In the past, nonprofits and fundraisers had to establish connections with donors through mail, or on the phone, or even in person! Yes, I said in person! I know, crazy right? Slowly, people, businesses, and nonprofits started creating social media accounts. This changed EVERYTHING! This connected everyone and connected people to all sorts of causes. Gordon states, “Just as the rapidly evolving landscape of connectivity and communications technology is transforming the individual’s experience of the social sphere, what it means to participate in civic life is also changing, both in how people do it and how it is measured.” (Gordon, 2013 pg. 1). It’s true, it really is changing how people connect to causes that are important to them. By putting your organization out on social media, you are not only letting people easily contribute to your cause, but you are letting them inside your cause. You are letting them see emotion inducing images and videos, articles, testimonies, all while getting a closer look into the meaning behind your organization. No longer do people have to wait until the next charity event, you are connected by the tips of your fingers!
Making a Difference While Laying on your Couch
The best part of fundraising in the digital age is that people never have to leave their devices to make a difference in their community and world! There are so many different types of platforms out there that help people stay connected, some even make this possible while you go on living your everyday life.
One of the companies that makes this possible is Amazon. Amazon has a platform called “Amazon Smile”. You link your Amazon account to amazon smile and while you are shopping for your everyday purchases, Amazon Smile gives .05% back to the charity of YOUR choice! Yes, your choice!! I know that I shop on Amazon at least once a week, if not more, so linking my account makes giving back just that much easier. Another big platform on social media right now is Go-Fund me. Go-Fund me is for-profit crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for all sorts of topics (Davis, 2018). I’m sure you’ve seen a Go-Fund me on your facebook, twitter, or instagram timelines once or twice. The great thing about Go-Fund me is that anyone, anywhere can make a Go-Fund me. They are used for amazing things such as celebrations like graduation, or somber events like raising money for funeral costs or medical bills. Now the thing about Go-Fund me is sometimes you don’t even have to know or be involved in the cause to donate. One time, I donated to a cat’s vet bills who had been hit by a car. Animals are something I’m passionate about, so when something like that comes across my timeline, it’s intriguing and I want to help. This is the case for many of the Go-Fund me’s. They are shared and shared all around social media, capturing people’s attention. Imagine, before digital age, if someone died, it would be extremely hard to collect money for funeral costs outside your circle. Now, we are able to share that person’s story and inspire people to help all over! It’s truly an amazing thing that we as people in the digital age have created and supported.
Let's think about the big nonprofit organization that use social media to help them give back. This is when I think about The American Red Cross. The American Red Cross (2019) states their mission statement on their website, which reads, “The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” When disaster strikes, anywhere in the world, Red Cross is there to help. One of the most recent events I know of is Hurricane Michael. This struck so close to home, literally. Hurricane Michael struck the East Coast, and created total disaster. Now, there were small organizations that made a big difference, such as facebook groups collecting items, but Red Cross was worldwide collecting money and items to help support the victims of Hurricane Michael. You wouldn’t even have to visit Red Crosse’s website to help give back. They had ads on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, they even had a link on the top of Wikipedia where you could easily donate. Social Media makes fundraising so easy for big companies such as Red Cross.
Lastly, I want to talk about organizations that, well, really aren’t organizations at all! I have seen on my instagram where my followers are collecting money through their venmos, which is a mobile payment service. You create a username linked to your bank account, and you can send and receive money from anyone that has your username. Some of my followers are actually being the “middleman” for the organization. They are putting their username out there and asking for donations that can be made through them. I have seen many of my friends and followers do this, and people really do contribute. It's just another way that social media can connect people with causes. One last example is when the ASL ice bucket challenge swept the nation. This was where people took the challenge to have a bucket of ice water thrown on their head, then nominating three more people to do the challenge as well. Although this didn’t collect money directly, it raised awareness for the cause and directed people to charities for ASL. Again, this was just a big chain reaction that raised awareness for something that wasn’t well known. Before the digital age, this just wouldn’t be possible.
A Fundraiser’s secret weapon: Data Analysis
One of the biggest advantages of having organizations being in the online world is the donor data they can accumulate from data analysis! This is so important and can really make or break an organization’s online presence. According to Meredith Kavanaugh (2018), here are a few of the ways companies can use their data:
Number of campaigns (by type)
Number of fundraising pages and average raised
Number of donors and recurring donors
Number of comments on fundraising pages (engagement)
Amount of money raised
This is a way that organizations can really see what works, what doesn’t work, who likes what, when it is most effective, and who their audience is. This is especially important for organizations to make sure they are working at their maximum potential!
Online Giving: What are the Dangers?
After doing all this research on online giving, I decided to do a reverse search. With all this positive information, I wanted to see if I could find if there were any dangers or backlashes connected to online giving. I ran across an article where a woman named Heather Yandow (2017), took her Individual Donor Benchmark Project and collected data from 155 organizations with budgets of $2 million dollars or less. Her research showed some interesting things. For example, they found that donors are only giving ⅓ online of what they give overall. Which means that even though online fundraising has grown, the donations are getting smaller. To me, this could make sense. Usually the donors who give the most money are in the older generations. Older generations sometimes aren’t as “tech savy” and sometimes are completely turned off by anything online, especially somewhere where they are giving a big amount of money to. Stating that, organizations may actually be attracting donors who give less on accident. For example, they may be attracting someone like me. A college student who doesn’t make much money, but is still involved in important causes. I see these organizations online, but I don’t have much to give. Which is definitely still okay to have these people donate, but they wills suffer if this continues to be the only audience. This could continue to be a big problem for organizations, but could resolve as time goes on and new generations begin.
Another reason why organizations may not be thriving through online fundraising is simply because of disconnection. I stated above how online fundraising can really connect with people with the causes through images, videos, testimonies, etc. But think about the opposite. It may be disconnecting to some. Sometimes donors, again, maybe people of the older generations, want to feel a real connection with who they are giving their money to. They want a face to face, established connection. Such as Arcbarks, a nonprofit that I have actually volunteered at myself. arcbarks is, quoted by the Arc of Greensboro (2018), “arcbarks Dog Treat Company was created by The Arc of Greensboro in response to an increasing need for post-high school options for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. arcbarks was envisioned as a self-funding program that would provide vocational training in the real world setting of a functioning dog treat bakery.” Now when people can go in, and see where their money is going to, they make a bond with the company and the people behind the name. This can be challenging for things like Go-Fund me, Venmo fundraisers, and Amazon Smile. There's no room for real, human connections.
Addie Sellars at arcBARKS bakery in Greensboro, NC.
Lastly, which is a problem I’ve heard from many of my friends and family, is that they aren’t sure where their money is going. Yes, Go-Fund Me is an amazing platform for people who are truly using the money for what they are raising it for. Same thing goes for Venmo. But it’s really hard to trust that your money is going towards the right cause when donating online. Especially when you aren’t directly linked to the cause through a family member or friend. This is even something people are concerned about when donating to Red Cross or another worldwide organization. I can’t tell you how many times during the hurricane that someone said, “Don’t donate to the Red Cross! The money isn’t going where they say it’s going. Donate supplies and money locally.” This is such a touchy subject, because ethically, we want to believe that our money and gifts are going to the right people in the right places, but sometimes that just isn’t the case. Does this mean we give up on online giving completely though?
One thing that came to mind on how to figure out that you are donating your money to the right place is very similar to how you figure out whether news is fake or not. In the article “Developing a Critical Nose for News”, Bayer (2016 pg. 4), gives a couple examples of questions to ask yourself to spot fake news.
What is the source of this story and what do I know about it?
How likely is this story to be true in the first place?
Why do I want to believe this story is true?
Now, I know these are questions for spotting fake news, but I could see myself using these same questions when reading a Go-Fund Me story. Double check where the story came from or who is organizing the fundraiser.
Paul Sisolak (2016) actually wrote an article mentioning some ways to spot fake fundraising. A couple of his included:
Look for more information on the charity or cause.
Looking to see if they’re vague, ambitious and evasive about their mission.
See if there are any signs of them trying to guilt you into donating money.
We will never be able to know exactly where our money is going, but online giving is growing and growing and sometimes you just have to take a chance and hope it's going to the good people in the world.
With all that being said, online fundraising is still a magical thing that we are so lucky to be a part of. Considering the connection and the convenience, I don’t see online giving dying out any time soon. It’s a big part of our social media now, and a lot of people turn to it for happy times, and sad times, and when they want their voice heard. And that is the most important part!
A. (2018, August 09). About ArcBARKS. Retrieved from https://arcbarks.com/about-us/
Bayer, B. (2016). Developing a Nose for Critical News. 1.
Davis, J. (2018, December 11). Everything You Need to Know About GoFundMe's Fees. Retrieved from https://www.gofundme.com/c/blog/gofundme-fees
Gordon, E., Baldwin-Philippi, J., & Balestra, M. (2013). Why We Engage: How Theories of Human Behavior Contribute to Our Understanding of Civic Engagement in a Digital Era. SSRN Electronic Journal,1. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2343762
Kavanaugh, M. (2019, March 01). How to Use Fundraising Data to Drive Campaign Success | Classy. Retrieved from https://www.classy.org/blog/use-fundraising-data-campaign-success/
Mission & Principles. (2019). Retrieved from https://www.redcross.org/about-us/who-we-are/mission-and-values.html
Sisolak, P. (2016, December 7). 5 ways to spot a charity fundraising scam this holiday season. Retrieved from https://www.policygenius.com/blog/5-ways-to-spot-a-charity-fundraising-scam-this-holiday-season/
Yandow, H. (2017, September). Is Online Fundraising a Bad Idea? (SSIR). Retrieved from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/is_online_fundraising_a_bad_idea