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?

Jodi Gersh on Social Media-Driven Journalism

Jodi Gersh is the Director of Social and Strategic Brand Marketing at USA TODAY. She has been with Gannett since 2000, and has helped guide the company through the social media revolution. She will be speaking on a panel with the Washington Business Journal’s Jennifer Nycz-Conner at xPotomac on how the digital media revolution’s continuing impact on journalism.

The following is an interview conducted with Jodi on behalf of xPotomac as a sneak preview of her session. You can see her speak at xPotomac on August 27th in Georgetown (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off). Any typos or errors are mine, not hers.

GL: What’s the biggest thing you have seen changed in journalism as a result of social media?

JG: The two-way dialogue and as journalists we are no longer deciding what you need to know. People are telling us what they want to know. It’s a different dynamic. Journalists always trusted their gut, and [decided] this is what you need to know; this is what we are going to report; this is what’s important.

In social media, you get interactions and pings from the crowd saying, “Hey this is what’s important.” If you are doing it right, you start to recognize this is something we maybe wouldn’t cover or an angle we wouldn’t take, but it is resonating with the people so let’s do that.

GL: You have a unique perspective because of your position within Gannett, and USA TODAY and its local newspapers. How do you differentiate between the stories on social?

JG: There is a difference.

Local journalists live in those cities. So they can be tweeting with someone and then run into them at the supermarket. It’s harder for USA TODAY to have that kind of relationship because the community is everywhere, BUT they can be a very engaging brand online. They have engaging personalities and they have very social content.

On a local level, the brands can also be engaging, but the journalists have more of a connection, an emphasis on being recognized, being knowledgeable, being experts in their community, and living in the same place that they are reporting on. It’s very different. The way both local and national approach social is very different.

Of course, social content is social content. Choosing what to share and how to share it, that’s going to be the same nationally and locally. You want to make sure the way you share things on social media is going to engage the audience that’s in that social zone.

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GL: How has data changed the formula?

JG: There are different types of data, and we actually have many, many types of dashboards. We are looking at a way to pull it into one dashboard. We have social data, we have website data, and we have audience data for our communities of people.

Last year, actually, we rolled out a whole training program for all of our journalists where they were shown how to look at and use their dashboards. So rather than just making the data available, we walked them through what it means and how to take action on it. If you see something happening in Chartbeat or Omniture, how can you do something to see if it will make it better? We have put a big emphasis on using data that way. Actionable.

There’s the marketing funnel and the data coming in from our CRM, our audience, our subscriber databases and our email sign-ups. There’s a lot of data there, and we have a whole other team looking at that. I am not as involved with that right now. Although for paid social, it is all relevant.

GL: What was it like on the broadcast side before the split [Tegna is the new company representing Gannett’s former broadcast properties]?

JG: I worked with social champions across all of the TV sites. There were different ways they looked at social for TV than the ways we looked at it on the publishing side. When you watch your local newscast, you’ll see a few local stories, then you will see stories from other local markets, affiliates within the network. You are accustomed to that.

They would approach social the same way. They weren’t just sharing their local stories, they were sharing stories from across the network if they were super social. Things like a cat stuck in a tree, saved by a fireman.

There was always a back and forth about whether that made sense for our print or publishing sites to do. For the longest time, I felt that didn’t make sense, that this kind of news was a commodity, and that everyone is sharing that viral story about the cat in the tree.

I believed local publishing sites shouldn’t do this, and especially after our Facebook reps told us if every news site shared the same story they won’t show it to as many people. They don’t feel like that is a good user experience. It’s not curated.

Now we’re trying to decide if there can be a mix of that. Can you go for the slightly easier social win even if it is not a local, local story, if you are also providing good local content? Can you create related content for social media that ties into a local market? The answer is probably yes. Those stories are popular, even if they aren’t from your local market.

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GL: You’ve seen the rich media trend, but you work with all types of media. Which media forms are winning out, or is the rich media trend hyperbole?

JG: It’s hard to answer that. When you say which kinds of media are winning, I think that people’s media diet includes all kinds of media. Obviously, print [like newspapers] is slowly dying. Will it ever go away? Circulation is going down every year, and every year they say print is going away, they say five years, but it’s been like that for 20 years. I think there will always be print.

It’s not always by age. There are some hipsters who like their Sunday newspaper, and it’s totally fine. Yes, it’s an older demographic that usually subscribes to newspapers, but that doesn’t mean younger demographics don’t like newspapers.

We’ve done a lot of focus groups with the millennial age group and younger Gen Xers. The way they share information is so different. They are not necessarily loyal to a brand but getting that information from their friends has gone to a whole new level. We were speaking with some younger millennials, and they get their news from their friends via text message. They will take a screenshot of a story on a website and send it to their friends.

So you can see the media type could be anything or anywhere. People get news today on Instagram. How is that? The media diet is really varied, podcasts are in there, apps, photo storytelling.

GL: We’ve seen social become a validator, the success of a story becoming measured by how well it is shared. We’ve also seen the value of conversation. We’ve seen hard data. Have we seen the end game for social or are we going to see something else come along and blow this thing up again?

JG: I don’t think so, we haven’t hit the end of it. I was just talking to someone about how only a few years ago, we started having social media managers in the newsroom. We said, well this is kind of a temporary thing because in five years we won’t need social media managers anymore because everyone will be social.

It’s the opposite now because social has become so fragmented across so many different areas. It’s more important to have a group or people in organizations who understand where and how it’s being used. We’ve got our circulation department using it, our ad sales people selling it, we’ve got editorial using it, we’ve got brand people promoting it; it’s all over the place now.

We’re not at the end point. It is so much a part of the fabric of everything, yet we’re still not where everybody truly understands it. Five years ago you had executives who said ‘why are we wasting time on social.’ But now that’s all they ask for, but they still don’t totally get it. Until everyone gets it – which might not ever happen – we’ll still need expertise.

Georgetown Lecture: Social Gets Bigger and Blander

Spring at Georgetown Campus

Later today I will guest lecture at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on the general state of social media for the Social Technology Marketing MBA class.

I usually write out my thoughts before speaking. Here’s what I’ll be talking about today. Please comment if you’d like to suggest something, I’ve got a few hours to cram (yikes!).

1) Social Media Gets Bigger

We have entered the post adoption phase of social media in America.

Even a significant minority of senior citizens use social media. As of February 2012, one third (34%) of internet users age 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day Pew Internet.

Now that businesses realize social won’t go away, and they intend to invest more marketing dollars.

The most recent CMO Survey (August) showed social media investment continuing to rise. This year social commands 7.6% of the overall budget with an expectation to increase beyond 10% in the next 12 months, and to 19% of the total spend in the next five years.

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