An interesting take on the ROI of Social Media


I was preparing a presentation the other day when I came across this great video by Erik Qualman of Socialnomics, packed full of interesting statistics and insights relating to the growth of Social Media.

Now, I’m an avid reader of digital usage research as part of my job but the way Qualman presents the case for the importance of Social Media and what it means for consumer engagement really captured my attention and is well worth a look

A great soundtrack and lots of interesting nuggets – including one that particularly struck me (3.49 minutes into the 4.16 video):

A pretty challenging thought that – and one that I challenge you not to take seriously after you’ve watched the video!


Haiti one year on – the view from an online donor’s doormat

A year ago this month, along with millions of others world-wide, I donated online in response to the terrible earthquake that hit Haiti. However, rather than chose a single charity out of the wide range running appeals I decided to give £20 to each of the UK’s ten leading relief and development organisations to see just how the experience of being an online donor varied across the different brands.

And vary it certainly did. In some cases I was treated to truly engaging online updates on the way my donation was being used (particularly well done UNICEF and Oxfam), plus some fun and interesting new opportunities to engage (nice one ActionAid – for both your PoverTee day and Happy Bubble stuff!)

However, in other cases I’ve ended-up on the receiving-end of a seemingly endless series of direct mailings that might, at a push, appeal to my mum but frankly don’t do anything for me. I honestly don’t need a cardboard bookmark, or an Easter card, or a diary. I certainly didn’t need the twelve mailpacks that one charity has now sent me in less than twelve months – I’ll not say who you are, to spare your blushes, but you’re big and you should know better than just bunging a £20 online emergency donor into every cash appeal going!

To help illustrate the range of donor programmes I’ve ended-up on the receiving-end of, I’ve summarised the year’s online and offline communications in the following simple chart. It’s anonymised, but somewhere in there are each of the following: Oxfam, British Red Cross, Save the Children, Christian Aid, World Vision UK, Action Aid, Tearfund, CAFOD, UNICEF UK, and Plan International:

Now it’s not that I expect only to be communicated with online. Just because I subscribe to nice, fast broadband doesn’t mean that I’ve nailed-up my letterbox, and a few of the mailings I received were actually well targeted and effective. Like the three I’ve been sent by UNICEF: two about Haiti and one other emergency appeal. But I have to admit that I find few things more annoying than seeing a big A4 colour supporter magazine lying on my doormat, especially when it’s stuffed with irrelevant cross-sell materials like mail order catalogues. Having grown used to watching videos of the work I’ve helped fund and then clicking through to read the latest news in the project leader’s blog, an expensive looking magazine really doesn’t make me feel good about my donation – and don’t get me started on those raffle tickets!

Anyway, this is not intended to be a rant against charity mailings. I know first-hand just how wonderfully effective direct mail can be – when sent to the right people. I also know just how frustratingly ineffective email can be when you’re trying to generate donations – even from people who have started by donating to you online. However, what my experience over the last year has clearly highlighted is the vast difference in ways that ten charities, all essentially offering me much the same opportunity to change the world for the better, have chosen to develop a relationship following my first online donation.

So, from this unexpectedly diverse donor experience I’ve distilled a few key thoughts that anyone responsible for managing emergency online donor supporter journeys might just like to consider before the next disaster comes along:

  • Don’t immediately assume that emergency donors are particularly interested in your work beyond the emergency they’re responding to. They might be, or might grow to be over time. But in the first instance keep the focus of your communications on what you know to be their area of interest and only then see if you can get them to reveal what else they may be interested in hearing about. You might test emergency postal appeals, but don’t just mark them down for every mailing going in the vain hope that you might hit lucky. You just end-up looking wasteful and reducing the likelihood of them responding even when another emergency comes along
  • Do offer online donors the opportunity to receive their Supporter Updates or Newsletters electronically – and extend the same offer in every printed copy you send. It’ll save you print and postage and the engagement and response options are so much richer online anyway. However, I wouldn’t advise offering the opportunity to opt out of all postal communications – as well timed and targeted mail appeals can still work, even with hardened onliners like me
  • Do remember that many online donors are very willing to further their relationship with an organisation through some form of simple click-to-campaign advocacy action. But Don’t just hand over your emergency donors to your Campaigning team without ensuring that they have the opportunity to indicate whether they are interested in campaigning and/or opt-out of things they’re not interested in. One organisation in particular (again no name, but not the same as the bulk mailer chastised earlier) has an especially active Campaigns team who seem to delight in sending me emails about all sorts of things they are clearly very enthusiastic about – but who have never once stopped to ask me if I’m interested in what they do
  • Do consider how you might learn more about online donors at the point of their first gift and then use this information to guide their subsequent communications. Not necessarily through asking too many questions at the point of donation (although a strategically selected few might be useful) but simply through using your website tracking data more effectively. For example, one organisation I know has found that donors coming to them through Bing have a better repeat donation and upgrade profile than those from Google (I’m guessing because those who stick with Bing as the default on their IE browsers are perhaps older/less tech-savvy than the norm?)

Now, after an ‘interesting’ year on the receiving end of all of these donor communications I think it’s time for me to make a few calls – or preferably send a few emails – and see if I can get myself off some of these direct mail lists. It’ll certainly reduce the amount of recycling I have to do.

Great online advocacy and membership campaign by Amnesty in Norway

I’ve been meaning to mention this great campaign ever since I heard about it when I was over in Oslo for the Norwegian Direct Marketing Association’s @Norge Conference in November, but lots of fun client work and then the Christmas break has kind of got in the way of my blogging.

Anyway, better late than never…

Rather than me explain the campaign details, just sit back and watch the great video case study above and all will become clear… right from the thought process behind the campaign; through its clever use of offline promotion to drive website visits; to the wonderfully engaging online user experience and approach to capturing responses.

(Special Norwegian hat tip to @BeateSorum from the Norwegian Cancer Society for telling me all about it)

2009 email fundraising and advocacy benchmark report just released

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It’s May again, which means that the latest update of the annual M+R and NTEN eNonprofit Benchmarks Study has just been released.

The study, which provides cause-specific benchmarks across a range of email metrics is based on data from 32 US nonprofit organisations, but I’ve always found the results to be a good steer for European nonprofits too.

The headline take-out is that despite the recession most of the organisations taking part in the study saw their online fundraising up overall from 2007 to 2008, driven by more donors giving online but at lower average values than seen previously.

Beneath this overall trend is a wealth of data across both fundraising and advocacy activities that anyone involved in email communications is bound to find useful.

You can download a free copy of the 2009 report here.

The eNonprofit Benchmarks Study was first released in 2006, so it offers the potential to examine the latest data in the context of previous years to illustrate some multi-year trends. Unfortunately the latest report doesn’t provide much insight beyond the 2007 to 2008 comparisons, but you can still download the 2008 Report and also the 2006 Report (there wasn’t one in 2007) to look at the trends yourself.

Social Actions – open source microphilanthropy in action


Social Actions is a fantastic online initiative that aims to make it easier for people to make a real difference in the world, by essentially aggregating thousands of online microphilanthropic opportunities from over 50 different non-profits and other sources (at the last count) through one site with powerful search functionality.

However, what is really clever about the way that Social Actions works is that it is not just reliant on people visiting the site to search for opportunities to take actions they might be interested in. It can also ‘push’ action opportunities out to any other website through widgets that will present selected opportunities based on the specific content of the website in question. For example, there is one widget that can plug-in to any blog, identify the keywords of each blog post, and display related opportunities to take action. Now that is really smart thinking.

And that’s not the end of it. They are also harnessing the power of open source development through the provision of an open API that enables anyone to build an application utilising Social Actions’ aggregated data on microphilanthropic opportunities.

As I mentioned in my recent post about the new Kiva open API, the incredible power of this approach is that it offers the potential to massively increase the number of ways that people can engage with the opportunities on offer, and thereby the audience reach achieved, far faster than a single organisation could realistically achieve – by harnessing the creativity and technical abilities of enthusiastic developers right around the world.

To get the open source development ball rolling,  Social Actions launched a ‘Change the web challenge’ during March to get people to come-up with new tools to share the microphilanthropic actions on offer – with $10,000 in prizes up for grabs for the best ideas. The deadline for submissions is today and so far an incredible range of creative applications have been submitted. The top 20 finalists will be announced on April 13th and the winners announced at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference on April 28th.

There are several things that I especially like about the whole Social Actions initiative.

Firstly, the way in which it recognises and specifically works to meet the growing desire for people to be able to personally choose how they get involved with specific causes that interest them – in both financial and non-financial ways.

Secondly, because it goes out of its way to make making a difference easy for everyone. Not only through its aggregation of actions from a host of different sources, clever search functionality, and use of widgets to present specific, context-sensitive opportunities on other sites. But also by emphasising the massive impact that even the smallest action can have, if sufficient people are motivated to take it. Social Actions’ founder, Peter Deitz, defines Microphilanthropy as any small scale activity or gesture, facilitated by technology, that carries with it some intent to do good and has the effect of transforming communities for the better – which is a significant, and potentially very powerful, expansion on traditional thinking around online community fundraising.

Thirdly, the way in which they have so wholeheartedly embraced the whole open source philosophy – engaging the wider online community to help develop the tools with which they will subsequently take microphilanthropy action opportunities to countless more people.

If you haven’t visited their site before – then go and take a look, and have a think about what you might be able to learn from the way in which they are engaging with people online.

ActionAid promote Put People First G20 protest march with a Twitter-powered superhero


Development charity ActionAid took to the streets this week with a novel approach to publicise today’s ‘Put People First’ protest march through London, in the form of The MegaMouth – a megaphone-equipped superhero shouting-out slogans provided by the general public via SMS and Twitter.

Followed by a camera crew providing video updates to the ActionAid website and, and a Twitterer providing a live commentary, The MegaMouth has roamed the streets of London for the last week shouting-out submitted slogans about everything from climate change to anti-capitalism. Including a suitably arboreal contribution from The Woodland Trust’s Head of Campaigns (aka ‘EdWoodlandTrust’) with  “Hey G20 LEAF our planet alone, we’re SYCAMORE you lot doing nothing when WILLOW you listen?” and an ’80s-inspired “Obama Obama let’s have some drama: stop the bonuses, feed the world and give us more Bananarama.” from ‘Mel’.

Some folks didn’t quite seem to get the point of it all, as exemplified by the message “I love you Mum! Sorry I forgot mothers day.”! But in the main it’s a fun and distinctive way for ActionAid to get people talking about the issues surrounding the G20 meeting and an innovative use of Twitter to give people a voice in the debate.

With Twitter use quoted as growing by 1,689% from February 2008 to February 2009, some 1.8m UK sign-ups, and a growing understanding of the type of people using it, hopefully we’ll see a lot more such innovative applications of the technology over the coming months.

If you spot any, do let me know by leaving a comment below.

Is it time for fundraisers to take Twitter more seriously?


I must admit that when I first trialled the microblogging service Twitter a couple of years back, it was at a time when new Web 2.0 things were appearing so fast that unless an initial bit of play revealed an application for them beyond technical interest or geeky chic then I let them pass – and so it was for me with Twitter (and Jaiku, and the recently closed-down Pownce).

However, over the last year I’ve seen more and more examples of Twitter being used by nonprofits – and I even got twittered myself (not sure that’s the correct term) when speaking at the IFC over in Holland earlier this year. So I was wondering, perhaps it is time for those fundraisers who have to-date left the tweets to the early adopters with time on their hands to take twitter seriously as a potential addition to their digital toolkit?

Looking around the web, there is no doubt that a lot of organisations are making use of the service to share information with supporters. In the US, nonprofits like The American Red Cross (2,923 followers, 482 updates), Greenpeace USA (679 followers, 106 updates), The Humane Society (451 followers, 229 updates), and many more now use it to some degree.

And here in the UK several charities have also been testing it over the last year or so. Animal Welfare charity The Dogs Trust (438 followers and 688 updates) uses it to share information with supporters and other dog lovers on such things as its response to the Dangerous Dogs Act, and also to promote dogs requiring rehoming. Oxfam is using it too (462 followers and 102 updates), and Bullying UK launched a twitter-based campaign back in October (347 followers and 795 updates).

Beyond just digital updates, US charities registered with Network for Good can now also raise money through Tweet for Good, which allows Twitter users to make donations to an organisation or cause via a Tweet, and there are also a growing number of examples of organisations and individuals using Twitter to fundraise from their Twitter networks – with one of the latest being mentioned by Beth Kanter in her post ‘If Your Organisation Tweets it, will they donate?’.

It seems pretty clear that if you have a digitally-savvy audience then you can potentially enhance your supporter engagement programme with Twitter. Indeed, if you have the right type of content then the real-time, short-text nature of Twitter can make for a uniquely engaging and ‘authentic’ form of communication. As I write this, I’ve been following the activity of some Oxfam activists over at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan through their Twitter feed, and it really does work as a way to ‘connect’ me with their minute-by-minute activity.

However, the big question remains. When even an organisation the scale of the American Red Cross currently only has 2,923 Twitter ‘followers’, just how high should Twitter rank on the to-do list of fundraisers?

Well, quite possibly higher than you think.

Because the key thing to remember is what we don’t see when we check the number of followers the Red Cross has on Twitter is just how many people each of those has in their own wider personal networks, and just what that means in terms of amplifying the messages being sent to them.

Those 2,923 individuals are engaged enough to allow The Red Cross to broadcast information into their Twitter feeds whenever the organisation has something to say. This isn’t a case of worrying whether you can send one or two emails a week to a supporter. If you have something really important happening – like Oxfam’s activity at the Climate Change Conference – then you can broadcast updates every few minutes if necessary! And your ‘followers’ will read them because they are especially interested in the work that you do – and if you truly enthuse them then they will pass key messages on through their own networks when asked to – including requests for support.

Now, I’m not saying that this makes Twitter an easy way for charities to build new online communities of supporters and make money from them. It’s just as easy to block a Twitter feed as it is to become a follower – so if you abuse the trust that an individual has placed in you when they give you free reign to communicate with them through Twitter then they’ll be gone pretty fast.

However, if when you use it you abide by my oft-repeated mantra “The future of fundraising is to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in” then I believe Twitter could well have a growing role to play in your online fundraising programme.

For some initial guidance on best practice if you want to think more about the possible application of Twitter, then take a look at Sarah Marchetti’s post on the Ogilvy PR Blog (and thanks to Rick for pointing me there, via a Tweet).