March 19, 2012

Causes reinvents itself as a campaign center

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Polls, petitions, storytelling & more add up to robust feature set

Target audience: Nonprofits, foundations, NGOs, social enterprises, cause organizations, cause advocates.

Debra AskanaseLate last month I noticed that things looked different on Causes.com. The Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) began running a campaign to send 50 nonprofits to the Nonprofit Technology Conference, and the new layout and actions within Causes caught my eye. Causes features videos, commenting, sharing and full Facebook integration with the new Timeline. Causes looks and feels different from its previous iteration; it feels like a campaign center and no longer a Facebook add-on or a stand-alone online fundraising website.

The new Causes comes closer to fully engaging users and creating a campaign center than many other online fundraising platforms

Raising funds for a cause isn’t just about asking for money. Successful fundraising campaigns include storytelling elementspeer to peer fundraising, and a campaign center. Causes has all of these elements built into its new platform, including video integration, petitions, sharing elements, polls, and commenting features. While Causes is still intimately tied to, and perhaps overly reliant on, Facebook as its primary social media messaging channel, the latest Causes iteration comes closer to fully engaging users and creating a campaign center than many other online fundraising platforms.

Integrating polls, petitions, additional commenting features, and promoted storytelling elements could make Cause a serious contender as a robust online campaign site. There really aren’t any effective online petition platforms, and Causes’ new petitions features seems to be a smart move for the online petition space. I’m not advocating for eliminating the campaign from the website here, please note.  Rather, Causes could certainly be a viable primary online site where campaign engagement lives, for those nonprofits that cannot create micro-sites or campaign-specific websites.

I asked Susan Gordon, Director of Nonprofit Services, and Sydney Fleischer, Director of Community and Support, about the changes at Causes. They provided the answers below:

What was the motivation for changing the platform to allow additional actions?

Sydney Fleischer and Susan Gordon of Causes.

The huge upgrade of the design and tools on Causes comes from a commitment to be the best place to change the world through collective action.  We built off our strengths of Facebook integration and social promotion and launched a much wider suite of actions than joining a cause and donating. Organizers and nonprofits needed more from our platform so we focused on their campaigns, what’s creating offline impact, and released several new actions on the platform.  Plus, when Facebook announced at f8 last September that they were launching Custom Open Graph, we set out to build a set of tools that would enable people to take action in a social way, involving their friends and networks to come together and make meaningful change through our platform.

Please describe the platform’s new capabilities.

On Causes, organizers can create campaigns around online pledges, fundraising asks, share-your-story campaigns, polls, quiz questions, and recruitment drives. We’re adding an online petitions tool very soon. Each of these actions is free to create, appears as a beautiful and easy-to-understand page, and is sharable through our integration with Facebook’s Custom Open Graph.

How would you describe the newest iteration of Causes as opposed to the previous version?

The previous version of Causes looked very much like Facebook and was focused on being the best place to give online. The newest iteration has its own look and feel, is more streamlined and user-friendly and most importantly is now focused on being the best place for taking collective action.

How do the changes fit into any trends you are seeing in online fundraising?

The world is becoming more social every day and we’re seeing nonprofits try to utilize Facebook fan pages to grow their supporters. With Facebook’s Custom Open Graph, it’s now easier than ever to make fundraising go viral and I think nonprofits are trying to find a way to tap into that – and Causes is the best place to do so.

How will these changes affect the ability to raise funds through Causes?

We believe these changes will improve nonprofits’ ability to raise funds. As all good fundraisers know, there’s a ladder of engagement to create lifelong donors.  Now, Causes helps nonprofits bring individuals up that ladder – from joining a cause to taking a wide range of actions and then, eventually, to donating.  Plus, there will continue to be a give option right in the same place as all of these new actions which makes that transition particularly easy!  We’re planning to add more actions, redesign our home page experience and increase virality to ensure that Causes is and will be the best place to take meaningful and impactful collective action.

And by the way, there’s still time to donate to the NTC scholarship campaign!Debra Askanase works with nonprofits and businesses to create engagement strategies that move people to action. She is a social media strategist and partner in Socialbrite. Visit her profile page, see her Community Organizer 2.0 blog, follow her on Twitter, contact Debra by email or leave a comment.

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