Remember a few years ago when Facebook introduced the Causes application?  It seemed very exciting that you could at once show off the causes you supported and use the “social” part of social media to connect your friends.  Because of your support, the reach of non-profit organizations opened up in brand new ways.  The first being dollar signs.

But easy money isn’t that easy, and Causes ended up not raising as much money as the organizations using it would have liked.

What went wrong?  Were Facebook users just stingy?

In June, an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) report discussed the effectiveness of mobile technologies on fundraising for non-profit organizations.  The report found (not surprisingly) that 70% of organizations are interested in mobile technologies for fundraising.  Yet the report also showed that 50%* of non-profits engaged in this type of fundraising  were disappointed in their results. *(This was also the same percentage  in the prior year.)

What’s the reason?

The report and I’d say history (FB Causes, Jumo) show us that where these causes and organizations are falling short is in the actual engagement of donors and community.

Much of the guidance around social media today encourages nonprofits to “connect” with their supporters.  But the tactics of connecting are heavily one-side, organizations ask you to share their messaging, read their blog post, and attend their current events.  Even the advice of many non-profit social media experts to “share 5 of someone else’s news for every 1 of your own” isn’t engagement…it’s sharing five random things so you can get back to talking about yourself.  These have become the lowest common denominators in online communication in the sector. It’s fundraising, not engagement.

“Engagement of community” is bigger than fundraising.

It’s even bigger than a communication strategy.  It’s integral to the culture of the organization, and it is where many non-profits fall short.  In more than one conversation, I’ve heard the tales of organizational strains in the relationships between fund developers and their communications/marketing colleagues.  For online technologies to be properly employed, this is the first rift needing to be fixed.  If engagement is to be successful, then it needs to flow throughout the organization.

I’ve certainly been banging my “how does it feel” drum lately.  Since writing about Small Change Fund, I’d had a great chat with their Communication Director on how they are working to make their online experience even more connected to the individual projects and to help people engage their communities in supporting projects.   And two weeks ago, Kiva surprised me with their growth initiative – engaging current donors to bring on their friends by offering a free $25 to loan, some swag, and most importantly (to me), a pretty slick technological interface which blended social media with a bit of gamification.  The beauty in these examples is that there is experimentation of engagement at both the cause and the brand levels.

Engagement with cause, brand, and beyond.

In the shift towards true engagement, I see interesting opportunities for peer-to-peer giving (the ultimate engagement in my eyes).  One of the biggest challenges with the peer-to-peer concept is whether folks are ready to ask for help online.  I’ve been challenged on this a number of times and have challenged myself with the question as well.   In the mix of content on a Facebook wall that is pushed out by an organization, it would be a fascinating moment of engagement to see a request for help, an acknowledgement by the organization, and a fulfilling of the request all within the confines of the comments box.  The technology is already in place for this level of engagement to occur; we are waiting for the behavioral change of organizations.

If organizations can rethink their framework on what engagement means and push the boundaries of how they are engaging their communities, their efforts in online communication and mobile technologies are likely to really pay off.  And they will finally have a successful shot at fundraising.

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