about you online. If you've noted your favorite songs in your Facebook profile, then you'll very likely hear those playing next time you open Pandora... or if you've marked favorites on Pandora, your Facebook profile will be updated to include these song. Usage of personal information in this way may take many people by surprise.
  • An individual's Instant Personalization privacy setting is automatically set to Allow. This means that you've already told Pandora they can grab your favorite songs. If you're not ready to let the instant personalization happen, be sure to edit your privacy settings to remove the instant allow. This means you can be selective for the sites/applications that have access to your personal information.

Resources to learn more about managing your personal settings:

So, are you and your organization ready for f8? Do you think your personal information is in danger of being abused or misused? Or is your organization already looking at ways to integrate the Open Graph API into your nonprofit website? Post your thoughts in the Comments.

April 10, 2010

Interview with NTEN Conference Attendant from Nicaragua

Probably the most fascinating aspect of attending the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (10NTC) in Atlanta is the people you meet. Today I met Sergio Torres, who came all the way from Nicaragua to learn a thing or two about online communications interfaces that will help his fellow countrypersons interact with and hold government agencies and NGOs accountable -- were there more people like Sergio!

However, the challenge he faces is, not surprisingly, connectivity. According to Sergio, most Nicaraguans simply can't afford to be connected online. He himself puts $55 each month toward a measly 1MB internet connection, an amount that most Nicaraguans make in 55 days, he says. 

We discussed tools like Yammer, BlueKiwi and SalesForce's Chatter, all of which I blogged about here, and it sounds like Sergio will need something with mobile to online capacity, since most Nicaraguans are at least connected by mobile. I asked Sergio to talk about his challenge for us on video, and he was kind enough to say yes. Enjoy!

Sergio Torres at 10NTC from CW Interactive Services on Vimeo.

April 09, 2010

Are You a Data Geek Superstar?

We just attended the "Super Heros of online Fundraising: Become a Data-Driven Strategist" breakout session at the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (10NTC) in Atlanta. The session was run by Sarah Dijulio of M+R Strategic Services, and she posed some profound points and questions for online fundraisers.


For instance, when you use data to drive your strategic decisions, you'll make better decisions, avoid mistakes, and achieve a higher return on investment. But how do you transform your organizational culture to become data driven? And what kind of data are we talking about anyways? How do you sift through the massive volumes of online data to discover what is truly relevant? Superhero costume is not required.

Wilderness Society and AARP tried some targeted $5 vs. $10 ask email campaigns. AARP ran a deadline fundraising goal-oriented messaging campaign that resulted in a 144% increase in response rates over its usual average, while Wilderness Society's email campaign actually underperformed. The difference between the two campaigns was that Wilderness Society targeted non-donors, while AARP's targeted non-donor activists (i.e. people with a history of taking political action in emails) -- it only goes to show that when supporters are engaged in some form (e.g. advocacy) they are more likely to donate.

What should you test as an email campaigner? One thing M+R has tried is monthly giving asks, using javascripted pop-ups over the donation form that offers the monthly option. Another example is Mercy Corps, which allows people to start the donation process from the home page. Then there is Amnesty International, which does something similar, but shows users which program area the donation will go to -- a person from Amnesty in the audience raised his hand and shouted, "It worked!"

But in testing, there are several important questions you have to ask:

  • What goal will this help you meet?
  • How much of a lift can you expect? Is this likely to produce significant improvements?
  • How long will it take to get statistically significant results?
  • How much time will it take to implement?
  • Is the lesson you learn applicable to future efforts?
  • How will you evaluate the results?

Verisign-logo-oOne of the things that M+R heard from Amnesty was that adding the Verisign logo next to a donation button improved conversions. M+R ran with the idea with other clients, and found that this led to a 12% increase in response rates for the nonprofits that used it. 

So then how do you evaluate your test results? Try creating a data grid, and make sure your sample sizes give you statistically significant results (i.e. you might have to call that stats geek friend from grad school). But there are several rules of thumb to follow:

  • Bigger sample sizes are better
  • 400 responses is usually valid
  • The smaller the metric you are measuring, the bigger sample you will need (i.e. if you have a list of 100,000 people, a 4% response rate = 4,000. so you can run an A/B test with groups of 10,000 each)
A great online tool for evaluating all of this is the Google Site Optimizer Duration Calculator, which allows you to speculate tests on pageviews to your donation forms. 

As most people know, M+R invests a lot in nonprofit data research, and we're all grateful they do. But tactics like the ones Sarah exhibited today can be tweaked and accommodated to any nonprofit of any size. It just takes a little planning and guidance. Once those systems are in place, you can become a data-driven superstar by second nature! 

The Wisdom in Letting Go, with Blogging Pioneer Andrew Sullivan

Friday morning at the  2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (10NTC) lifted off with an irreplaceable plenary talk by Andrew Sullivan, who, as one of the first political journalists in the United States to start a personal blog (The Daily Dish) is considered a pioneer in political weblog journalism. Andrew wrote his blog for a year at Time Magazine, shifting on February 1, 2007 to The Atlantic, where it received approximately 40 million page views in the first year. He is the former editor of The New Republic and the author of five books. (You can read more about Andrew on Wikipedia or The Atlantic.)



Sullivan's talk was absolutely brilliant, hysterical and enlightening. Here are some of the highlights: 

  • Blogging is a rapid fire, intense environment, "like a bad zombie movie where at first they come at you very slow but suddenly they're coming at you really fast."
  • A blog or online page is not a publication, it is a broadcast. It's not a static book or magazine that has a clear, stable position. It's something that has to move ad change or it will die -- it has to move. "And this is where the obsessive-compulsive, co-dependent relationship of the blogger emerges," he said. 
  • He said this medium is not about writing nor is it about a website. The key to blogging success, he emphasized, is that it constantly moves, engages and distracts. 
  • Sometimes we need to think more deeply about the barrier to entry of each page on a website. The accessibility is seamless regardless of the publication or website. This, he believes, is a remarkable democratization of information. Almost any website page has as much entry access as the New York Times, and any website has the potential to be huge, he said, disparagingly citing the example of Matt Drudge.
  • In blogging there is a direct interpersonal relationship with your readers, yet the real time aspect of posting and editing makes it even more immediate, personal and interactive, or, perhaps, intimate. 
  • He recalled the astonishment he felt when he posted his first post and received an immediate response from a reader. "The more I did it, the more instantaneous was the feedback loop, until it really started intimidating me. It was throwing yourself into this mosh pit of universal dyspepsia... you find that the people you write for are not passive consumers, they respond to content. We've found a medium in which writing can have the same quality as broadcasting." He then made a rather humorous analogy to himself and "that Verizon guy with bloody millions of people following him around." 
  • In the context of the nonprofit realm, where people are strategizing and plotting out web content and architecture, the potential for this interactivity needs to be paramount in one's conscience. 
  • A great quote that stood out: "If blogging is fatal, I'll be the first to find out."
  • But then he arrived at a more substantial question: Where is the truth and accuracy in this medium? After all, by many standards, it really isn't journalism. However the irony is that you cannot make an error on a popular blog, because it will be immediately corrected. If a blogger has a powerful following, it will consist of very knowledgeable and critical readers. 
  • The process of "manning up, admitting and correcting" is a very valuable educational experience. "The facts you are trying to express are more rooted in reality if they are open to criticism and the market of ideas," he said.
  • When Sullivan turned against the Iraq war, he lost over a third of his readership. So his response was to start including the critical emails he received into his blog posts, and then he asked his readers to send in a "view from your window" photo, which has since become a consistent weekly phenomenon for over four years. 
  • Admittedly, the lack of control over information in the blogosphere is "terrifying." Everyone has doubts, errors and revelations that they don't want in the public. It raises the question of how you put limits on what people can and cannot see. "My view is that this problem is not easily solved, but transparency is ultimately a good thing," he said, explaining that the historic lack of transparency in our culture has only led to falsehood and additional error and corruption.
  • As a blogger thinks about restricting information from the public, it forces them to think about why they are doing it. The internet only accelerates this process of arriving at honesty. A moment of wisdom arrives when you learn how to let go. 

April 08, 2010

Why Mobile? A Quick Demo from MobileCause

Everyone knows that mobile giving is the next big thing for nonprofit online fundraising. It's not the cheapest route to take, but if you're a major humanitarian organization and a disaster strikes, like Haiti last January, you'd be wise to get your crisis plan up to speed with a little mobile technology.  

Allyson Kapin over at Care2 outlined the benefits of mobile technology pretty thoroughly last January -- it's worth the read. But here at the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (10NTC) in Atlanta, I decided to interview a vendor from MobileCause, Toby Sweeny, who was kind enough to give us a demo on how nonprofits can fundraise in the mobile age. 

Toby Sweeny - MobileCause from CW Interactive Services on Vimeo.

Social Media Veterans at the 2010 NTEN Conference

Today Changing Our World's Interactive services team is blogging from the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (10NTC) in Atlanta, which is pretty much the mother ship of all tech-minded nonprofit gatherings. The first session we attended was titled, "Social Media Veterans," (#smvets) which was moderated by the very energetic Rachel Weidinger, who successfully turned the packed ballroom into an offline Facebook fan page/Twitter feed.

Attendants gathered to share their tips, grievances and brilliant ideas on all things social media, from Ning to FourSquare. I had a chance to interview Estrella Rosenberg, whose campaign, 100x100, is using FourSquare to launch a lobbying campaign around legislation on heart defects.

"It's not exactly fundraising, but it will get supporters engaged and active, and therefore more likely to give at a later stage," she surmised.

Enjoy the video! (This article continues below.)

Estrella Rosenberg on FourSquare from CW Interactive Services on Vimeo.

At one point in the forum, Rachel took a show of hands for how many people had organizational and personal Twitter accounts; Facebook fan pages; a blog that was very active vs. not so active. Hands shot up -- these were social media veterans, after all -- and some embarrassed laughter over the blogging activity question. Rachel picked on one person -- "You with the awesome glasses!" -- who works with the Dr. Pepper Museum -- "Give us an example of how you use Twitter."

She replied that they apply strict practices of following & thanking people who retweet them, and that Twitter also becomes a useful tool for tourists within the museum.

Another person, whose nonprofit addresses a controversial political issue, has put together a crisis plan in the event they fall victim to a political attack. Rachel then asked how many people in the room had a social media crisis plan, and only three people responded.

One of the more interesting topics was volunteer management, particularly when it comes to striking a balance between controlling your messaging and granting autonomy to your volunteers. One attendant explained that her organization maintains a very rigorous application process and engages in frequent followups throughout the life cycle of the volunteer. Another organization member said they enlist autonomous volunteer teams that each have their own Twitter accounts.

The session ended with Rachel throwing business cards around the room, and asking for people to throw theirs back at her. "You, blog about this! You, blog about that!" It was chaos, lightening-paced yet somehow, everything made sense.

Our specialty area »    Catholic & Independent Schools, Corporate, Healthcare, Higher Education, Human Services,International Development & Global Health, Philanthropies, Research & Policy