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I admit it.  The headline for this post is a tease used to get your attention.

The secret to raising money through social networking is that there is, of course, no secret.

Like offline fundraising, successful social media fundraising requires relationship – building, the development of a community of supporters.  Fundraising is hard work.  It is incredibly rewarding work, but work nonetheless. 

Attracted by what appear to be the lower costs and ease of access to new supporters offered by social media, many nonprofit fundraisers are looking to online fundraising to solve all their fundraising challenges.  But just as offline fundraising takes hard work, so does development success online.


Those nonprofits that are succeeding at social media fundraising know that all good fundraising is rooted in building strong relationships with your donors.  First, you need to get to know potential supporters and get them excited about your nonprofit’s work.  The most successful fundraisers will tell you that “there’s no kissing on the first date.”  Build a connection with a prospect first.   Ask for money only after you have properly introduced a potential supporter to your organization.

Allison Fine makes this point in her recent post “Social Media Fundraising Lessons”  , noting that “organizations that are focused on friends first, funds second are doing better with social media.”

When you are tweeting or posting to Facebook, don’t ask fans and followers to give to you or ask others to give if you haven’t first tried to build a connection with them around your mission.  People are following your organization because they care about the issue or cause you are addressing.  Use social media to share information about your nonprofit’s work.  Engage with your followers and fans, ask for their opinions, cater to their shared interest in your mission, and then ask them to spread the word. 


 In a recent post at Community Organizer 2.0 , Debra Askanase argues that social media fundraising “comes down to a combination of social media basics plus community organizing principles.”  

Community organizing generally involves some form of power analysis.  Organizers determine who in the community has the power to implement (or block) a community’s agenda.  Debra points to power analysis as a key community organizing principle to apply to online fundraising.

For success in online fundraising, a nonprofit needs to analyze the power and influence of its fans/followers.  The  2009 eNonprofit Benchmarks Study conducted by M&R Strategic Services and NTEN, found that the the top 7 percent of online action takers accounted for a full 31 percent of all online actions taken, and 39 percent of the activists were responsible for 71 percent of all actions. 

Those nonprofits that understand which of their followers are super-activists, which are inactive and which fall somewhere in between will be able to craft outreach strategies designed to work best with each group of fans.  The 2009 eNonprofits Benchmark study notes that “successful programs work to ensure that super-activists continue to be satisfied, while simultaneously cultivating less active subscribers to increase their activism.”


Finally, successful social media fundraising requires good planning.  I wrote about the importance of fundraising planning in general hereDon’t just set up shop on a social media channel and start posting content and asking for support.  First, think about the following planning questions:

What is your goal for using social media to fundraise?

Which online channels do the organization’s target audiences use most regularly?

What is your timeframe for the online campaign?  Never-ending fundraising may exhaust and chase away online supporters. 

What content  do you plan to share?  Can your supporters easily share your content with their followers? Do you make a clear and compelling case that giving to your organization will connect donors to the impact they hope to have on a cause important to them?

 Online fundraising may ultimately save time and money compared with some offline fundraising, but that does not mean that it requires no work.  No matter where it takes place — online or off — fundraising is hard work.