Social media is arguably better suited to use by charities and other not-for-profits (NFPs) than it is by businesses. Using Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other social networks has enabled charities to educate and engage with donors and supporters in a way that simply would not have been possible before social media, raising awareness on a much wider-scale.

In terms of fundraising, social media allows a charity to benefit greatly from the explosion in event and peer-to-peer fundraising, with people sharing their fundraising events on social networks and reaching a vast and previously untapped audience for that cause. But are charities making the most of social media’s potential and why is YouTube and a more visual approach to social media becoming so popular?

The rise of YouTube

YouTube has of course been around for a number of years now, and has been used by brands to showcase video content for almost as long. But its use by charities had been much slower. Each year Blackbaud releases its State of the Not-For-Profit Industry (SONI) report, which looks at how charities approach fundraising, marketing and social media.

2014’s SONI report revealed that social media use by NFPs continues to grow with 96 per cent of organisations now using some form of social media to communicate with their supporters, up from 80 per cent in 2013. Facebook (88%) and Twitter (85%) were the most commonly used social media networks, but YouTube emerged as a highly used social channel this year, with almost half of respondents now using it.

Why should this be? It is partly because the barriers to producing good quality video are much lower than previously. Whereas other social networks only required an internet connection to get started (notwithstanding the need for a strategy, content and resource to manage that social presence thereafter!), YouTube needed a video camera, something to film and someone to edit it – it just felt like a bigger effort than Twitter or Facebook.

But the rise of smart phones, low cost video editing software and Vine has helped greatly, as has the realisation that charities need not have an Oscar-winning director on staff to produce impactful video content. A quick talking head from a charity CEO or a Vine showing how supporters’ efforts have helped, are easy to do and can be a powerful resource.

Involving supporters

2014 has also seen a significant rise in charities using their own supporters to record short videos or photographs around a theme, and then sharing the results with their own networks. It is easy to be cynical about such campaigns, like the ALS ice bucket challenge this summer. Many people were not aware of the cause they were supporting and participated only because they felt obliged to or wanted to join in the fun. But millions of people gained an awareness of motor neurone disease that they almost certainly didn’t have before. Additionally, from 29 July to 28 August this year ALS received $98.2m - compared with $2.7m donated during the same period in 2013. This is no bad thing and really maximises the reach of social media.

Other recent campaigns, such as the #nomakeupselfie saw similarly spectacular results, raising £8m for Cancer Research UK in six days at the start of 2014, which CRUK said will let it carry out 10 more clinical trials. The pressure to participate in such events can feel a little intrusive, but it is still easy enough to say no if someone isn’t comfortable doing something.

Don’t let it be a one-off

But perhaps the most important thing to consider for any charity embarking on a video campaign is to make sure it isn’t a one-off. The chance to raise awareness (and funds) directly is a powerful proposition, highlighting a cause and how it helps. But the ability to then use the data gleaned from social media to fundraise in a more targeted manner, is where social media adds true value to charities.

Social media provides charities with vast volumes of data on their supporters – where they live, what else they like, how old they are - all manner of information that will potentially help charities be more efficient and informed about its marketing and fundraising. So including an element of data capture should be a pre-requisite for any charity YouTube campaign.

Data in silo is of far less value to any organisation and should be integrated and used as part of a multichannel fundraising and marketing programme. Only this way can the true value from social media activity be unlocked for charities.


John Bird is General Manager, Peer-to-Peer at Blackbaud Europe, the not-for-profit software and services firm.

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