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Social Fundraising in a Virtual World: An Overview

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Kelly Velasquez-Hague Director of Content Marketing for OneCause

Virtual fundraising has become the new norm for nonprofits of all sizes practically overnight. Of course, this occurred partially out of necessity. With social distancing guidelines in place, in-person fundraising events have become extremely difficult, if not impossible, for nonprofits.

Recent challenges regarding the pandemic have definitely thrown curve balls to the nonprofit sector, but hopefully you’ve adapted strategies and found ways to keep your mission moving forward. Working remotely, for example, has probably already taught your organization smarter communication and workflow strategies. 

However, unlike the sudden need to work from home, the broader shift towards virtual engagement has been ongoing for a few years now. Digital engagement via social media, video content, and online campaigns have become increasingly central to nonprofits’ strategies. 

Social fundraising is a perfect example of a digital engagement strategy you were likely already exploring prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This style of fundraising empowers supporters to solicit donations or promote your campaigns on behalf of your organization, typically in the form of an ambassador campaign or peer-to-peer fundraising.

If you’ve already been practicing social fundraising, it’s likely helped to build a stronger, more resilient foundation to support your new virtual tactics. If your organization is new to social fundraising, there’s never been a better time to get started!

In this guide, we’ll walk through the essentials plus how you can adapt classic social fundraising techniques to our new virtual world. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • The benefits of social fundraising
  • Social fundraising in virtual settings
  • 5 ideas for empowering your social fundraisers

At OneCause, we specialize in virtual fundraising software and virtual fundraising event tools. We’ve helped hundreds of organizations successfully adapt their strategies for the new best practices of virtual fundraising events and campaigns, so we’ve seen which strategies are the most effective. Social fundraising is our favorite way to boost the results of any virtual undertaking, and it’s easier than ever to get started. Let’s dive in.

The Benefits of Social Fundraising

Social fundraising, whether via peer-to-peer or ambassador-style campaigns, has some major benefits for nonprofits. These benefits include:

  • Increased visibility for your campaign or event. With your volunteer fundraisers or ambassadors promoting your nonprofit to their own networks of friends and family, you get exposure to a much wider audience than you might’ve reached on your own.
  • The power of social proof. When a potential supporter sees that their friend or relative cares about your cause enough to fundraise on your behalf, they’re much more likely to get involved than if they encountered your campaign on their own.
  • Increased revenue and engagement. Wider visibility plus the power of social proof translates into increased revenue and engagement for your campaign or event. 
  • Strengthened relationships with key supporters. The active engagement encouraged by social fundraising strengthens relationships with your most dedicated supporters. Social fundraising lets them very directly contribute to your campaign in ways beyond simply making donations, creating deeper emotional bonds with your organization and mission.
  • Reinforced community and inclusion. The personal aspect of social fundraising is an excellent way to foster a stronger sense of community and inclusion around your organization. Amid recent and ongoing social justice movements, it’s important to let supporters know that you recognize and value all of their contributions to your work.

In general, social fundraising serves to ultimately make your nonprofit more responsive and in touch with your base of support. Increased revenue from campaigns is a definite plus, but so are the long-term relationships you build with supporters in the process.

In addition to these benefits, social fundraising is inherently well-suited to today’s fundraising environment. As campaigns that take place primarily on social media and over email, it’s easy to incorporate peer-to-peer and ambassador tactics into any new virtual campaigns or events that you’ve got coming up. We’ll walk through what this might look like in the next section.

Social Fundraising in Virtual Settings

We’ve mentioned the two general types of social fundraising: peer-to-peer campaigns and ambassador campaigns. Let’s review the general differences between each approach:

  • Peer-to-peer fundraising encompasses campaigns where supporters fundraise on your behalf. You might empower them to launch their own DIY-style fundraising pages whenever they feel inspired, or you might take a more structured approach and actively recruit social fundraisers to promote a single time-bound campaign. You might conduct peer-to-peer fundraising as a standalone online fundraising campaign or as the lead-up to a grand finale (in-person or virtual) event.
  • Ambassador campaigns are a more specific type of social fundraising. With this strategy, you very strategically recruit and empower well-connected supporters to serve as ambassadors to promote an upcoming event, typically a large event like a charity auction or annual gala. With structured fundraising and/or registration goals, your ambassadors spread the word about your event to generate more interest and engagement.

These two categories of social fundraising overlap slightly, but the main difference between them is the broader contexts in which you might deploy each approach. More general peer-to-peer fundraising is a great choice for any online fundraising campaign and pledge-based events like walkathons. Ambassador campaigns are at the next level in terms of strategy and structure, ideal for boosting engagement with more resource-intensive events. 

Both approaches can be extremely effective for your virtual campaigns and events. Here are a few common ways nonprofits might use social fundraising to boost their virtual efforts:

  • For more general online fundraising campaigns, you can allow supporters to launch their own donation pages or strategically attract those social fundraisers who are most likely to positively impact your campaign’s performance. 
  • For pledge-based campaigns like virtual walkathons or challenges, empowering participants with peer-to-peer fundraising pages makes it easier for them to promote your virtual event while collecting donations from friends and family.
  • For large-scale virtual events like auctions and galas, recruiting and training key participants can drive significant results in terms of registrations, donations, and pre-event engagement.

Depending on the specifics of your virtual fundraising efforts, employing social fundraising is a smart addition. If you’re planning a major virtual event or considering hosting one, we recommend incorporating an ambassador campaign into your strategy. Explore the OneCause guide to ambassador fundraising for a complete rundown of the process and how to get started.

5 Ideas for Empowering Your Social Fundraisers

As you lay out a strategy for your social fundraising campaign and begin recruiting the social fundraisers or ambassadors who’ll drive it forward, take time to consider how you’ll encourage and support them throughout the process.

Here are a few best practices for keeping your social fundraisers engaged and empowered:

  1. Contests and goals. Setting specific goals for your social fundraisers or ambassadors is essential for guiding their efforts and keeping up the energy of your campaign. Set ambitious but achievable goals for donations or event registrations to secure. Then, create challenges and contests to motivate your social fundraisers. To generate a little friendly competition, use gamification tools such as thermometers and leaderboards to track progress.
  2. Recognition. If you’re asking supporters to make a bigger impact on your campaign or event, make sure to recognize and celebrate their achievements! Offering special awards and perks to the winners of your challenges and contests is a great idea, but make sure every social fundraiser also feels appreciated. For virtual events that incorporate live-streamed elements, schedule some time to honor and thank your ambassadors for their contributions. 
  3. Strong event plans. If your social fundraising campaign is leading up to a major event like an auction, having strong, concrete event plans ready in advance will make your ambassadors’ jobs much easier. With access to your amazing auction item catalog and clear instructions for how your virtual auction will work, ambassadors will be able to more effectively promote and explain your event to potential attendees.
  4. Training and support. If you actively recruit peer-to-peer fundraisers or ambassadors for your event or campaign, make sure they don’t feel left on their own! Offer virtual training sessions or recorded videos explaining your campaign’s goals and communication best practices. For larger-scale campaigns, it’s a good idea to check-in on your ambassadors periodically to offer additional guidance and support as needed.
  5. Fundraising resources. In addition to training and guidance, be sure to provide your social fundraisers with additional resources to reference throughout the length of your campaign. Templates for emails and social media posts are great examples. Check out the OneCause template for auction donation requests to see the level of detail to aim for.

Underlying all of these techniques for empowering and motivating your social fundraisers, you’ll need the right tech. Software designed specifically for social fundraising will be your best bet for comprehensive support, data reporting, and gamification features. Ideally, your online fundraising or event planning software will include social fundraising features or options. 

For virtual auctions, look for software solutions designed specifically to support those types of events

Social fundraising has always been an effective way to reach and mobilize larger audiences for your campaigns and events. The recent widespread shift towards virtual fundraising and engagement means social fundraising methods have even more impactful roles to play for nonprofit organizations than ever before.

Depending on the specific details of your campaigns, events, or goals, you might approach social fundraising in a number of different ways. Taking a strategic approach to recruiting and empowering your volunteer fundraisers will always be your best bet, though. Best of luck, and happy fundraising!

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