Social, mobile boost small nonprofits' reach, relationships

Both channels help small charities connect with more donors easily and efficiently, but advocates remind that people, not technology, should be the ultimate goal.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Social media and mobile technology are crucial and cost-effective channels for small nonprofit organizations with limited resources or manpower, helping them reach out to supporters and donors with depth as well as ease and efficiency.

According to Charity 2.0 advocates, these emerging new media tools make small charities and their efforts more appealing to the younger, tech-savvy generation, hence, ensuring a wide pool of donors.

Mobile and social media are essential for charities, especially if they want to attract the "iTunes, Facebook and YouTube generation", said David Erasmus, philanthropist and chief executive of Givey. The U.K. company helps charities leverage mobile platforms for fundraising, and also offers an online donation tool for users to contribute to charities via SMS (short message service) or tweets.

"Social is the glove to the mobile hand, they fit perfectly", Erasmus told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail. The charity sector just needs to look over the fence at success stories in the commercial sector to see that both social and mobile channels are essential in creating awareness among an audience and to fundraise, he said.

His comments follow a Telegraph report which revealed that charities in the United Kingdom were keen on mobile donations to rely less--and save--on cheque processing and also appeal to younger donors, citing a study by payment provider VocaLink.

Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), a nonprofit society that rescues stray and abandoned dogs, noted that mobile and social media are dynamic and fluid platforms with easy access and on-the-go ease of operations. These benefit charity groups that are small in size and have limited resources or manpower constraints, allowing them to work just as effectively and efficiently, Yeo said via e-mail.

Social media is a quick and easy way to disseminate information in the fastest way possible with a wide outreach, even across geographical boundaries, he said. "We have highlighted many cruelty cases as well as publicize our events and fund raisers through the social media platform, and have consistently achieved good turnout rates or awareness," he added.

Paull Young, director of digital engagement at Charity Water, highlighted that small charities have the ability to make personal connections with donors, as opposed to the natural distance people may have with larger organizations. Mobile and social media enable this personal interaction to be expanded, giving a huge advantage to such smaller charities. New York-based Charity Water raises money to build wells to provide clean drinking water in developing nations.

In an e-mail, Young said the biggest benefit for small charities in using mobile and social media tools is costs savings. "We can reach more people and make deeper connections, for less money."

Such efficiency is important for nonprofits and these communication channels are able drive this, he added.

"Right now, it costs us just 7 cents to raise US$1, and our reliance on new media and content as opposed to traditional marketing methods helps us support this efficiency." Charity Water's latest September campaign has no marketing budget and the organization will use only online tools to raise US$1.2 million to fund a drilling rig in Northern Ethiopia, he said.

About people, relationships, not technology
Using social media and mobile, however, have its challenges, advocates pointed out.

ASD's Yeo said social media can attract "quite a high degree of frivolity" and people may not mean or carry out what they commit to online.

And while social media gives charities the opportunity to create more connections with potential donors and fundraisers, Erasmus acknowledged it can be challenging to figure out how to convert a Facebook Like or a Twitter Follow into an actual donation. However, this is possible once a relationship with donors is nurtured, he said.

Jamie Tworkowski, founder and creative director of nonprofit To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), emphasized that ultimately it should be less about the platform and more about what is placed on the platform. The Florida, U.S.-based nonprofit seeks to help those with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide tendency.

There is a sea of information--with many tweets, Facebook pages and blog posts--floating online, so the greatest challenge is talking about things that matter to the Web community so that the charity can rise above the "chatter, hype and spam", Tworkowski said in an e-mail.

He added that several organizations use social media, but not all use it in ways that "move people".

"For us, moving people and providing content that is compelling is the goal. If you get that right, people will spread your message because they believe in it and it becomes personal.

"The Internet is simply a tool we use to communicate with people. Our goal is to give people tools online that spark conversations and lead to steps being taken offline," he said.

Charity Water's Young also noted that mobile platforms could be more challenging for charities than social media because of the constraints and costs imposed by regulators and carriers.

"Reaching someone's mobile is a deeply personal connection, and there are rightly barriers to organizations making that connection. But the rules of social media and mobile are exactly the same as the rules of face-to-face communication: be respectful, listen and add value," he concluded.

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