Benevolent Media is an official blogging partner of Social Media Week in Washington, D.C. (#SMWWDC). To learn more about social media for social good events worldwide, read our Benevolent Guide to Social Media Week (#SMW12).
It all started with a fun bet.
Alli Houseworth, a social media strategist and the former communications and new media manager for Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, wanted to prove to her colleagues that you could actually raise money through social media.
In her talk for Social Media Week, "How One Microgiving Campaign Produced Macro Results," Houseworth walked the audience through "the story, the strategy and the aftermath" of her experimental marketing-turned-development campaign. "If you're here to learn about raising a million dollars through Facebook, then you should leave now," she cautioned the audience of about 20 fundraisers, marketers, communicators and other arts and nonprofit professionals. Instead, she talked about how one small campaign produced unanticipated results.
Before she began her talk, she divided the room into two groups—marketers and fundraisers—to mimic the real-world silos that exist in many organizations that are overworked, understaffed and underfunded.
"There tends to be a little bit of a war between Team Development and Team Marketing," she said.
For some people, the bet—dubbed the #socialmediabet—might have seemed like a no-brainer. But in this particular organization at the time, there was little buy-in about the fundraising value of social networks, particularly from then-Director of Development Tim Plant, who challenged Houseworth to prove herself.
Motivated by her "quest to embarrass" her friend and co-worker, Houseworth co-opted an existing fundraising campaign, "It’s Not the Size of the Gift," to raise $1,937 (the number of Woolly Mammoth's Facebook followers at the time) within 10 days. She could only promote the campaign over Facebook and Twitter. No emails, no phone calls, no in-person conversations. Only status updates and tweets.
Houseworth put out this creative call to action, in line with the theater company's tagline to "Defy Convention:"
Comrades! Help me in this quest to embarrass Tim, to prove to my theatre that social media works for all departments, and help us raise a bit of money to support this fabulous organization whose mission is to explore the edges of theatrical style and human experience, in everything we do. (Even in Tweets.)
SUCCESS vs. VALUE
Bottom line: It worked. Here are the final results (read the full close-out report on Woolly Mammoth's blog):
- 156 gifts were received for a total of $2,209, making the average gift $14.
- Gifts ranged form $1 to $100. (Note that it was not possible to donate just $1 on the custom website. One person emailed us complaining about this fact and made a $1 on the normal Woolly online donation page. Another gave $1 in cash.)
- Gifts were received from 23 states.
- In the last 24 hours, 74 gifts were received, accounting for 64% of all donors.
- Last-day gifts totaled $1,044, accounting for 47% of the income goal.
- The social media Size of the Gift campaign raised nearly twice as much money as everyone who participated in the regular Size of the Gift campaign combined.
Houseworth said she considers the campaign a success. And it was, considering the original intention to 1) reach a specific fundraising goal under the given parameters, and 2) "embarrass" (albeit light-heartedly) her colleague. In her blog post, Houseworth writes:
"We raised the money. Tim has a Twitter account. He publicly humiliated himself. The Woolly staff got behind an idea and had a ton of fun. We had a champagne toast, all of us, because it took all of us."
The campaign also raised the profile of the theater to a new audience, even getting mentioned in a blog post by social-media-for-social-good guru Beth Kanter, a moment that Houseworth called the "tipping point" of her outreach efforts.
Houseworth was also pleased with the fact that Woolly Mammoth staff were starting to spread their professional work through their personal social networks, to the point where "there was no need to control the message because everyone has something positive to say."
On the other hand, there were definitely some lessons learned.
Tim Plant, who ultimately lost the bet, shared his opinion about the "biggest failing":
"We weren't selling Woolly. It had nothing to do with our branding. People were giving who didn't know what our mission was...We had no next step for the vast majority of people who were giving."
Houseworth insists that Woolly was "selling the mission by doing the action." She conceded, however, that there were a lot of things she didn't think about when launching the campaign: How to acknowledge donors? What to do about not being able to receive international gifts? How to custom code the contacts and fundraising database? How to turn micro-givers into long-term donors?
After Houseworth's presentation, the Social Media Week audience continued a lively discussion about whether or not the campaign was actually successful. As one audience member tweeted, "Successful isn't the same as valuable."
The main take-away was this: If development and marketing people worked together to integrate this into a major campaign with emails and letters and asks and donor cultivation, then it could be amazingly successful.
Or as Houseworth said, pointing to her former Director of Development, "If I thought like a fundraiser, and he thought like a marketing person, it would be extraordinary."
CORRECTION, 2/17: A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to Tim Plant as Alli Houseworth's former boss. His correct relationship to her was Director of Development.