You would think that in this day and age of online everywhere and social media all the time, using the Internet to help raise funds for charities would be a big business. Nevertheless, it still is in its infancy, and while there are a number of applications that can help ordinary people collect money for various causes, none are close to being anywhere as good as they should be. And none of these tools can compare with a well-maintained email list for ease of use and to actually deliver results.
I should know: for the past several years, I do an annual bike or walking charity event where I raise several thousand dollars. Some of you have graciously donated regularly, year after year. Some of you have turned into becoming your own fundraisers, and I gladly support your efforts so in effect we are just passing back and forth a donation. And one of my side efforts is the site accidentalfundraiser.com, where I do podcasts with Carol Weisman, a professional speaker who consults to non-profits on fundraising, among other things.
So here is a brief lay of the Internet fundraising landscape. I welcome your comments; please post to my Strominator blog if you don't mind, so that others can see them.
First off you may not know what cause to support. You can start with change.org, which will search more than a million non-profits, or at least so they say on their site. Another site, Idealist.org, has volunteer opportunities, internships, and other programs that you can search too.
Once you find a cause, you want to start to build your network. There are a number of tools to do this, such as fundable.com and chipin.com. You type in some details, what your goal is and when you need it by, and they will collect funds and send to your PayPal account.
What you really need at this point is a list of email addresses of potential marks, I mean, donors. All of these tools can take just a plain text list, or if you want to get fancy and personalize with the names you can create a CSV file that matches their format.
In some cases, your charity may have already made arrangements and set up their own backoffice software donation system. This is the route that the majority of events that I have been part of, such as the Komen and Avon walkathons and the MS and JDRF bikeathons. The two bigger vendors in this space are: Kintera (which is owned by BlackBaud, a vendor with a lot of other donation management products that are used by professional fundraisers) and Convio. The latter is the better of the two tools, but both are cumbersome to import your address list and manage the emails that you send out and replies that you get. And once you get your donors imported in one system, you can't easily extract this information if you have to use another one for another cause.
I use a combination of an email list with an Excel spreadsheet that tracks the donations. It is easy to see who has donated when, and while it takes some work to maintain, it is quickly portable from one event to another.
Now you might ask what about social networks? If you search Facebook for the keywords charity, donation, or social cause, you will find hundreds of apps that can be used for this purpose. Most just have a few members, which doesn't inspire confidence. The two most well known are Facebook Causes and MySpace Impact. Both are more akin to portals that connect you to various causes and non-profits. If you are a big user of either network, you can start here and see where they take you.
Outside of these efforts, there are others that are rather offbeat, such as Save the Earth, with 35,000 members. They donate money to save rainforests for everyone that installs and plays their game. Another is SocialVibe.com, which allows users of various social networks to put a "badge" on their profile pages, where they can be sponsors and collect points that go towards charitable efforts. The more profile views you have, the more money gets donated to the charity of your choice. This summer they donated $100,000 to various causes. And a company called DankApps.com has developed several social cause apps for Facebook. These apps donate two cents for every new member that installs their app, along with a revenue sharing agreement to support charities to prevent child abuse and other causes. Another idea is care2.com, with close to 10 million members on its own social network and where you click on various causes to donate.
You would think the social networks are an ideal place to raise money. After all, you have developed a nice network of your 5,000 closest "friends" and why not start here soliciting donations from them? While the social networks should be all over this, the hard reality is it is still difficult to develop applications and harder still to manage your contacts, replies and donations. The net result is that most social network apps are clunky and hard to use, and this negates any of their potential viral effects.
What I have found is that the events that I participate in have their own viral nature: people hear about what you are doing and want to do more than just send you a check, so they get involved in an event in their town. Or they get drafted into joining a team, which has its own secondary effect. If you already support various charities, you are drawn to these efforts because a) you were already giving something anyway and b) you might as well support your friends and causes that you have some personal connection to.
What about some other efforts? I have been part of Kiva.org, which collects your money and uses it to make microloans to various people around the world. The money is gradually repaid, and then you can loan it out again, a sort of miniature version of Freddie Mac (well, maybe that isn't the best example, but you get the idea). You pick the project to loan to, and you can track their progress in terms of raising what they need and the repayments.
Then there is trusera.com, run by friends of friends of mine, where you
post videos supporting various charitable efforts and plus3network.com, where you can claim sponsors per mile of various personal athletic efforts to raise money for charities.
I have just hit the highlights here. Some other good suggestions for tools can be found here:
Good luck with your own social causes, and you'll be hearing from me next spring when I start up my fundraising effort for 2009.
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- David Strom
- David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.