#SMW12: The Secret Sauce to Social Media Fundraising by #Give2Max


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).

Is it time to nix your annual appeal and just send out a tweet? Not necessarily. Geoff Livingston of Razoo Foundation argued that social media can be integrated into a nonprofit organization’s annual giving campaign.  Razoo Foundation convinced The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (CFNCR) and United Way to organize a game-like fundraising initiative where, “If I only give $10, it makes a difference,” according to Livingston and his colleague Ifdy Perez.  The result was #give2max, a hashtag that flooded the inboxes and Twitter feeds of nonprofit organizations and their fans and followers across the #DMV (District, Maryland and Virginia region).

Give to the Max Day was a 24-hour online fundraising drive for nonprofit groups that served the D.C. area. It was first held on November 9, 2011. The next one is scheduled for Thursday, September 20, 2012. More than 1,000 organizations benefited in varying degrees, raising more than $2 million in donations. Social media outlets were essential in raising 25 percent of his group’s annual budget on that day, said panelist Reese Butler of the Kristin Brooks Hope Center. At the AARP on Thursday, February 16, Butler and staff from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, AARP and Razoo discussed "The Secret Sauce to Social Media Fundraising: DC’s Give to the Max Day Story."

I also got a chance to interview Perez separately about the ingredients for a successful social media-based fundraising contest.

1. Everyone’s a winner. “You don’t have to submit an RFP to compete. You don’t have to go through a long application process, and you don’t lose,” Perez said. She contrasted it to contests in which participants ask social media users to help them win a pot of money, where “there are only four awards and you’re done.” In Give to the Max, energy spent on social media was a direct appeal to donors.

Also, Razoo’s fees were only 2.9 percent of each donation to cover the bank's processing fees for credit card transactions. Audience member Kathy Healy said Razoo’s fees were low compared to those of similar service providers.

2. Time constraints. Having the event last only 24 hours was essential to getting donors excited about Give to the Max Day, said the Corcoran’s Jessica Hazlett, who was helping to raise money for a free youth program. The Kristin Brooks Hope Center's Butler said his organization's Facebook status updates asked everyone to hold off on making their donations to the virtual crisis center until 11:00 p.m., so that they could win the $1,000 award for that hour. And they did.

3. Multiple awards. 12th place and 44th place awards were meant to “keep people in the game,” Livingston said. The day also featured hourly awards, starting in the afternoon, when about 30 percent to 40 percent of the day’s giving occurred, according to Livingston. In addition to a one-to-one matching donation, Butler’s group rewarded individual donors with gifts: wristbands, a deck of designer playing cards, and a PostSecret book. The Corcoran segmented its faculty and staff into teams and enticed them with a free meal with an executive, as well as a $5,000 matching donation by its COO. Many of the Corcoran’s participants were faculty and staff.

4. Building community. Critical Exposure’s development staff Alison Hanold said she heard about the event through word of mouth and that it was hard to not know about the event if you worked in the local D.C. nonprofit scene.“The first thing that I did was put together a group of local bloggers,” to get the buy-in and input of the nonprofit tech community, Perez said. “Sincerely and genuinely, we really wanted this to be a community thing,” she added. She was proud when Shana Glickfield and Jill Foster hosted a “flash mob breakfast at Ben’s Chili Bowl on the morning of Give to the Max.”

Livingston recommended that organizations employ a “core street team” to reach out to supporters on Twitter and Facebook. For example, Butler said 95 percent of their donations came from friends asking friends, starting with their “main sponsor,” PostSecret’s Frank Warren.

Razoo partnered with the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington and others to reach out to nonprofits directly.

5. The right words.When planning a similar event, Perez taught AARP’s Jen Martin that phrases like "please donate," "help us," and "contribute" were turn-offs, according to Martin. Better phrases included "be a part of this" and "the cool kids are doing this," Martin said in an email interview.

On Give to the Max Day, Perez said she cheered contestants on via Twitter and even watched some nonprofits “team up.” She said she also blogged about stories of individual impact.

Livingston said he has lived in D.C., Maryland and Virginia for several years. As the event’s chief strategist, he enjoyed seeing Give to the Max Day bring the area’s nonprofits and residents together in a holistic “collective identity.”