Home > Articles > Where the Donors Are

Where the Donors Are

Last year, GCN’s own Georgia Gives Day injected more than $800,000 dollars into the sector, joining other community giving day initiatives in states across the country, from Colorado to Minnesota to Washington, D.C., that altogether raised tens of millions of dollars for nonprofits. What makes that success possible—aside from the hard work of organizers and participating nonprofits— is nothing short of a revolution in giving, one that’s transforming the way nonprofits meet and engage individual supporters. 

They’re moving online and getting social. Are you?

It’s easy to forget in a lackluster economy, but the power of online giving is rapidly ushering in a new golden age of fundraising. While charitable giving overall is making the slowest post-recession recovery since Giving USA began keeping track nearly 60 years ago—with year-over-year growth reaching 3.5% in 2012—new research from The Chronicle of Philanthropy shows that giving online is growing steadily, with a healthy 14% increase from 2011 to 2012. Last year, the Chronicle shows, Georgia saw $17.6 million dollars donated electronically—the ninth highest state total in the country—with an average online gift size of $128.

And it isn’t just Millennials flocking online: new data from the Pew Research Center shows that 77% of adults aged 55 to 64 are online, and 54% of those 65 and older are online—with more than half active on social media. In fact, social media adoption rates for the 65-and-older set have tripled in the past four years.

Leveraging the reach of social media and the ubiquity of electronic payment platforms, nonprofits have found new audiences opening up their hearts and wallets, and new ways to make a call to action resonate throughout their communities. It’s a good thing, too: in the wake of government cuts and increasingly intense competition for grants, individuals are the only funding stream nonprofits can consistently rely on. According to the latest numbers from Giving USA, 72% of charitable donations in 2012 came from individual donors. 

Sites like GAgives.org don’t just make it easy to give online, they make it easy to share news about that donation instantly with dozens or hundreds of people at a time—people who have an already established trust relationship with that donor.

So how do you make the most of these individual donors in their new online habitat? How is online giving different from giving in person or over the phone? And how do “likes,” “shares,” and “retweets” translate into dollars and cents?

People Want to Lead

The process of getting new donors used to be a numbers game, pure and simple: blasting your call-to-action to as many strangers as possible, then counting on a tiny fraction to respond. Today, there’s a much more efficient approach. Rather than a numbers game, it’s a trust game: using the supporters you already have to reach the most receptive possible audience—the friends, family, and colleagues of those supporters.

“The common wisdom is that people [online] want to appear good, and smart, and philanthropic. But beyond that, people want to lead,” said Julie Dixon, deputy director of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, at GCN’s 2013 Nonprofit Summit. Further, her research shows that social media “trumped all other sources of information” when it came to how “individuals first hear about the causes and charities they support,” whether that support is online or offline.

The secret sauce for online giving, according to Dixon, is the “powerful currency of influence,” the idea that, imbedded in any given supporter, is a “whole network of skills, talent, and resources waiting to be tapped.” That is, every one of your social media followers has followers of her own, an otherwise invisible population you can access simply by asking your followers to use their influence on your behalf—to do what they’re already primed to do online. An easy-to-share call to action or proof of impact—from a giving campaign announcement to a volunteer opportunity to a photo from the field—gives them that highly-coveted opportunity to lead.

Giving is Contagious

It should be noted, however, that the latest tech trend—be it a new social network or a multi-functional giving site—is just one variable in the larger equation. The only piece of “emerging technology” you can count on everyone having? A human brain. That’s the message of Rhonda Lowry, Turner Broadcasting’s vice president of emerging social web technologies, whose job revolves around understanding the fundamental human motives that drive online behavior.

In her own Summit presentation, Lowry explained that Facebook has become a daily routine for people because it’s rich with purposeful “triggers.” Your brain is constantly seeking these triggers, rewarding you for picking out relevant tidbits from the daily onrush of life. That reward center lights up every time you check in on your social media feed because each comment or “like” represents a meaningful connection. When a constellation of those meaningful elements emerge—say, a combination of trusted friend, compelling need, powerful solution, and proof of action—the human brain is hard-wired to take notice and take part.

Think about a crowd of people standing on a street corner, staring at the sky; it’s almost impossible not to look with them. That’s the effect you achieve when you get someone to share your message—or better yet, share their own story of giving. Sites like GAgives.org don’t just make it easy to give online, they make it easy to share news about that donation instantly with dozens or hundreds of people at a time— people who have an already-established trust relationship with that donor. Call it “social proof” or “keeping up with the Joneses”; either way, when people see others—especially their friends—giving and promoting a cause online, they’re far more likely to click through to your website or giving platform of choice. And that’s where the “Donate Now” button will be waiting for them.

Rather than a numbers game, today it’s a trust game: using the supporters you already have to reach the most receptive possible audience—the friends, family, and colleagues of those supporters. 

What’s “Like” Got to Do With It?

“Slacktivist” is a term Julie Dixon suggests you forget. Used to describe an activist whose participation largely consists of promoting causes on social media, it’s been thrown around with disdain for the past couple years, reaching a conceptual peak in an overseas UNICEF campaign stating, “Like us on Facebook, and we will vaccinate zero children against polio.”

In her research, Dixon found that the backlash against social media supporters is almost entirely misplaced—not only is social media “a universal way that [surveyed] individuals first hear about the causes and charities they support” (whether that support is online or off), but so-called “slacktivists” are “just as likely to donate as non-social media promoters, are twice as likely to volunteer or participate in an event or walk, and are more than three times as likely to solicit donations on behalf of a cause. They also participate in, on average, nearly twice as many different support activities as the average American.” They are, in fact, the emerging dynamos of the fundraising world—your new cause champions. (See Dixon’s article)

Looking at the top earners in last year’s Georgia Gives Day, and organizations who have continued to net contributions on the GA Gives platform, we’ve found real proof that social media engagement strategies translate into donors and dollars. Speaking with some of these GA Gives “all-stars,” GCN is learning about the smart, creative techniques nonprofits are using online to build community buzz, activate cause champions, and leverage GA Gives incentive funding to pull in thousands of dollars from new and already-established donors.

Atlanta Legal Aid, for example, ended up with the biggest haul of the day by framing the “ask” as a simple, fun request to make in personal Facebook pages and emails, even for staff who aren’t necessarily comfortable with fundraising: “It’s a good vehicle for them because it’s easy to ask friends and family to click a link.” Gwinnett United in Drug Education has raised funds through GA Gives throughout the year, pulling in more than $4,000 since the event itself, by getting supporters to start campaigns of their own using the GAgives.org “personal fundraiser” feature. (Read their stories, and others, later in this issue.)

Atlanta Legal Aid ended up with the biggest haul of the day by framing the “ask” as a simple, fun request to make in personal Facebook pages and emails, even for staff who aren’t necessarily comfortable with fundraising.

Another huge advantage of mobile: people tend to keep their phone number as long as they can. According to mGive, 75% of donors have had the same mobile number for more than five years, and almost half have held onto it for more than eight. That greatly simplifies the chore of keeping your contact list up to date, and leads Mobilize’s Dolan to his number one tip for nonprofits new to mobile marketing: “Build a mobile database of opted-in phone numbers.” These are people, Dolan notes, who have chosen to receive your mobile messages: they’re interested in your cause, they’ve likely donated money already, and they’re receptive to donation requests in the future. They’re also likely to spread the word about your nonprofit, so you’ll want to send them messages about events and encourage them to share.

 Second on the mobile must-do list: equipping your web site with “responsive design,” which allows it to detect the device it’s being loaded on (laptop, smartphone, tablet, etc.) and reformat your content to best fit that screen. Mobilize recently upgraded the GAgives.org website with responsive design, making it a fast-flowing, frustration-free giving experience any way you access it.

The Future of Fundraising, Here and Now

People are increasingly living their lives online, and there’s little doubt they’ll continue doing so in the foreseeable future. People like sharing online, they like appearing good online, they like joining in on what their peers are doing and, even more, they like it when peers join them. Giving to your cause online, if you make it easy, fun, and relevant, fits squarely in that sweet spot of desirable, easy-to-share, and easy-to-imitate online social activity. The internet masses are primed to take your message, make it their own, and pay you for the privilege. Are you ready to give them what they want?

Marc Schultz is managing editor of Georgia Nonprofit NOW.

Subscribe to GCN Articles RSS