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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.

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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.

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