Big things happened to the state of nonprofit fundraising with social media in 2013. But they were high level changes rather than unique bombshells. So there were no major game changers, but there were a couple of tectonic shifts that you should know about. They are discovery and proliferation.
1. Discovering Discovery
We have all become used to hearing about search as an important online tool. Google, Bing, and Yahoo have grown huge and become the primary way for people to find what they are looking for. We even optimise all of our online communications so that we can easily be found. (You are doing that, aren’t you?) But search has its limitations — it only works when you know what you are looking for. What about discovery? How do we go about finding what’s new, different, and amazing? Until recently, we relied on search, over and over. Some of us discovered StumbleUpon, but it’s never gained really big traction. This year, however, we had a lot of platforms take off that have ushered in the era of discovery.
Pinterest finally took off this year. While it’s not quite bombshell status for growth, it is significant and it is important for nonprofit fundraising. We’ll get to that in a bit. Most importantly, Pinterest seems to have found the all important key to longevity — monetization. They failed with ads and sponsored posts but have hit a homerun with custom collaboration. Pinterest teamed up with Target to use their technology for a custom Target Pinterest site. With major retail dollars flowing in the door, Pinterest will very likely be around for the long haul.
There was an uptick at Linkedin this year due to some refinements in their interface that make the site more useful for sharing information. Now it is more than a great place to review resumes. It’s a great place to tell your story and get connected with like minded professionals, individuals of high net worth, or to create communities. Being able to create and nurture groups is a particularly appealing function for nonprofits.
This picture sharing platform owned by Facebook became pretty much a mainstream location this year. While it’s still a place to gussy up your mobile snaps with filters, it’s also become a big platform for sharing and an important factor in search. If you or someone in your org is in to shooting pictures, it’s probably time to take a look at Instagram. Documenting what is happening in your cause is a great way to show people what is happening and how important your work is for the cause. It’s also a great way to socialize with your volunteers. The widespread, mainstream use of Instagram makes it an ideal place for nonprofit storytelling.
Tumblr really took off this year. It’s a blogging style platform for curating content that you’ve found elsewhere on the Internet. Unfortunately, they don’t filter sharing porn. While there is a lot of great, legitimate material there, it’s easy to use, and fun to explore, their lack of content oversight may be a problem. Having your content in a lot of places that are all tagged back to your blog/website is great for SEO, and that may be reason enough to share here.
This is an interesting platform. It clearly distinguishes between push and conversational communications. Acknowledging that push is necessary and different is a big leap for any of the social media platforms. On everything except app.net, push communications are used and make all of the noise that everyone complains about. It’s like shouting advertisements at a cocktail party. app.net lets you subscribe to receive push communications from sources that you want. If you want to hear from Red Cross or Amnesty International when they have something to say, just subscribe. Simple, but powerful distinction.
FlipBoard, Medium, Reverb, and Quibb
In addition to the growth of Pinterest, these three platforms are at the core of the birth of discovery. Like Pinterest and Tumblr, they are content curation sites that are made to make it easy to share things you’ve found online. But they also make it easy to publish original work. What’s different about them is the way they present the material that you publish. They have built in formatting features that make your stuff look professionally published.
FlipBoard is great for sharing material that is predominantly visual. Blog stories with lots of pictures work great here. You end up with your own National Geographic style online magazine. If you have lots of great pictures, this is a fantastic way to share them.
Medium seems to be attracting strong authorship. People are publishing well written, long form editorial content here rather than shorter blog style content. So it’s attracting a well educated base of users who are interested in some serious reading.
Reverb combines news sources with your social channels to give you categorized content all in one place. This is an interesting approach to taking what is widely shared repeatedly by many in other platforms and simply providing the source as a feed eliminating the echo. It enables you to choose the news you want to share from all of your incoming sources and share them across all of your other social channels — hence the name, Reverb. If you or your cause is in the news a lot, this is indispensable.
Quibb is similar to Twitter, but less conversational and more about curating and publishing. It’s a place to publish editorial material and engage in longer conversations about the material — a great way to build strong engagement on an individual level.
What it means for you
There’s a big upside for you when it comes to discovery. People don’t have to know about you to find you. You now have a bunch of places to be discovered by people who are interested in what you are doing. This means it’s now:
* Easier to be found
* Easier to tell your story
* Easier to look bigger
* Easier for volunteers to participate
As we all know, no good deed goes unpunished. So there is a bit of a downside to the development of discovery. You need to build and refine your storytelling chops. Now you have a great opportunity before you, but it’s up to you to make it happen. This means:
* More work to keep up
* Pictures and video are important
2. Mass Platform Proliferation
Years ago there was a gold rush when web developers were all creating online calendars. Suddenly there were calendars for everything. It was so over the top that it even spawned an acronym to describe the phenomena — YACC: Yet Another Calendar Company. Now they’re all gone. In their place, this was the year of the online fundraising platform.
There are now thousands of online fundraising platforms. Too many to count. Too many to keep track of and too many to survive. The global explosion of the nonprofit sector over the last twenty years has resulted in a perceived juggernaut of opportunity to ding each and every one of you with payment processing fees for every online donation that you get. It will fail. There aren’t enough online donations for all but a tiny handful of these companies to survive.
Each of them saw Kickstarter go mainstream and start to generate significant income. If you’ve attended our Get Going with Online Fundraising webinar, you know that we don’t think Kickstarter is an appropriate platform for nonprofit fundraising. But it has taken off for other sectors and spawned the crazy growth of platforms courting nonprofits. Even Facebook has entered the fray hearing the siren song of pennies per donation. We’ll see how this shakes out.
What it means for you
Look for consolidation to start happening and pick up momentum fast. Almost all of the online fundraising platforms out there will probably be gone in five years or less. While it’s too early to choose who will win and lose, there are a few battlegrounds taking shape. Processing multiple currencies for international donations is a big one. Comprehensive analytics across all communication platforms is another. Look to the platforms that grow, become more sophisticated, and gain major traction in the sector. A few will emerge as winners, the rest will struggle mightily and eventually die. Don’t sign any long term agreements.
The consolidation appears to be moving in two directions; comprehensively integrated platforms and highly refined specialty platforms. As with any market, the middle ground is for losers. Platforms that can offer fully integrated applications for fundraising, marketing, community management, communications, social interaction across platforms, and full analytics will come out on top. On the flip side, platforms that specialize at being the best tool for a specific function (events, auctions, campaigns) will do well with organizations that need just the one tool.
CRM platforms like Salesforce continue to develop robust integrated systems for business and nonprofits. Lower cost options like those offered by 37Signals and Salesforce on the high end are eroding the market held by established players like Blackbaud. Even competition from email platforms that are evolving is having an impact on the market. Constant Contact, MailChimp, and ExactTarget have all expanded their platforms to include integrated marketing capabilities. On the outside are pure inbound marketing platforms like Hubspot that provide simplicity and full integration at a moderate price point.
Beyond fundraising platforms, pay attention to the companies hosting your social media presence right now. Twitter and Pinterest made huge gains this year at the expense of Facebook. Facebook now has less than half of online social traffic domestically in the U.S., while it is still growing overseas. Facebook is vulnerable. Major brands have found that it isn’t a particularly good place to promote their products.
Nonprofits are doing much better at developing relationships on Facebook, but the constant changes to the Edgerank algorithm are making it very hard to be seen by very many people. Facebook is pushing harder and harder for you to buy your audience with advertising. This strategy works well for search, but has never worked for social sharing. Remember, before there was Facebook, there was CompuServe, GeoCities, AOL, Myspace, and many others. Facebook’s growth has turned into its Achilles Heel as it chokes on the massive volume of content that it is trying to push through Newsfeed. As a result, Pinterest and Linkedin grabbed big market share as people turned to other platforms where it’s easier to see what your friends and colleagues are up to.
Spending more time on Pinterest to promote your people, places, and victories with pictures and video should be on every nonprofit’s to-do list for next year. As Pinterest becomes more involved in influencing retail buying decisions, you should also consider ways to generate earned income through the sale of cause branded merchandise.
Linkedin’s inclusion of a newsfeed similar to Facebook’s is a great opportunity to take advantage of now. It isn’t widely used, so the amount of content flowing through it is easy to see. Publishing business appropriate commentary on your organization and cause will be seen by the people you want to rub shoulders with here. Creating a group for your cause and/or organization is another opportunity for you to develop and nurture communities of active advocates, volunteers, and donors.
It’s been quite a year and 2014 promises more excitement. Nonprofit fundraising with social media will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated. But the fundamentals remain the same — tell your story well and share it widely. Donors are not only searching for you, now they are browsing to discover you and all of the good that you do for the world.