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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Building your Donor base on Facebook - The Nature Conservancy's experience.

There's been a lot of excitement in the last year about social networking in general, and about Facebook in particular. And a lot of talk about the value of social networking for non-profits. But is there really a return on investment for non-profit participation on these sites?

Here's a success story. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a 501(c)3 organization that works in the U.S. and over 30 other countries to protect ecologically important lands and waters. Using tools readily available on Facebook, the organization has raised almost $48,000 in the first six months of their social-networking effort. They did this by creating a Cause and a Fan Page for the org, and by forming a relationship with an ecology oriented game on Facebook, (lil) Green Patch. Six months later the (lil) Green Patch application is one of the most popular on Facebook, with of 6 million users!

Jonathon Colman , TNC's Associate Director for Digital Marketing recently developed a slide presentation that summarizes the organization's experience using Facebook as a marketing tool.
You can find the presentation here. The slide presentation raised a number of questions in my mind, so I messaged Jonathon on Facebook and we chatted about (lil) Green things.

Me - How did (lil) Green Patch come about? Was TNC involved in the creation of lil green patch or was it already on line when you formed your relationship with it?

Jonathon - No, the Conservancy was not involved with the creation of (Lil) Green Patch. It was already on Facebook when we found it by doing a search on our name (hence my first recommendation to organizations seeking to use Facebook for marketing purposes).

At that point, (Lil) Green Patch already said that they were going to donate a share of their advertising revenue to the Conservancy, but had trouble connecting with the right people in our organization. I immediately wrote them and we started the conversation. From the very first conversation, we encouraged (Lil) Green Patch and other Facebook application developers to donate to us directly through our Facebook Facebook Cause.

Me - Can you explain the business model of the application? How does it make money for you?

Jonathon - The application is supported by advertising on the site. It's a share of their advertising revenue that's donated to the Conservancy's Cause at on a month-by-month basis, depending on the application's usage and ads impressed/clicked on. It tends to be somewhere between $6000-$9000/month.

Me - how can a consumer be sure an app actually is providing the social benefit it claims? The other day I got several messages in my inbox accusing another app (oceans-related) of not really having a relationship with any non-profit.

Jonathon - This is why we're asking (Lil) Green Patch and other Facebook applications like Stop Climate Change Now to donate to us directly via our Facebook Cause -- it provides a complete change of accountability to the application developers and to the Conservancy.

When an application donates via the Cause, it's very simple for everyone to see how much was donated: just visit the Cause and scroll down to the "Hall of Fame". You'll see that, to date, (Lil) Green Patch has given $44,650. Clicking on their name of the amount that they've donated yields a graphical chart containing the people that they've recruited and/or recent donations that they've made.

Me - So do you need to have folks on staff to oversee the maintenance and ongoing development of the app?

Jonathon - Not at all. The Conservancy is in no way involved with the ongoing maintenance nor development of (Lil) Green Patch. Anyone can participate in this process, actually - There's a discussion board and links to the developers' profiles off of the main application page where you can talk with other users and get in touch with the development team.

Me - This is all very exciting. But what skills do you think a non-profit needs to bring on board to develop a marketing program built on social media?

Jonathon - My team at the Conservancy has incredibly talented editors, producers, a designer, and even a project manager. I couldn't do anything without them. In terms of social media, I think that organizations need to find people who can bring the right balance of:
- Writing for the web (specifically writing for members)
- Engaging in search engine marketing and optimization;
- Marketing to verticals and other segments
- Researching marketing and communities
- Testing and documentation
- Recording metrics and interpretation of "actionable" data
- Taking the "long view" on building a social media program and not expecting success right away

The right person could come from a direct mail background or from a marketing communication background or even a business information/analytics background... They just need to have some intuition and be willing to fail a few time sin order to succeed. That said, my background is actually not in marketing, but in technical writing .

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Comments on "Building your Donor base on Facebook - The Nature Conservancy's experience."


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (July 14, 2008 at 10:35 AM) : 

that was very interesting I had no idea that TNC had collaborated with apps developers using causes for fundraising. that is a simple but brilliant idea.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (July 14, 2008 at 10:36 AM) : 

that is a simple but brilliant idea to join an app with cause to fund raise around an organization. Also interesting to see how the staffed the team to carry out the work.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (July 15, 2008 at 5:29 AM) : 

Thank you Michael, this is very interesting and might create some potential also for the organisation I work for.


Anonymous Anonymous said ... (September 3, 2008 at 4:11 PM) : 

Like the others have said this was a brilliant idea. Facebook and many other social networking sites ie. twitter, flickr, etc. provide great tools to reach out to your community. Those are pretty impressive numbers, especially the 6 million :) congrats.

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