Winning the Internet

Are nonprofits raising money with social media?

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

The 3rd annual Nonprofit Social Benchmark Report is hot off the presses. Allyson Kapin has a good post summarizing the key findings over at Frogloop.

There’s some interesting insight into which social networks are the most popular, cross-tabs on which issue areas are doing the best and a lot more. I’d encourage you to read both Allyson’s post and then the report if you really want to dig into the details.

But let’s focus on raising money. “Can I raise money with social media?” is one of the most common questions we hear. There are enough stories of an organization raising a large amount of money through Facebook or another platform that many organizations become interested in social media because of the fundraising potential. The marketing efforts of social fundraising platforms are a factor too. It drives the decisions on which staff members spend time on social media and sets expectations. According to the report marketing and branding remains the primary role, but fundraising is the secondary reason for the majority of respondents.

Fundraising is a large but secondary role; 65% use CSNs to raise money, and 56% state fundraising as a goal for their CSNs over the next year. This continues the trend of nonprofits’ growing emphasis on CSNs for fundraising.


The problem is the data doesn’t support that level of focus. The report shows that 46% of organizations raise less than $10,000, only about 0.04% raise more than $100,000. Of those 46% that raised under $10K around 2/3 of them raise less than $1,000 with any platform.

Are Nonprofits Raising Money Via Social Networks?

While the number of organizations raising between $1 to $10K annually has risen each year from 38% in 2009 to 46% in 2011, the number of nonprofits raising $100,000 or more per year on social networks doubled this year is 0.4%, a very thin slice of the sector.

The study also highlighted “Master Social Fundraisers” which consisted of organizations that raised more than $100,000 on Facebook over the last year. It was a shock to see that 30% of these Master Fundraisers were considered small organizations. The average Facebook following of a Master Social Fundraiser is more than fifteen times the general average, at 100,000 fans. This isn’t by luck, though. Of the Master Fundraisers, 30% dedicate at least 2 staff members to managing and fundraising their social media presence–compared to merely 2% for the rest of the industry. Though, it seems to be pretty unanimous across the board: 94% of organizations reported that they will keep their staffing allocations the same or increase them over the next twelve months.


So while you can increase performance by dedicating staff to this task, you have to determine if there are better uses of that staff time that could deliver more value. Staff time has a hard cost and you also need to weigh opportunity costs. That might lead you to focus on other social media tasks or even work on traditional communications, development or program tasks. And the truth is, for small and medium sized non-profits you’re better off doing just that. Unless you’re at a large organization that is operating at a high level of efficiency everywhere else, your time can be better spent.

That doesn’t mean you can’t promote your year end fundraising drive on social media platforms, you should use them to supplement email and direct mail campaigns you may be running. It just means you can’t count on them to produce a lot of additional revenue.

These trends show that more people are interested in making social media work for fundraising purposes, not that it actually is working. Your best bet is to continue to monitor trends, but don’t expect to get rich off your Facebook page quite yet and don’t set yourself up for failure with your boss or stakeholders.

About Raven Brooks

Executive director of Netroots Foundation and Netroots Nation.

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