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Social media is changing fundraising strategies

Barbara Pierce

Barbara Pierce

When actor and comedian Jerry Lewis began hosting his annual Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon decades ago, he could not have known what “social” giving would one day become.

The idea of pledging charitable donations over the phone was a new one, but it caught on quickly. The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon raised billions of dollars through the years, helped along in its final years by the ability to use social media for giving.

“If you think about it, Jerry Lewis’ telethon was basically social media back in the day,” said Barbara Pierce, chief development officer for the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc.

With seven out of 10 people using at least one social media account, the platform has become an important part of nonprofit fundraising. In 2017, the average nonprofit saw its Facebook audience increase by 13 percent, Twitter audience increase by 15 percent and Instagram audience increase by 44 percent, according to TechSoup, a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits by providing access to donations and discounts on software, hardware and services from major brands.

More than $125 million was raised via Facebook on GivingTuesday last year, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving and Black Friday that is devoted to giving back to charity. GivingTuesday last year raised $400 million for charities across all mediums, officials reported.

GivingTuesday was founded in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. In July 2019, GivingTuesday spun out into its own organization, led by GivingTuesday co-founder Asha Curran as its CEO. Curran told Nonprofit Times that GivingTuesday was “born digital and one of its biggest experiments has been social media.”

This year, GivingTuesday fell on Dec. 3. Facebook planned to match up to $7 million in gifts made on its platform but the amount that a single nonprofit can receive was decreased this year to $100,000, down from $250,000, in an effort to get more organizations and donations matched, the Nonprofit Times reported. Donations were to be matched dollar for dollar on a first-come, first-served basis until the match is met, which last year took minutes.

“There are a couple reasons why social media is important to charities who are looking to fundraise; one is community and one is immediacy,” Pierce said. “There is an opportunity for people to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. Some people like to talk about ‘finding your tribe.’”

Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester is one local nonprofit that has benefited tremendously as a result of increased social interaction, particularly with Facebook’s “giving” option.

Sami Sheehan

Sami Sheehan

The organization began using the Facebook Giving platform last July and has experienced an increase in donations. In fact, of those Facebook Giving donations, 65 percent are new donors. It is a new way of reaching people who wouldn’t otherwise have supported Lollypop Farm, said Sami Sheehan, the agency’s individual giving manager.

But it’s not just about the funds.

“Social media has affected Lollypop Farm in a number of ways,” Sheehan explained. “It’s for us another way to reach supports and community members on what we’re working on and our outreach, and also another way of communicating with our donors the impact of their support.”

Social media has changed the way in which nonprofits seek funding and support for their causes.

“We have started posting on our social media page where we include a donate button, where we might not have before, because of its ease of use,” Sheehan said. “Also, it’s another quick way for a donor to see an immediate impact of their donation. It’s not just, I’m making a donation and I get to hear about how it helps the greater community and that pet later. It’s, there’s this animal that’s in need of help right now and I can make that choice to support that animal in the moment.”

Now in its 10th year, Rochester Fashion Week has seen an influx of attention thanks to social media. With several events that feature both high-end and everyday fashion, the weeklong affair benefits the Center for Youth, a Rochester nonprofit that provides homeless, temporary and transitional housing, crisis nursery services, counseling and more.

“During Fashion Week and during our gala is the social media energy that comes not just from us as the organizer, the event planner, the fundraiser, but the crowd,” said city Councilwoman and Center for Youth Executive Director Elaine Spaull. “What happens is, everybody who’s there ends up sending Instagram and Facebook (posts), so there’s an energy that’s created through social media that is very, very important.”

Elaine Spaull

Elaine Spaull

Indeed, Fashion Week 2018 raised $825,000; this year’s 10th anniversary goal was $1 million.

“For us, with six days of events, it’s important to have social media. We post and share and have billboards during and before the shows, but the power of social media when there’s an active engagement by the folks that are there … I think the same thing is probably true of Jazz Fest,” Spaull noted. “So things that have multiple days really benefit from social media.”


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