Social media and fundraising: engaging the slacktivists

Social media and fundraising: engaging the slacktivists

Is it possible to assign monetary value to a Facebook like? Jenny Ramage investigates


There was a picture doing the rounds on Facebook a few weeks ago. Posted by a group calling themselves the Global Secular Humanist Movement (GSHM), it shows malnourished African children stretching out their hands with the caption: “Lyk dis if u r agenst thursty ppl xDD”.

Beneath is a series of photos depicting the like button as a magical blue wisp that whizzes across cyberspace to Africa, where it miraculously transforms into clean water and fills up the village wells. The final image is of healthy, happy children taking a nice long drink of water.

The montage was titled ‘How idiots think Facebook works’.

The derogation of slacktivism has become nearly as popular as the trend itself. lists a number of derisive definitions of the word ‘slacktivism’, my personal favourite being “the self-deluded idea that by liking, sharing, or retweeting something you are helping out”.

There is certainly some justification in derogatorily labelling online and SMS petitions, status updates, YouTube video shares, ‘likes’ and tweets as nothing more than feel-good measures that have little or no real-world impact. Kony 2012, while undoubtedly a valuable lesson in the psychology of social media mass participation, was a poor example of slacktivism making an actual difference. After a spectacular burst of hype, it fizzled out with barely an eyelid batted.

However, to imply that small acts of engagement count for nothing would be to ignore evidence from websites such as Avaaz and 38 Degrees that have played a significant role in achieving real-world change. Operating in 15 languages and with nearly 16m members, Avaaz stopped the US Internet Censorship Bill in its tracks with 3m signatures, persuaded the Hilton hotel chain to sign the EPCAT code to prevent child sexual exploitation and helped blocked the construction of a mega-dam in Brazil, among many other triumphs. So while a tiny act of engagement by itself may arguably not mean much, certainly if you can accumulate enough of them, the effect can be pretty staggering.


Tweeting for food

Political campaigning is one thing – collect a load of e-signatures, put them in front of the right people, job’s a good ‘un – but what about its application in fundraising? Is there a way we can actually assign monetary value to a Facebook like, a tweet, and so on? Can fundraisers take this modern-day equivalent of the bumper sticker and turn it into a donation?

As that wonderfully subtle image posted by the GSHM suggests, the public perception is that likes and tweets don’t feed starving children. The fundraiser’s take on it might be that likes and tweets don’t translate into donations. Beth Kanter, author of The Networked Nonprofit, has an impressive 500,000 followers on Twitter, yet in her call for donations for Cambodian charities several years ago she managed to scrape just $15,000 over a period of several months – and with a lot of hard work. Some might say her efforts could have been better expended elsewhere.

But hang on, the rise of social media means we now have, quite literally, a world of people at our fingertips. Surely that means there are vast crops of potential donors for charities to harvest? So why aren’t we getting a good yield? Why did Kony 2012, the biggest online mass participation event in history, fail ultimately to deliver anything more than a couple of people standing around scuffing their feet on street corners in the middle of the night and a charity funder’s breakdown? According to Charlotte Beckett, it was because its creators didn’t have a proper strategy in place. “We find that a lot of our clients equate a Facebook like as a thing of value, but there is no value in how many likes you get – unless you have a clear strategy of what you are going to do with those people.”

Taking people from clicking a like button all the way through to making a donation, or even committing to a regular gift, is proving to be a challenge. “We need to make it easy in the space we are in”, says slacktivism advocate Paul de Gregorio, head of mobile at Open Fundraising. But, he says, “it is possible – and you do it with great content and classic storytelling.”


Memory banks

Fundraising experts are always saying that to tell great stories, you need to put donors at the heart of them. University of Leeds has a donor-centric storytelling strategy that came together almost by accident. The alumni and development team’s Footsteps fund manager, Adrian Salmon explains: “We do a lot of fundraising by phone using a team of student callers. We started asking for people’s memories of Leeds, which we then would write on Post-it notes and put on a cork board in our calling room.”

The team then had the idea to replicate the Post-it note technique on the Leeds Alumni website. People who visit the site can quickly type in their memory into a ‘virtual’ Post-it note, and submit it with a simple click. The notes are then added to a photo album on the university alumni’s Facebook page called ‘Your Leeds Memories’.

It’s a stirring montage. “Getting people to tell us what they thought about the university then, and what it means to them now, triggers a connection; a feeling. Lots of them talked about how they met their long-term partner here, or how they made friends for life. Others talked about acts of kindness, and how people had gone out of their way to make them feel welcome.”

The next step, Salmon explains, will be to talk to the former students who shared their memories. “We’ve got these people with very warm feelings towards the university, so these are the ones we definitely now want to talk to about supporting us with a donation to help current students.

“It’s crucial for us that the telephone fundraiser has that Post-it note memory to refer to in the conversation, to trigger that instant connection.”

The results of Leeds Alumni’s telemarketing campaign won’t be seen for a few weeks yet, but if all goes to plan, they may well be able assign a financial value to that non-monetary, ‘slacktivist’ engagement.  


Funnel approach

It’s still early days, but there are other charities that are figuring out how to move slacktivists through the fundraising cycle. Amnesty International’s Pocket Protest asks people to send a free text to take urgent action to help protect someone’s life, liberty or freedom.

Reuben Steains, the charity’s innovations manager, says “Previously if we were going to run press adverts asking for donations, we wouldn’t receive the required number of responses to achieve an acceptable return on investment. With texts which ask for a simple, free text in return, we can get thousands of people responding and taking action. Then we can cultivate them and ask for donations and membership as the next step.”

“It is yielding a much higher response rate than other recent press advertising, and telemarketing conversion rates are very healthy.”

Importantly, Steains points out, it is highly measurable. “There are metrics all along the way: broadcast media response rates; email to SMS migration rates; action response rates; text donation rates and telemarketing conversion rates.”

“It’s the funnel approach”, he adds. “It can work with Facebook likes too – they are measurable. If you get 1,000 likes, you can communicate with those thousand people through their news feed. You could put a link to a petition with data capture, for example. And we would know that landing page is specifically for Facebook. That gives us a ‘like-to-data capture’ conversion figure, which then translates into a ‘data capture-to-donation/join’ conversion figure, which we can then put a financial value on. You could then reverse that figure to put a value on a Facebook like.”


Delving into data

The dream for social media fundraising is undoubtedly to integrate social media data with individual giving data. “From our experience, very few non-profits have any understanding of the crossover between their social media advocates and the wider relationship with these supporters”, says Purple Vision consultant Keith Collins.

Social media data capture is a problem, but the cyber-wall has certainly been chipped away at, if not quite demolished. “There are tools now available to make this happen, but awareness of these tools and what’s possible appears to still be very low”, says Collins. “‘Social CRM’ is still a relatively new concept for charities. But it’s getting easier.”

A key innovation around social CRM has come from the SalesForce platform, a cloud-based system that integrates your Twitter and Facebook feeds into your CRM system. Collins explains: “SalesForce contains a social media monitoring platform which is used by commercial organisations to look at social media, and work out who those key advocates or customers are. They can then get inside that dialogue and understand who is behind that profile or Twitter feed.

“It is possible, technically, to more readily engage with these advocates and understand their deeper relationship with you. Let’s not just assume that, for those who interact with you through social media, that’s as deep as their relationship with you goes.”


The next level

In his blog, Why we should all encourage slacktivism, Paul de Gregorio sums up the future of social media fundraising thus: “Small acts of engagement aren't meaningless. They are just a new layer beneath cash donor in our overly simplistic donor pyramid. Writing off these small acts of engagement as unimportant misses the point. They are one of the ways we can draw people to our causes and encourage interaction with us. Something to be encouraged rather then scorned.”

Not everyone is in a position to physically staple themselves to a lamppost or drag an iceberg in front of a whaling ship; but this doesn’t mean they don’t care and can’t be cultivated. The click of a like button is a simple statement of support, and with a little more legwork from the technical bods, it could prove to be a useful starting point for fundraisers. Once we understand the CRM tools that are put before us, we can use them to climb the social media engagement pyramid, get those donations in and use them to make a real-world difference. Maybe then we can help give slacktivism a better name.


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 21, September 2012


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