Nonprofits, Social Media, and the Gamification of Fundraising

Like organizations in all sectors of the economy, nonprofit organizations have delved into social media/networks over the past decade.  They have faced many of the same issues in these areas, such as “What sites work for us?” and “What is our social media identity?”  But nonprofits face their own unique challenges and opportunities in social media as compared to standard for-profit companies.  This project will explore a few of those, with an emphasis on the one that effects the organization most directly: fundraising.

An observation that I’ve made in following nonprofits is that they seem to be given a bit more leeway on the social media “rules” that most other companies are held to.   I wrote a blog a couple of months ago with recommendations to companies on Twitter best practices.  Rules that I came up with included “Give us some value” and “Give us a discussion.”  These are still important for nonprofits, but I would argue that they’re not as make-or-break as they are for other companies.  For example, if a company uses Twitter solely for blatantly marketing a product without giving their followers any other type of value, their social media strategy will fail.  But nonprofits are seen as having a more selfless aim, and thus people seem to be willing to listen even if all they’re doing is blatantly marketing themselves and their goals.  However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way to do things.  I’m sure many of us have gotten tweets or even e-mails (how passé!) from the Clinton Global Initiative with offers to win a dinner with Bill Clinton or Chelsea.  The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation does even better in the “Give us some value” department with their Twitter feed.  They often tweet out links to webinars and videos of talks related to the areas of work that they do, or pictures from developing countries where they’re doing work.  This is all content that their followers would find valuable, and does a great job of tying people in to their feed.  It’s one of my favorites to follow.

Another benefit that nonprofits find on social media, and one of the most obvious, is that it presents something of a level playing field in terms of getting their message out.  Social media sites are usually free to use, so used wisely, they can be a great alternative to paid marketing where nonprofits often face a disadvantage.  But this leads me to wonder: does any of this lead to fundraising?  This benefit can be difficult to quantify, so Blackbaud, Inc., the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) and Common Knowledge last month released a report that attempted to do just that.  They surveyed over 3,500 nonprofits in this 4th annual edition of the report to gather information on many aspects of their social media use. [i]

The first observation I’ll make is that even though social media is free to use, there are still costs for an organization when it comes to gaining influence.  The nonprofits surveyed report that on average, it costs them about $3.50 to gain a Facebook like, and $2.05 to gain a Twitter follower.[ii]  This could include costs such as social media personnel, original content, and the like.  Organizations also claimed, however, to incur serious value from this influence.  Looking at Facebook likes in particular, the organizations claimed that after 12 months, the value of one Facebook like was on average $214.81!  It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the organizations get a Facebook like and have $215 extra on the books in a year.  That value could come from a number of sources such as costs saved that otherwise would have gone to traditional advertising, or even just awareness of the organization and its mission, which for many nonprofits is half the battle.  But do these numbers reflect fundraising?

Not really.  Before researching this project I would have assumed that nonprofits on social media would be primarily concerned with fundraising, but not only do these particular numbers not reflect direct fundraising, most nonprofits aren’t using social media for fundraising of any kind.  The chart below illustrates responses to the question “Which of the following best describes the role or purpose of your commercial social networking community/ies? Select all that apply.”[iii]  Marketing is far and away the most common answer that the organizations listed at 93%, with Fundraising coming in a distant second at just 55%.  But the important thing to note is that the question asked “select all that apply.”  That means that 45% of organizations didn’t see fundraising as a purpose of their social media use in any way.  This is far from what I would have expected.

If that statistic was striking to me, this next one was unbelievable.  In the table below, organizations were asked “Are you fundraising – directly soliciting donations or memberships – on each commercial social network?”  Overwhelmingly, for each social media platform, the answer is “Not Fundraising.”  Twitter has the lowest number that report not fundraising, and it’s still at 83%.

This all leads to one of the biggest disadvantages that nonprofits face in social media (and in regular media, really).  If a for-profit company effectively gets their message out there via Twitter, it will probably lead to their desired result: more sales.  But if a nonprofit effectively gets their message out it may lead to more awareness, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to their desired end result: more fundraising.  This is because where consumers are buying a product, it’s easy for them to see “what’s in it for me?”  That’s far less clear in deciding to donate to a nonprofit.  The consumer lacks that incentive to part with their money.

So in general, it looks like most nonprofits haven’t figured out how to effectively fundraise on social media.  But there are some success stories, and their tactics seem to be pointing in a common direction for fundraising best practices.

Kintera is a service that has been around for years now, and I have used it personally many times in fundraising for the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. [iv]  It’s a platform that I hadn’t associated with social media before this research, but it allows individuals to start a personal profile listing their goals, raise money directly to that site, and even form team pages where groups can combine their efforts for a single event such as a walk or ride for a particular disease.  It also gives a simple platform to link to in other social media (I’ve used both Facebook and Twitter) and solicit donations from contacts there.  These types of events have always incorporated the genius of crowdsourcing by convincing participants to do their fundraising for them, but platforms like Kintera really go a step further by leveraging the participants’ networks, who in turn could forward the link, and on and on.  It beats the pants off of passing around a sign-up sheet at the office.

Interestingly, Kintera was acquired in 2008 by Blackbaud Inc., one of the main architects of the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report referenced above.[v]

***Update*** On May 7, 2012 Blackbaud also announced that it had completed an acquisition of its competitor Convio Inc., a “leading provider of on-demand constituent engagement solutions” such as online social marketing.[vi]  As of this writing, Blackbaud has spent roughly $755 million in the recent acquisitions of Target Analytics, Kintera, eTapestry and Convio.[vii]  It would appear that Blackbaud is attempting to strengthen their offerings in social marketing and social media, as their current offering, Blackbaud Social, seems to focus more on in-house social networks with limited outreach to Facebook and Twitter.[viii]

While Blackbaud is acquiring its way into being the one stop overall solution center for nonprofits, Razoo is a more focused organization that is currently at the forefront of social giving and fundraising.  Like Kintera it offers fundraisers (both organizations and individuals) a platform for soliciting donations with their “Donation Widget,” but Razoo takes things further, and decidedly more social.  They enable fundraising on the Donation Widget, but also fundraising directly from your Facebook page, which 98% of nonprofits currently don’t do at all according to Blackbaud’s own Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report.iii

Razoo goes even further than this however, and I believe that their most important contribution is in novel methods of organizing supporters and creating incentives.  I mentioned above how nonprofits face a real challenge in creating incentives for people to donate to their organizations.  It’s difficult to influence people’s behavior when they can’t see “what’s in it for me?”  The WIIFM in donating to a nonprofit is usually pretty vague, and it has to do with a feeling of social responsibility and feeling good about helping others.  But outside of a small number of very socially conscious people, it’s a difficult task to create that feeling, and thus an incentive to give.


In Seth Priebatsch’s talk, “The Game Layer on Top of the World,” he talks about how gaming dynamics can be used to influence behavior and create incentives that aren’t necessarily tied to someone’s obvious and immediate self interests besides the rather primal feeling of gratification that games tend to give.[ix]  Razoo is currently involved in the gamification of nonprofit fundraising, and it has the possibility to create incentives, or the WIIFM that nonprofits have struggled to create for years.  Priebatsch describes four gaming dynamics that can be powerful influencers of behavior.

Appointment Dynamic:

You just have to show up in the right place at the right time to win.  Examples are happy hour, watering crops in Farmville, and he brings up potential uses such as influencing people to take their medicine at the right times.

Influence and Status:

In these games, certain behavior or attributes are viewed as imparting a higher status.  Examples include platinum or black credit cards, and certain armor or medals in video games.

Progression Dynamic:

This is where success is displayed and measured throughout a process to influence the completion of certain tasks.  The example given is the LinkedIn profile completion status bar.

Communal Discovery:

This dynamic requires that everyone work together to achieve some task or solve a problem.  An example is the DARPA balloon challenge, in which participants offered shares of the reward and created a nationwide network to find the hidden balloons all over the country.ix

Razoo has planned a competitive giving event that they’re calling “Twive and Receive”.  On June 14, 2012, this is a 24 hour event challenges groups from different cities to raise money for their favorite local nonprofits.[x]  The teams will compete to see who can raise the most money for their chosen nonprofit, and who will claim a share of the $30,000 prize pool for the top three teams ($15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 respectively).  It’s up to the leaders of each team to leverage their social media influence to fundraise directly online (mostly on Twitter, but also on Facebook and even blogs and Pinterest).

This nation-wide contest is a big step up from Razoo’s previous effort based solely in Washington D.C., “Give to the Max Day,” in which competitors in that city alone raised over $2 Million.[xi]  Based on that evidence alone, I would expect Twive and Receive to be a huge success, but it also brilliantly leverages the gaming dynamics that Seth Priebatsch discussed in his TED talk.  For example, the competition is only 24 hours, so you can’t win unless you show up at the exact right time.  There’s even a clock on Razoo’s website counting down to the start of the game.  This is a clear example of the Appointment Dynamic.

The competition cleverly makes teams form within individual cities.  This creates community pride and fosters a desire to see your city rise above the rest, leveraging the Influence and Status Dynamic.

To take advantage of the Progression Dynamic, Razoo has created a smart phone app that allows you to check your individual and team fundraising totals.  These thermometer type indicators have the same effect as the LinkedIn progress bar, telling you that there is a goal, and you’re almost there, and encouraging more fundraising.

Communal Discovery is the clearest, and possibly the most powerful dynamic used in Twive and Receive.  The competition has given participants months to get creative and create an online community that’s ready to flood the fundraising gates as soon as the hour arrives on June 14.  Similar to the idea behind the DARPA Balloon Challenge, they’re throwing a challenge out there and allowing crowdsourcing to figure out the best ways to fundraise through social media.

Besides the obvious benefits to the nonprofits, I believe that the best outcome of the competition will be the solutions that savvy competitors from across the country devise to more effectively fundraise through social media channels.  It’s unfortunate that this project is due before the competition, because the results would make an interesting project in themselves.  Is gamification the holy grail of fundraising?  Will the 5th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report show vastly different social media fundraising numbers based on innovations like this?  I believe that they will.  Maybe next year’s numbers won’t be quite earth shattering, but I expect that the rate of fundraising through social media will grow exponentially in the next decade.  If I could sum it up better than Seth Priebatsch did, I would.  But if you can’t say it better, use the quote, “Last decade was the decade of social. This next decade is the decade of games. We use game dynamics to build on it… We can influence behavior.  It is very powerful.  It is very exciting.  Let’s all build it together, let’s do it well and have fun playing.”ix


[i] “Nonprofit Investment in Social Networks and Membership Continue to Grow” Market Watch, The Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2012

[ii] Barry, Frank “2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report [INFOGRAPHIC]” Net Wits Think Tank, Blackbaud, April 3, 2012

[iii] “4th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report” ©2012 Common Knowledge,

[iv] 2012 Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, website by Kintera

[v] Hall, Holly “Blackbaud Software Company Buys a Struggling Competitor” The Chronicle of Philanthropy May 29, 2008

[vi] “Blackbaud Completes Acquisition of Convio” press release from Blackbaud inc. vie Market Watch, The Wall St. Journal;  May 7, 2012

[vii] “Blackbaud and Convio Now Operating As One” The Non Profit Times May 7, 2012

[viii] “Blackbaud Social > Overview” Blackbaud inc.

[ix] Priebatsch, Seth “The Game Layer on Top of the World” TEDx – Boston, MA July 2010

[x] “Twive and Receive 2012” Razoo Giving,

[xi] Mueller, Ken “Non-profits and Social Media: Fundraising Campaigns Where Everyone Wins” Business 2 Community March 31, 2012


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