PayPal Research Shows Strength of Community Trumps Popularity


We live in strange times in which an online following is considered the mark of success. This era of weblebrity seems caustic at times with companies, nonprofits and individuals chasing personal brands for their time. Yet, as we dig deeper we see that real influence online does not necessarily tether itself to the most well known, rather the most engaged. Some research released today, The Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers, conducted on case studies within the PayPal network validates this truth.

The paper, my final as a Zoetican and co-authored with Henry T. Dunbar, concludes that online celebrity fundraising efforts are hit and miss. Further some of the biggest names get outpaced by lesser known web-based personalities or weblebrities who activate deep ties to their communities.

The research shows over and over again that the hyper-engaged online personality with an authentic story is the one to succeed. Here are some examples:

  • A campaign on Facebook’s Causes to raise money for a new children’s hospital. In it, a 9-year-old cancer patient with virtually no online presence generated more donations than any other individual, including television star Ashton Kutcher.
  • A fundraising competition among bloggers —- including TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington and All Things D’s Kara Swisher —- was dominated by a blogger offering to parade around in a tomato suit.
  • The launch competition of Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees social giving website: Despite recruiting more than 60 celebrities to create “charity badges” on the site —- including Nicole Kidman and Ashley Judd -— the top fundraiser was a woman who blogs about scrapbooking and has an autistic son.
  • The PayPal-sponsored Regift the Fruitcake campaign on Facebook was won by Operation Smile with the help of Filipina singer Charice and her engaged fans. Other more notable celebrities participated, but didn’t deliver Charice’s impact.
  • TwitChange, which hosts charity auctions where fans buy mentions, follows, and retweets from celebrities on Twitter. Through three auctions in 2010, two of the celebrities drawing the most attention and highest bids have been actor Zachary Levi (of TV’s Chuck) and celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart, beating stars such as country singer LeAnn Rimes and celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton.

As practitioners and communicators, we owe it to ourselves and our clients to dig deeper, and learn the underpinnings of the online social web. Real influence is more than popularity, and this paper goes a great distance to highlighting the important components of authenticity, real strong community engagement, and a willingness to actively work with a community to affect change.

The whole paper is online, and embedded below. Over the next few weeks, expect to see several full case studies outlining the principles of the paper published here. Special thanks to PayPal’s Clam Lorenz, Network for Good’s Katya Andresen,’s Anna Doherty, Operation Smile’s Kristi Kastrounis, and TwitChange’s Shaun King, all of whom provided the outstanding content and insights that made this paper possible.

Effectiveness of Celebrity Spokespeople in Social Fundraisers

The Super Hero Myth

Marlboro man

We like to believe that one person can save the world, win a project, and deliver the lights out performance that will change everything. No culture believes in super heroes quite like America does, and that includes our marketing.

Just consider the strong man image of the Marlboro Man. Heck, even the Old Spice guy is a play off this dream of one super hero.

The post-mortem deification of Steve Jobs over the past 10 days can be considered in this light. We know more than one person created all of these Apple products, software, marketing, store and web materials.

When it comes to creative we see the same phenomena. David Ogilvy is considered a God amongst advertisers. Many people in his agency (while he was alive) adhered to his methodologies. They also exercised their own creative license in writing and designing legendary ads.

Online, we see the same thing with bloggers. We idealize them as great voices and sages. Yet, many don’t have public accomplishments. Or when they do, we fail to see the critical role players that help make them a success.

Really this super hero/pedestal concept applies to all aspects of our culture.

Consider last Friday’s Give to the Max Day training event, which by almost every single account was a smashing success. Some people have offered props to me as the general manager for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, and organizer and point person on the training conference. The reality is much different, considering all of the critical players who executed almost perfectly:

  • AARP’s Tammy Gordon and Beth Carpenter lent us their facility, including its fantastic live streaming and wifi capabilities. They also supported directly not he AARP Facebook page and the Create the Good Twitter handle.
  • Razoo’s community manager Ifdy Perez did a fantastic job on Twitter, and also cultivating blogger attendance.
  • Razoo’s Shai Chu handled all of the logistics for the event, and it came off seamlessly.
  • The nonprofit attendees and their excitement to learn and participate was critical to making the day productive
  • The speakers — including Beth Kanter,‘s Dana Nelson, Razoo’s Justin Wredberg, NWF’s Danielle Brigida, Care2’s Clinton O’Brien, Atlas Corps’s Abby Flottemesch, and ACTion Alexandria’s Tracy Viselli — all did a bang up job.
  • Two speakers — Katya Andresen and Jocelyn Harmon — came from Network for Good, which is the underlying backbone behind Causes and Crowdrise, two Razoo competitors. They came in a spirit of industry cooperation and in support of our mutual hometown’s nonprofit community. Special hat tip to Network for Good.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk took time to provide a video to attending nonprofits
  • The Razoo Foundation underwrote the whole thing. Give to the Max Day parters United Way of the National Capital Area and the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region promoted the event.
  • Last May then interim Razoo CEO, now CTO Brian Fujito had the idea for Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, without which none of this would be occurring.
  • Many Razoo executives and staffers touched this event, including Lesley Mansford, Alison Risso, Bo Lotinsky, Claire Moore, Matt Camp, Heather Pringle, Jacques Villareal, Bryce Melvin, and on and on.
  • Beth Kanter deserves a second credit, simply for teaching me how important capacity development is to nonprofits, who can have all the tools in the world, and could not execute, simply for not having the resources, training and talent to succeed. This training event, in fact the whole design of Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington, is infused with this knowledge.

You can see that many, many people came together to form the recipe of success for Friday’s training event (please excuse any forgotten mentions). That’s the truth behind most successes. One person rarely is the sole generator of great efforts.

What About Those Super Powers?

My favorite super hero is Batman. He is always able to succeed with determination and skills in the face of his own tragic flaws. He does so with the help of friends, and no true super powers. Sheer moxy (or craziness), help from others, technology and training power Batman to success.

We all wish we had super powers. We wish we could change the world by flying through the air and laser eye vision or the like. That’s why we admire the super acts of individuals, placing them on pedestals.

All of us excel in certain areas. While all humans are equal in rights and random chance, we are not all equal in skills. Some of us are very talented in areas. However, invariably these skills are certainly offset by character flaws.

This is not to say that the strengths aren’t noteworthy. They are. Albert Einstein was brilliantly thoughtful and analytical. It doesn’t mean you’d want to hang out with him at a baseball game. Such are weaknesses. Understanding one’s strengths AND weaknesses, and how others round out a total effort is the art of management.

All stars have weaknesses. And even if they claim not to, one person eventually hits a limit to scaling. That’s why we need others: To counter weaknesses and collectively achieve what one person alone cannot.

The Myth Lives On

Barack obama yes we can

“In life, there are teams called Smith, and teams called ‘Grabowski’….We’re Grabowskis!” Mike Ditka

Great quote for a team with no ultimate star, the 1985 Chicago Bears. Yet, we don’t love Grabowskis. We love super men (and women), icons who can supposedly change the world.

The hope that we, too, could be super one day touches an inner desire to be special. That’s why pedestals are built, and marketing images contrived. Because deep down inside we want to believe that we can conquer all.

So we celebrate those that appear to do so, in all aspects of our culture.

Yet, in reality, we know that it was many, it was the whole group that did it together. Even the stars need their Grabowskis to succeed. Just don’t shout it out too loud.

What do you think of the American super hero myth?

Applying Social Storytelling to Strategic Online Fundraising


This is a preview of tomorrow’s Millennial Donors Summit presentation on “Connecting with Social Media” at 11:30. There is still time to register for the telesummit! Join us!

The fundamental skill of social is applying traditional relationship development savoir faire in the media. Meaning, the tools are the tools, but the actual interaction between people should be the focus for those seeking to cultivate donors. Your communication must convey a compelling story and a means for the donor to participate.

From this year’s Millennial Donors report: “Like last year, millennials said they gave most often as a result of personal, traditional giving requests, with popular technologies such as online and email giving coming in at lower percentages. However, the respondents also suggested that they prefer to give primarily through online tools. The message here? They might give more often through personal asks because many organizations have not caught up with technological giving options.”

Here’s another juicy tidbit: “65% want to know how [their dollars] makes a difference.” Further, “84% of millennials said they are most likely to donate when they fully trust an organization, and 90% said they would stop giving if they do not trust an organization.”

Trust is the basic currency of human relationships, and online is no different. Most are worried on how to rock Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr and other tools. Technical proficiency is important, but it comes with practice over a period of weeks. Ironically, the most common mistake nonprofits make with social is to treat it like another medium, and simply publish solicitations and marketing.

Instead focus on how to interact with people and compel them to 1) believe in you and your cause; 2) invest in you (via donation, advocacy or other means); and 3) sustain that relationship so that it has a chance to be more than a transaction. Understanding how your community interacts online will determine the tools. How you use the tools is the issue.

Connecting with Millennial Donors via Social Media

This requires compelling storytelling and interactions within social. As the study says, 85% of millennials pointed to a compelling mission or cause as the primary reason for donating. The report offers some additional insights on how to cultivate trust: “1. Friends or family endorsement 2. Report financial condition 3. Opportunities to meet leadership.” These are intrinsic elements to good storytelling for content and interactions. But there is more.

Compelling storytelling requires a a few story elements. A recent phone conversation with Network for Good’s Katya Andresen crystallized the fundraising “perfect storm:” An authentic tie between the person asking for the donation and the cause; a truly engaged community; and an impassioned ask as opposed to a posted request.

The authenticity angle is critical. You can’t just ask someone to give based on stats and the nonprofit’s mission. Instead, show people why you care, why it is important to you, and why you believe they should care. How has this issue impacted your life? As a nonprofit find a person to tell this story as opposed to communicating from the ivory tower.

With the community, this is the basic blocking and tackling of social. You can’t turn the lights on and simply ask for money. Participation and interaction for months and years prior to fundraising creates a strong community, one that is tied to the personality or organization. When relationships are in place — a result of mutual investment of time and value — the community responds.

Lastly, you can’t just drop a link and ask people to donate. Make it a drive, a series of compelling asks. Show them ways to donate and participate. Try to make them feel like heroes, and their donations are making a difference. Keep them updated on the drive.

As noted in the report, a critical aspect is to sustain the relationship after the donation. Donors want to be informed about how their investment made an impact. These people believed in you, now tell them what you are doing with their investment. One more statistic from the study to back this up: 79% of donors want continued outreach to include updates on programs and services.

Case studies will be included in the Milliennial Donors Summit presentation. A follow up to the Summit will be posted on the Inspiring Generosity blog.