Personal Fundraising From Door-to-Door to Mouse-to-Mouse: Converting Donors to Fundraisers One Click at a Time

Personal Fundraising From Door-to-Door to Mouse-to-Mouse:  Converting Donors to Fundraisers One Click at a Time

     The tragedy of September 11, 2001, changed our world in many ways. It made us question why a helicopter was flying overhead. It gave us new government organizations like Homeland Security. And it forever changed the way we think about the safety and security of the United States. But perhaps the least touted change in the world, yet the most important to nonprofit organizations, is the impact of 9/11 on the way we use the Internet for fundraising.

     With every natural disaster since 9/11, in addition to the last two presidential campaigns, technology and the use of the Internet as a fundraising tool has evolved to bring nonprofits and individuals new and more effective ways to leverage the medium to raise money. One particular technique that has been gaining momentum over the last five years is an Internet based tactic being referred to as “personal fundraising.” Using the Internet as a conduit of “personal fundraising” may seem counter intuitive but it causes us to question, what exactly is personal fundraising and how does it differ from other fundraising techniques? And what has happened in the 21st Century to change personal fundraising from door-to-door solicitations to sophisticated online networking with no limitations in terms of reach and availability?

     Let’s acknowledge; however, that even though new technology is adding convenience, reach, and faster execution, the principle of personal fundraising has been around for decades. People have been at the task of personal fundraising for over a century in this country. And those are just the accounts that have been on a scale large enough to make their way into the history books and transcend into modern culture.

     Perhaps the most well-known of all personal fundraising activities is the nostalgic and well-known sale of Girl Scout Cookies. Dating back to 1917, young girls under the technical supervision of their mothers, started baking cookies in their ovens at home and selling them in order to raise money for their local Girl Scout troops. The motivation for these purchases came from the desire to help out the cute kid next door, the guilt associated with saying no, or the irresistible good taste of Do-Si-Dos and Tag-Alongs.

     The new reality is today’s donors are no longer just “check writers” who stand on the sidelines. They are increasingly Internet savvy and desire to be more engaged with the organizations they support. The Internet is leveling the playing field1  and allowing nonprofit organizations of all sizes to build and strengthen their relationships. Internet trends have changed the dynamic of organizational-public relationships. The digital world has changed communication within organizations and between organizations and their various publics.2

The Definition of Personal Fundraising

     First, you are probably thinking, isn’t fundraising usually based on a personal ask — most likely from someone that you know or that your organization has a relationship with — so in fact isn’t most fundraising, personal fundraising? This question is best answered with a definition of personal fundraising in the context of the Internet. Personal Fundraising, sometimes referred to as peer-to peer fundraising and considered part of the Web 2.0, is when an individual who does not work for the organization uses a mechanism for their friends, family members, colleagues, and their friends’ friends, family members’ friends, and so on, to give to a cause that is meaningful to that individual. The person making the donation may have no significant or direct relationship to the organization. Therefore the reason that the donor made the gift was simply because their “personal connection” asked them to, or made it an option for a situation where a gift was in order such as a birthday, wedding, or significant occasion in the person’s life.

     The mechanism for giving is a webpage that the individual sets up and then directs all of their friends to via eblasts, Facebook, and other outreach strategies. The page most often has a thermometer or some other donation-tracking instrument that shows the goal, and how much money has been raised to date. The bells and whistles available often depend on how the host organization has set up the technology, which Internet software provider they are using, how extensive the personal fundraiser’s Internet skills are, and how much time and interest they have to dedicate to the cause. Some organizations have beautiful templates that the individual is able to customize with just a few clicks of the mouse. Overall, the technology is keeping up with the trend and almost anyone is capable of having a personal fundraising page that is uniquely their own. Some of the most well known examples include the “World Wide Web-ly” famous presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 to the fastest growing area in personal fundraising — personal pages — exemplified by Team Fox created by the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

     Beyond charities’ own abilities to connect to people, they are providing people with new and innovative ways to become champions for their causes. From hula-hoop-athons to hotdog eating contests, the sky is the limit in terms of creativity in the types of events that individuals can come up with to support their charities.

Peer-to-Peer Fundraising-Building Online Communities One Click at Time

     In December 2009, the world population was 6,767,805,208. Out of that estimated total, 1,802,330,457 were online, representing 26.6% of the world’s population. Equally, if not more significant to this statistic, is the growth of the Internet at a stunning 399.3% between 2000-2009.3  The Internet is exploding at a rate that statistical analysts can hardly keep up with.

     Charities across the world are now realizing that a web site alone is no longer enough to keep up with the growing population. Features such as transactional efficiencies, the superiority and security of Web-based donation forms, the 24/7 ability to give, and the beauty of the e-receipted transaction brought about due to the Internet are conversations of the past.

     Although some organizations have seen donation growth rates at percentages that almost mirror the growth of the Internet4 , a donate button is not enough to ensure online giving. The Internet is not only growing rapidly, it is evolving and changing rapidly as well. Time magazine named the 2006 Person of the Year, “You.” The visual on the cover was not a picture of a face or even a finger pointing out from the shelves; it was a computer screen with the word You, bold and in the middle of the screen and the subhead underneath that said, “Yes, you. You control the Information Age. Welcome to your world.” “You” have the ability to spread content via numerous channels including YouTube, Facebook, blogs, Flickr and Twitter faster than the media can pass information along to you. In the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Obama supporters received “tweets” that their candidate had won before the media could report the news.

     To be successful in the Web 2.0 world, nonprofit leaders must embrace the individual “you” and all of the power that an individual has at his or her fingertips. If they don’t relinquish some of the control to their supporters they will become extinct as quickly as the VCR or the typewriter.5  

     Being open to new tools and ideas will help expand fundraising opportunities on the Web. The movement to keep learning through experimentation with new technologies is important. Donors of all ages and walks of life are becoming increasingly Web savvy and nonprofits cannot afford to miss a beat or they will find themselves being left behind on the dusty shelf with 8-track tapes, cassettes, and even CDs!

1 Springston/IABC PRSA survey cited in Taylor et al. 2001, p. 267
2 Cutlip, Center and Broom (2000), p.285
3 http://internetworldstats.com/stats.htm
4 Ted Hart. People to People Fundraising, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities. page 55, 2007
5 Mariel Bird. Fox News. Gadget Graveyard: 10 Technologies About to Go Extinct, April 15, 2009


Wyndy Wilder Sloan

M.S. in Fundraising and Grantmaking 2010

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