Friends and fundraising: How to tap social networks

NEW YORK Fri Jan 25, 2013 12:02pm EST

The Facebook logo is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels April 21, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

The Facebook logo is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels April 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Thierry Roge

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - When Doug Haslam gets on his bike, it's for personal as well as philanthropic reasons.

Of course, the 44-year-old social media consultant from Newton, Massachusetts, derives intrinsic joy from riding his Specialized Allez Sport.

But, having lost relatives to cancer over the past couple of years, including his father, he's keen for his pedaling to raise as much cash - for charitable causes - as possible. Like when he saddles up for the annual Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, a two-day fundraising bike-a-thon for which he rides about 170 miles.

To get the maximum bang for his fundraising efforts, Haslam taps his sizable social networks. He has 1,776 friends on Facebook, and 28,376 followers on Twitter, and he also runs a personal blog. By getting the word out on social media, he raised about $7,500 last year for Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

"These days people don't go door to door anymore," Haslam says. "To raise money, you have to go outside your own neighborhood. That's why I turned to Twitter and Facebook instead."

Haslam is in good company.

Over the past five years, peer-to-peer fundraising revenue has more than doubled to about $1.8 billion annually, according to Blackbaud, a Charleston, South Carolina-based firm that provides software solutions for nonprofit organizations.

And those who incorporate social media in their campaigns beat other fundraisers by more than 40 percent.

"The number one reason why someone gave to a new charity last year, is because a friend asked them," says Aaron Zifkin, senior vice president of Toronto-based Artez Interactive, which helps charities set up ‘friendship-powered fundraising.'

"Now, with tools on Facebook and PayPal and mobile apps, people can go out there and effectively solicit their networks."

When mining your social network, though, tread carefully. Friendship and fundraising may not always make for a happy union. You risk annoying your network with pleas for cash, and having them unfriend or unfollow you if the campaign gets too strident. If a close friend doesn't contribute to a cause that's close to your heart, it could fray those bonds.

QUEASY

Indeed, not everyone digs the idea of plumbing one's social networks for charity dollars.

As an avid runner and vice president of Brooklyn's Prospect Park Track Club, Michael Ring is inundated with opportunities to sponsor races, either by raising funds himself or as a contributor towards his running buddies' efforts. But it always makes him feel a little queasy.

"I donate a fair amount to charity, but I don't feel right asking other people to do the same," says the 49-year-old Ring, who lives in New York. "Maybe my charities aren't important to you. I feel like it's a bit of an intrusion."

Ring says people always ask: "What are you running for?" His answer is simple: Athletic competition.

"Why do I always have to have a cause? It strikes me as kind of weird," Ring says.

If you do decide to mine your networks for charity, the opportunities to do so are growing, with an array of Facebook apps and iPhone and Android tools that simplify donating to a few clicks.

In addition to plain old e-mail - where solicitations between friends have a solid 25 percent success rate, according to Artez Interactive - think of all the social media accounts you have these days. You might be on Facebook, and Twitter, and LinkedIn, and can make separate appeals on all of them.

"People are understandably hesitant to ask their friends for money," Zifkin says. "But social media are what's called a ‘softer ask'. If you post on Facebook or Twitter, it's less nerve-wracking than asking someone face-to-face."

Keep in mind, though, that not all social media are equal when it comes to raising cash.

An Artez whitepaper reveals that Facebook is the 800-pound gorilla in the space, a much more powerful venue for fundraising than its competitors. On Facebook, clicks to a friend's donation form result in giving 23 percent of the time; on Twitter, only one percent of the time. That could be because more people use Facebook more frequently, and those folks tend to be closer friends than the ones who follow you on Twitter.

How do you raise funds for the causes that are important to you without damaging your social media relationships?

Here are tips from the experts:

THINK OF FUNDRAISING AS SECONDARY

Don't use social media as a "sophisticated begging tool, but as a way to share ideas and passions from which finances will eventually flow," says Jason Saul, author of The End of Fundraising.

"For instance, I'm on the board of the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago. But instead of just saying on Twitter and Facebook, ‘Can you cut me a check,' I'm hosting a salon at my house introducing friends to emerging artists. Ultimately, it will help with fundraising, but that's not the only point of the connection."

DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY

If your friends pony up for your favorite cause, great. But if not, don't take it as a personal slight.

Perhaps they've already given to other causes this year, or maybe they're cash-strapped and focusing on more pressing concerns like the monthly mortgage. Be understanding, and don't harbor resentment.

DON'T FLOG YOUR CAMPAIGN AD NAUSEUM

Be judicious in mentioning your campaign; there's a delicate balance to be struck. You want to get the word out, but you don't want to browbeat your friends until they're too annoyed with you or tune you out altogether.

"It can't be 24/7," says Patricia Rossi, a business etiquette consultant and author of Everyday Etiquette. "It must be brief and discreet, not a constant heckle."

FOLLOW UP

If a friend chips in to your campaign and then doesn't hear back, it's going to leave an empty feeling and make them less likely to donate in future.

"Involve them in the cause," advises Saul. "Always follow up and say, ‘Thank you so much for helping. This is the impact we had, this is how many lives we saved, and this is how many mouths we fed.'"

(The writer is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.)

(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadete Baum)

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