August 5, 2009

Charity 2.0: How to address scaling and cause fatigue?

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Photo by Seerjith

Beth KanterCNET’s Caroline McCarthy published an article called “Crowded Roads Ahead for Charity 2.0” based on an interview with Toby Daniels of Think Social and Scott Harrison of charity:water reflecting on how the landscape has changed for fundraising on social networks. (Disclaimer:  I am on an advisory group for Think Social and I’m a huge fan of Scott Harrison, Twestival, and charity:water)

There’s great fodder for discussion from the ideas in the article.

Toby Daniels and Scott Harrison raised important questions about whether the approach used for Twestival back in Feburary 2009 — described as part fundraiser, party publicity blitz — is sustainable given the dramatic growth of Twitter and other social media outlets like Facebook. The article points out that many, many more organizations and individuals are using social networks to spread the word about their fundraising efforts and solicit donations from friends and this could lead to cause fatigue (as was discussed a few months ago on Social Edge).

As the Web is flooded with more and more charity initiatives, both large, well-established ones and new nonprofits created specifically with harnessing social media in mind, problems can arise. At best, donations could be spread too thin, rendering many organizations less effective.

Of more concern is the fact that the influx of charities and nonprofits to platforms like Facebook and Twitter could result in noise, congestion, and outright apathy. Spreading awareness of a good cause grows difficult when that good cause starts to seem like spam. If one tweet after another is seeking donations, people might just get fed up.

The CNET article goes on to point to the recent debate about the effectiveness of Facebook Causes ignited by a recent Washington Post article, which was described as an investigation despite the fact there were some inaccuracies in the article, later corrected. The article also describes some of charity:water’s challenges of scaling:

“They’re big in social media, but they’re small in the scheme of things, and their biggest problem now is scale,” Think Social’s Toby Daniels said. “You cannot scale a business, or any type of organization, if you don’t have infrastructure, and you don’t gain infrastructure by having a Twitter strategy or a Facebook strategy or anything. You need staff, you need operational resources, you need to have all your business systems in place.”

The article goes on to describe charity:water’s thinking about social media strategy in the future, including launching a web site that is a social network focused around charity:water itself. Harrison says he won’t be ditching the crowded social networks like Twitter, but creating more unique strategies.

Some reflections on this article:

  • Movement building around causes/issues versus brands is going to be more and more important. For example, consider some of the work that Planned Parenthood is doing as part of its social media strategy — especially their relationship building techniques and social content strategy.

  • It’s important to be in the more “crowded” places so your social networking presence on your own site doesn’t become an isolated silo.   It gets beyond a unique presence into building deeper engagement and building relationships. Brian Reich shared an excellent guest post about this last month.

  • The issue of scaling.   Nonprofits that are doing this work are involving the entire organization.  The Red Cross is a great example — they’re not only involving all staff and volunteers, but also their affiliates. I think it is going to be increasingly difficult for anyone single organization to cut through the noise — and important to think about working in networks or movements. We need to get away from the idea that one organization has to do it all — that working in networks of organizations — focused on overall issue is part of the future. This involves simplifying and focusing on core strenght — networking the rest of the instrastructure.

Given how the social media landscape has changed over the past few months, with the growth of Twitter and entrance of many more nonprofits and individuals fundraising through social networks, how does this influence or shape your organization’s social media strategy? How will you remain effective?

Cross-posted from Beth’s Blog

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Beth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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