The Fundraising Wall

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Have you ever run a big online fundraiser and found the effort lagging somewhere in the middle? I call this the fundraising wall, much like “bonking” or a runner’s wall in the midst of a marathon.

The fundraising wall is pretty normal in my experience having run or been a part of more than $200 million worth of nonprofit and for-business online fundraisers, most recently with Meyer-Optik’s $683,000 Kickstarter for its Trioplan 50 lens. Almost every single fundraiser lags in the middle, and that’s increased as online fundraisers have become more mature and people — e.g. donors or backers — are no longer fascinated by the novelty of Uncle Joe, a hip start-up, their nonprofit, or their community foundation’s online fundraiser.

Because there are so many fundraisers now, there’s also a great deal of noise, too. These days most fundraisers have a novelty factor of about one to two communications. So when the initial launch euphoria passes, a fundraising wall occurs as companies, individuals and nonprofits try to slog their way through their campaign one email, one social update at a time.

The fundraising wall occurs regardless of the giving event’s length. I’ve had bad hours during almost every giving day, and have seen longer giving events have middle days that make pray you inside that the fundraiser hasn’t stalled out. You experience a great sense of relief when things start moving again.

In the worst case scenario, the fundraiser does stall out. The fundraising wall becomess insurmountable. Invariably, there are reasons. You can look for external ones to blame the failure on, but usually this type of failure comes down to value proposition, strategy and architecture.

Digest the Best Practices, but Don’t Settle for Them

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I first started examining online fundraisers, and giving days back in the 2008-9 timeframe. Peer-to-peer online (or social if you want to be hip) fundraisers were still pretty unorthodox then. Kickstarter for business and personal projects was just getting going in the spring of 2009, and nonprofits were highly skeptical of online donations.

Today, things have changed with how-to resources allocated for fundraisers of all sorts, from the Knight Foundation’s Giving Day Playbook to many books on Amazon.com. Heck, I’ve even contributed to the plethora of resources out there, too, with a few white papers like this Case Foundation giving day report.

Many of these best practices are still useful, in particular with great advice on pre-event communications formats, post-event thank-yous, and crisis communications. But 99% of these resources lack the pragmatic view of someone who has actually run a giving day. They are consultant research-based reports or written to meet an underwriter’s view of best practices, rather than offer the real perspective of hitting the wall.

Walk a mile in my shoes.

You’ll see some missing points.

Following recipes can help you build a perfect textbook online fundraiser that still experiences the Fundraising Wall. That doesn’t mean it won’t be successful, or that you won’t reach your goal. It does mean that you are probably leaving money on the table.

There’s a Day for Everything

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As alluded to earlier, saturation is a huge issue. Go on Twitter most business days of the week, and you will see some nonprofit awareness or giving day trending. Or it might be their week. Or month.

Similarly, on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and a variety of other personal and business fundraising sites, you’ll see new apps, camera equipment, watches, clothing companies, etc. Peer-to-peer backing for art projects happens every day on our social networks.

There’s a day or fundraiser for everything now.

This is the beauty and the curse of online fundraising. The new option to go out and raise your own cash rather than getting a loan or surrendering equity to an angel investor who will surely interfere with your vision is attractive. For nonprofits, there is little choice. Online donations continue to grow year over year while traditional checks and mail donations dwindle.

Consumers — people in our core social networks and communities — are now accustomed to seeing online fundraisers. And they are much quicker to tune them out, especially if you simply deliver a formulaic textbook campaign that offers all the requirements. Even if your fundraiser is super interesting with a compelling topic or item to purchase, you will still experience a lag in these conditions.

Overcoming the wall becomes a central challenge for the capable online fundraiser competing in a crowded market.

Innovate and Entertain

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Just having a fundraiser for a worthy product or cause won’t be enough to carry a campaign end to end. The way to overcome the fundraising wall is through entertaining evolutions in the fundraising narrative.

Interest can be achieved through content, events, surprises, new details, and prizes (that other people care about, not just you). You have to make the fundraiser something worth seeing and experiencing. Whether that’s time-bound tension in attempts to achieve a goal, pop-up events, access to leaders and celebrities, new content featuring customers using your content, or beneficiaries experiencing aid through your cause, find something to make your fundraiser compelling and interesting.

I am working on a small Kickstarter for a photography book project that will launch next week. It features the opening reveal of the project, and of course there will be the close. But I intentionally staged the campaign’s timing to feature a trip that will highlight the book’s raison d’etre in the very middle of the effort.

This will provide a compelling reason to share about the project. Since the subject is of national interest here in the United States, I imagine it will not only be compelling to my closest friends, but people in general. I hope folks are entertained.

Upon return and the fundraiser’s short close, there will be new content and initial takes on the final product. People will get to experience a reasonable preview of their book. Overall, I believe this structure will overcome the fundraising wall.

It’s thinking through the staging of an online fundraiser that can help you overcome what are very normal obstacles. More importantly, you will increase your overall yield.

What do you think?

Give to the Max Day Research: The Ultimate Case Study

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For Love of Children’s Andrea Messina and Tim Payne, a Give to the Max Day grand award winner and case study

Today, the Case Foundation in conjunction with the Razoo Foundation issued the research report, “How Giving Contests Can Strengthen Nonprofits and Communities: A case study of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington.” I authored the report, and also served as the general manager for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, which launched last November.

These contests are multichannel marketing and social media driven adventures that can be extremely exciting! Contests produce a ton of data, including hard numbers such as the number of donations, highest and lowest donation, etc. that can make the biggest stat geek and ROI analysts thrilled. They also produce fantastic survey data, case studies and media reports. The end result is an incredible jambalaya of data.

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No More Gurus! 10 Great Online Keynotes

Read this Quora post about “interesting speakers on social media.” It features some of the most well known voices touting each other. It was disappointing to see the same old same old, including the usual lack of recommended female speakers (8 out of 41), which is astounding given that more than half of social media communicators are women.

The “guru” circle consists of consultants and service providers who market to organizations that need social media and online communications services. One could argue a conflict of interest, but on top of it, many lack the inside experiences within major organizations and cultures. Insiders fight a much different battle getting their organizations to open up and become more networked than the ones faced by outside consultants.

What would happen if conference organizers automatically eliminated the talking head consultant gurus with their vested interest in looking good? Who would be left to discuss online media? Here’s a list of ten suggested speakers that would be great keynotes for conferences abut online media trends and developments (including social):

Amra Tamren, founder and CEO, Allvoices

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Amra’s Allvoices is the largest global community offering local to global news and perspectives in one place. Launched in July of 2008, Allvoices is the fastest growing open media site with over 4.7M unique users per month and 300,000 citizen reporters from over 180 countries. Prior to Allvoices, Amra was a partner at Sevin Rosen Funds focusing on investment opportunities in the communications infrastructure and next-generation carriers. And having spoken with her on a panel in the past, she definitely has the chops.

Andrew Rasiej, founder, Personal Democracy Forum

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Andrew Rasiej is the Founder of Personal Democracy Forum , an annual conference and community website about the intersection of politics and technology. He is also the co-founder of techPresident, an award winning group blog that covers how the 2008 presidential candidates are using the web, and how content generated by voters is affecting the campaign. He has served as an advisor to Senators and Congressman and political candidates on the use of Information Technology for campaign and policy purposes since 1999. Having seen him speak privately and publicly on three occasions, he’s fantastic.

Andy Carvin, senior strategist, NPR

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Before taking a digital (and social) lead at NPR, Andy Carvin was the founding editor and former coordinator of the Digital Divide Network, an online community of more than 10,000 Internet activists in over 140 countries working to bridge the digital divide. He is also an active blogger as well as a field correspondent to the vlog Rocketboom. Andy Carvin was one of the cofounders of the CrisisCommons movement, and is also a fantastic speaker.

Christopher Barger, director, social media, GM

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Christopher Barger (image by C.C. Chapman) has been through a few wars, first with GM’s bankruptcy, the crawl back to the public marketplace, the launch of the Volt, etc. But beyond that before GM, he helped IBM make its way into the social media era with its well discussed blogging culture and other social initiatives. Barger is joining the ranks of social media authors, but one of the few authors who has done it from the inside the corporate walls. Twice.

Gina Bianchini, co-founder, Ning

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Gina Bianchini founded one of the more successful social network properties on the web. Prior to Ning, Bianchini was co-founder and president of Harmonic Communications which was acquired by Dentsu. She has also held positions at CKS Group and Goldman Sachs & Co. A successful innovator and executive, Bianchini would be a fantastic speaker for any conference.

Jay Rosen, professor of journalism, NYU

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You wanna talk media? There can be no more authoritative, brilliant speaker than Jay Rosen. Jay Rosen has been on the journalism faculty at New York University since 1986; from 1999 to 2005 he served as chair of the Department. He lives in New York City. Rosen is the author of PressThink, a weblog about journalism and its ordeals, which he introduced in September 2003. In June 2005, PressThink won the Reporters Without Borders 2005 Freedom Blog award for outstanding defense of free expression.

Michael Smith, vice president of social innovation, Case Foundation

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Michael Smith (pictured at the right) touches many projects for the Case Foundation focusing on creating a better digital web for causes. Some of his work includes supporting the CEO on economic development efforts in the Palestinian West Bank and leading the Foundation’s efforts to tap “citizen-centered” approaches to civic engagement, including its new grant program, the Make It Your Own Awards™. Prior to joining the Case Foundation, he spent a decade helping build foundations and national initiatives aimed at bridging the “digital divide.” He is a stellar speaker in person.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

Sandberg is second-in-command at Facebook and oversees the firm’s business operations including sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communications. Prior to Facebook, Sheryl was Vice President of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, where she built and managed the online sales channels for advertising and publishing and operations for consumer products worldwide. She was also instrumental in launching Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm. Oh yeah, she’s a great speaker, too.

Sonal Shah, director of social innovation, White House

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Sonal R. Shah is an American economist and public official. Since April 2009, she has been serving as the Director of the new Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House. Previously, Shah was a member of the Obama-Biden Transition Project and was the head of Global Development Initiatives, a philanthropic arm of Google.org. Sonal is also a compelling and seasoned speaker.

Wendy Harman, social media director, American Red Cross

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Wendy Harman has been on the front lines of online social innovation with the American Red Cross since late 2006. She has seen it all, from hurricanes to Haiti. Prior to joining the American Red Cross, she fell in love with intellectual property at law school and then worked for musicians’ rights at the Future of Music Coalition and Lawyers for the Arts. She was along for the ride when musicians were among the first to bypass traditional gatekeepers using social media tools, and she’s been trying to keep up and do good ever since.

Every single one of these speakers would add a little spice to the current roster of gurus, and bring fantastic new insights to the table that would jog the mind. Who would you add to the list?

Program Design – Matching Grants vs. Voting Platforms

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The discussion about entering contests as a strategic decision was one of the most interesting aspects of the analysis from the Case Foundation’s second America’s Giving Challenge (Full disclosure: Zoetica is performing this analysis). In particular, Students for a Free Tibet carefully vetted the contest opportunity using a series of guidelines to determine impact – positive and negative — on the 501c3. It should be noted that nonprofits see the increasing tax corporate funded contests have created on both the causes and their networks. This creates a programatic challenge for cause marketing design (image by jblyberg).

In essence, when considering how to interest customers and stakeholders, corporations need to invest more time into design. A crowdsourced voting platform may still have value, but now after several waves of contests, programs need to be designed so that more of a win-win occurs. A simple vote-a-thon for a purse is unlikely to create more than a marketing splash, and could invoke serious criticism.

One way to cricumnavigate this issue is to create a matching grants program that encourages more giving and/or activity. Matching grants provide incentive so that regardless of overall performance, votes and activity from consumers create reward. The customer or employee feels that their action mattered, the non-profit benefits, and the overall effect of the campaign is further engagement and loyalty.

Consider Intel’s Involved Program, a matching grant program seeking to motivate Intel employees globally to engage in outreach and volunteerism. In 2009, 38 percent of Intel employees donated 989,681 hours of service in 2009, and the Intel Foundation provided $6.8 million in matching grants to 4,500 schools and nonprofits.

Contests don’t necessarily need matching grants for them to achieve a win-win status. For example, the Sunlight Foundation’s recent Design for America contest wanted to inspire more visualization of open government data. Contest prizes were use to facilitate that, but arguably any design — win or lose — was an effort that helped achieve a theory of change towards better government. The contest did opt to judge by experts rather than voting.

Voting Contests

Voting contests without matching grants have additional weaknesses, too. If a contest is completely crowd driven, it risks becoming a popularity effort rewarding organizations for their ability to successfully galvanize their networks. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the best organization for change will be selected. This has been the largest criticism of Pepsi Refresh to date.

Pepsi’s Bonin Bough has countered critics, “We’re betting on the American people (never a bad bet) to submit and vote on ideas that will really make a difference in their communities. That’s why we’re working with GOOD and Global Giving, and that’s why we’ve conducted extensive outreach with the nonprofit community: we want to make sure that the grants that Pepsi Refresh gives will go to ideas that can truly make a difference. ”

Vetting contest winners or even selecting nonprofits prior to contests allows a program to circumnavigate these criticims. However, in today’s modern era of social media selecting charities for the crowd requires a great deal of transparency. Chase found this out during its $5 million Community Giving Contest when it failed to publish a leaderboard, and reasons why several top vote-getters were not in the top 100. These charities were disqualified for undisclosed reasons.

Transparency into the decision making/vetting process is critical. The more open a cause marketing effort can be the better. When people invest a vote or a small donation or volunteer time, they feel they have invested and become a stakeholder in the contest. They want to see outcomes, and understand why they happened.

Further, the use of qualified third party experts can help with vetting charities, lend credibility, and circumnavigate criticism. It’s important to make their decisions open, too, and allow people to understand the criteria for selection in as public a manner as possible.

New Contests via Technology

New technology development is allowing for hybrid variations of contests. For example, the Humanity Calls/eBay tournament for environmental nonprofits, created a $50,000+ giving tournament with more than 30 of the 100 plus competitors walking aways as winners.

Another organization, X Prize works to create uniquely tailored contests to foster innovation and generate change to benefit humanity. Prize development typically takes 8-14 months for each potential competition, concluding with a final report with a plan of action for donors and category sponsors. The creative process includes a series of sessions between leading experts resulting in ideas that are presented to the X PRIZE Foundation Board of Trustees and potential purse sponsors.

Currently, the foundation is offering up millions of dollars in prize money for the first teams to sequence 100 genomes in 10 days (the $10 million Archon X Prize); to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, data and images back to Earth (the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize); and to produce green, production-ready cars capable of exceeding 100 miles per gallon or its energy equivalent (the $10 million Progressive Automotive X Prize).

It’s clear that contests will continue, whether that’s a matching grant program like Case’s America’s Giving Challenge to crowdsourced voting giving affairs and innovation drivers. The key for companies and their partners is executing on program design best practices to create the win-win. Those include going beyond marketing measurements to include transparency and smart reporting, clear benefits for a significant portion of participants (matching grants?), a measurable theory of change, as well as the use of subject matter experts.

Get Ready to Meet the Giving Challenge

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Yesterday, the Case Foundation, PARADE Publications officially kicked off America’s Giving Challenge (giving image by whisper). The 30-day national online competition encourages people to leverage their online and offline personal networks to help win cash awards that will total $170,000 on behalf of their favorite nonprofit.

With awards based on the number of donations to a cause, America’s Giving Challenge is not focused on how much money can be raised – but how many people organizations and individuals can motivate to get involved with causes they care about. That means every single one of us can make a difference!

One thing I like about the campaign: The integration of old and new media. Hollywood star Matt Damon is participating via a PARADE article dated October 11. In it he encourages the magazine’s 73 million readers to “find out what you can do to make a difference. Take five minutes to educate yourself on an issue you didn’t know about before. Then tell somebody else. Or make a small donation, if you can. Every dollar counts.”

As you may know, the previous Case Foundation Giving Challenge in 2007-2008 motivated more than 70,000 individuals to participate and helped to raise more than $1.8 million for nonprofit organizations. With the explosion of social media in the past few years, it will be interesting to see the new and innovative approaches nonprofits and individuals take to raise money for their causes.

From now until November 6 at 2:59 p.m. EST, participants will have the opportunity to compete for daily and overall awards of up to $50,000 based on the number of donations to their cause using the Causes application on Facebook. Nonprofit organizations and individuals who wish to participate in the Challenge can get involved by either becoming a “cause champion” or by promoting, donating or joining a cause. Participants can register to compete, view details and donate to a cause they care about at www.americasgivingchallenge.com.

Don’t Miss Gear Up for Giving, Social Change Camp NY

In this video, Kristin Ivie provides background on The Case Foundation’s Gear Up for Giving Tutorial Series every Tuesday and Thursday. The sessions aim to help nonprofits better understand social media. Upcoming sessions include:

Tuesday, September 22 – 1:00pm -NetSquared’s Marnie Webb
Thursday, September 24 – 1:00pm – NTEN’s Holly Ross
Tuesday, September 29 – 1:00pm – #1 Changeblogger Beth Kanter
Thursday, October 1 – 1:00pm – Facebook Causes’ Sarah Koch

Authors Allison Fine, Katya Anderson and I have already gone. My session can be found here.

Social Change Camp NYC

avatar_f97045a19e84_128.pngIn addition, those interested in social change on the Eastern sea board may want to attend Social Change Camp NYC this Saturday, September 26. SocialChangeCamp is a conference for forward-thinking public interest organizations seeking new and diverse ways to leverage technology to recruit volunteers, build communities, inspire grassroots movements, reach donors, and facilitate effective advocacy.

The event empowers socially conscious organizations with channels and techniques that help them find relevance and accessibility in social media and related technology, regardless of their current levels of engagement. By educating, empowering, and connecting our community members, we act as a catalyst for social change.

I’m going at the suggestion of friend and organizer Damien Basile.