Fundraising, Social Media & Social Capital?

When Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone came out in 2000, ‘social capital’ became a social sector buzz word. We realized that social capital was what allowed nonprofits to ask volunteers for their time, donors for their dollars and legislators for their support. The more you had, the more you could do.

With its potential for such goodness, we wondered: how does an organization generate social capital? We learned this equation:

Trust + Reciprocity = Social Capital

Generally speaking, honest, effective nonprofits garner high levels of trust. The stumbling block has been reciprocity. This is where social media comes in.

When social capital came on the scene, social media wasn’t yet on our radar. Our ability to reciprocate was limited and, often, expensive, which hampered our ability to generate significant amounts of social capital. But with social media, we can now give updates, newsflashes, and tantalizing tidbits of information to people who care about our cause and ask nothing in return. We can reciprocate with abandon!

For instance, if your organization is using the Beyond Cash Fundraising Dashboard created by Peter Drury of Splash, this gives you an easy, low-cost, low-resource way to dramatically increase your Non-Ask Ratio (i.e. the number of times you interact with a donor without asking for financial support). If you’re an organization that relies heavily on volunteers–e.g. EarthCorps or Habitat for Humanity–think of all the wonderful ways you now have to show how important they are to your organization.

There is much talk about how to use social media for fundraising. Here’s how: focus on its ability to generate social capital. Rather than thinking of Facebook as a vehicle for asking for donations, think of it as a way to shine a bright, joyful spotlight on the impact you’re having in the community so donors can see on a regular basis how–by working together with you–they are making the world a better place. Then when you do make an ask, they will be excited at the opportunity to give.

We may still be bowling alone. But social media offers the social sector a golden opportunity to usher in an era of e-bowling together.