What is the Future of Fundraising?

A special guest post from our friend Ehren Foss over @ helpattack.

Last month we took some time to plot the history of social media fundraising, and summarized our findings into 10 hard-won lessons of raising money on social networks. It’s relatively easy, with hindsight, to look into the past. But what about the future? What might happen in 2012, or 2015, as more organizations look to their online communities for additional support?

#1 Rewards for Sharing Content

It was tough not to use the biz-speak “incentivize” content in the headline, but this is a very important, and not well understood, part of online campaigns. When Ashton Kutcher donated $1 per MySpace follower to Habitat for Humanity in 2006, he was basically saying “If you follow me, I’ll reward you with the good feeling of knowing another $1 went to a cause you support.”


That basic model continues today – Southwest Airlines gave $1 per #SWAAFF hashtag, Pepto Bismol gave 8 Thanksgiving meals per retweet, and on HelpAttack! organizations like Progress Texas and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are using the Tweets of certain users to drive support.

I think we’re just scratching the surface. As the internet evolves, the cost and difficulty of tracking certain kinds of online actions continues to drop. Thanks to open data interfaces and great tools, we can easily count Flickr uploads, blog comments, YouTube uploads, online gaming achievements, every time someone opens an email or links to a certain URL.

  • What if an organization asked their supporters to write a blog post about how that organization has helped them, while a matching donor contributes $10 per blog post? Those people will probably link to the organization in their posts too, improving search engine rankings.
  • What if Occupy Wall Street, fighting for mainstream media attention and funds, had asked armchair supporters to give 1c, 5c, or 25c each time #OccupyWallStreet is mentioned on Twitter? As more people participate with donations, the incentive to use the hashtag increases, so more people use the tag, so more people hear about the campaign, and so on.
  • What if, instead of those weird, inspiration chain letter emails your aunt always sends you, you receive an email from her where she tells you she’s agreed to give $10 to an organization you support, only if you forward the email to 10 people you know, and they open it?

In these three examples, donations, or potential donations, are used to urge people to take certain actions online. When you those actions up, they can have huge benefits!

#2 Online Currencies

Currently, each organization, or third party tool, that handles your donation has a different donation infrastructure set up. Some use PayPal, some use Authorize.net, some use FirstGiving. This is why you have to enter your credit card again and again! Once you have your payment details stored, you can start using “Give Now” buttons (like Amazon’s One Click Shopping). These gateways also have different minimum donations, policies for tax deductions, currencies, and international policies. It’s confusing!

At some point, someone will figure out how to make this easier for donors worldwide. That someone, rather than being a donation company, will probably be Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google, BitCoin, or maybe even Weibo. Apple is notoriously stubborn on the issue, but at some point one of these companies will decide that the benefits of helping society, alongside those of cause marketing and corporate social responsibility, outweigh the benefits of collecting 30% of Facebook Credits or iTunes transactions going to a verified nonprofit or NGO.

Online currencies make it easier to give micro-donations, across borders, in creative ways that harness the social power of the internet. Start looking at the size of those communities versus the cost of implementing donations to your cause in that medium. Worth it yet? It will be.

#3 Respect Your Elders

old man grumbling ...
Billions of dollars of knowledge, infrastructure, study, and effort have gone into direct mail fundraising. The online medium is fundamentally different, but many of the lessons, techniques, and best practices apply in extremely similar ways.

Direct mail pieces are costly to produce: You need to design them, test them, print them, track them, and handle the responses. I think we’ll see more online “pieces” like Apps, Facebook tabs, and websites, that are more involved, costly, and higher quality than what we’ve seen so far, because organizations can invest what they would have spent on postage in a richer online experience.

The direct mail professionals who are retiring are an extremely valuable resource. They know that sometimes you have to spend money to make money, and they know how to track every last little detail. Go out for coffee and learn about the kinds of things you’ll be doing online in 5 years.

We aren’t the only ones guessing what might happen in the future of online fundraising, and remember that most pundits are wrong most of the time. What do you think will happen in the year 2017?