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Click Through to Change the World

By Tom Watson on July 17, 2008No Comment

First, a crash course: Web 2.0 describes the trend in using World Wide Web technology and web design that aims to enhance creativity and information sharing.  The most remarkable improvement was its collaboration among users in the social media arena.  Content in social media now takes the form of text, graphics, audio or video.  The concept of “social networking” grew from this space and has a number of characteristics that make it fundamentally different from traditional media, such as newspapers, television, books and radio.  Social networking, by definition, primarily relies on interactions between people.  This outlet for freedom of speech had a viral effect as websites developed user-friendly spaces for personal information sharing online, more broadly recognized to the public as blogsites, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube. 

What can we learn from the development of Web 2.0? How does this all translate into the business of fundraising and philanthropy, and how can we adapt to the trend?

A first finding: Despite popular belief, cutting-edge web technology is no longer solely the domain of the young.  More and more, we’re seeing a transition to web-culture where people are spending an average of 18 hours a day online.  And what used to be sites primarily dominated by Generation Y, e.g. Facebook, have now extended their reach to include adult populations. 

Another reality: email isn’t what it used to be.  According to The Convio Online Marketing Nonprofit Benchmarking Index Study (March 2008), monthly website traffic to nonprofit websites grew by 11%, total online giving grew by 26% and the average gift made online grew from $61 to $87.  But digging deeper reveals another side to the story.  Contradictory to those growth figures is the fact that email appeal open rates dropped from 22% to 14% with a 2% click-through rate, and a .07% response rate.  This information is telling nonprofits it is imperative to modify their communication approaches quickly. 

And some are.  With the introduction of Web 2.0, organizations have been capitalizing on social networks to build communication strategies and their bases for support.  In fact, paralleling this development, Facebook Causes has raised $2.5 million for nonprofits and YouTube has launched a nonprofit outreach initiative to broadcast your cause.  Take Facebook Causes, for example; the application has created a forum for expression where users can list the charities they support and blanket it out to all their friends, oftentimes providing a link to the charity website with a very accessible way for friends to donate and get to know your charity of choice. 

YouTube is another mode that has allowed a different means of expression, utilizing video and audio to portray messages.  Upload a video to your MySpace page or blogsite, or include it as part of an overall communication strategy for your nonprofit website, and you have instantaneously brought in users’ attention to your charity’s mission.  

In the corporate sector, the interactive approach has woven nicely into the world of cause marketing.  As companies build their cause marketing platforms, there are increasing opportunities to use digital and social media to promote philanthropic efforts.  Take, for example, American Express and its recent work in promoting the second year of its Members Project; the Project is an interactive effort enabling and empowering card members to come online to change the world.  Card members are encouraged to submit project ideas, and each project is opened up to anyone interested in voting online to decide which nonprofit project American Express should support. 

The Members Project received many kudos for its integrative use of the internet, incorporating multiple elements of Web 2.0, e.g. blogsites and the Facebook Causes application, into a clear and compelling platform to put ideas into action using a democratic forum.  Social networking took a course of its own, and naturally evolved to help shape the marketing success of this campaign; members submitting projects online wanted theirs to gain recognition, thus promoting it on their own blogsites and through their Facebook Causes applications to create inspiration.  The reach of the campaign in its first year is visible in the numbers: more than 9,000 projects were submitted online and of these, 8,000 were posted on the submitters’ personal sites.  In addition, more than 180,000 people submitted their votes for the projects online, with more than 1.5 million unique visitors actively revisiting the site to participate in the rollout of this campaign. 

Even at this early stage in the implementation of year two, success is evident.  Some of this is owed to the company’s meticulous review of its first year campaign; American Express took the comments made on social networks online from that campaign and used them to make improvements.  In addition to engaging consumers, they’ve also immersed themselves on the blogs where conversations are occurring, using the information to re-shape the Project platform for year two. 

Through this informative feedback, they created an interactive approach in teaching voters how to use their sites to build awareness.  To promote this, they’ve developed an online project planning toolkit and timeline to guide users – a clever way to utilize the internet in a twofold manner, as a medium to generate cyclical feedback and a way to endorse their campaign.  Said Belinda Lang, Vice President of Consumer Marketing Strategy at American Express, “there is always competition for getting the attention of consumers, and social networking is one way to get customers engaged.” 

The movement of technology to Web 2.0 has provided us with a crucial opportunity and given us a tool to maximize the way we approach our philanthropic efforts vis-à-vis social networks.  The future of fundraising and philanthropy will be on the web.  Click through to find your cause and change the world.  In the meantime, let us know how your organization is harnessing new media to create social impact.

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