Raising money for non-profit organizations and charitable causes has always required a bit of salesmanship and a lot of creative thinking: charities not only have to pitch potential donors, and demonstrate the good that will come from their donation, but also create opportunities for giving that lower any perceived barriers. So, a fundraiser needs to convince that possible donor that s/he can afford to give, and can do so easily. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt if s/he can also offer some kind of recognition for contributing to a good cause.
The internet’s provided all sorts of opportunities to overcome these barriers with large numbers of people quickly… but many of those opportunities require recognizing the potential in the online medium, rather than simply trying to move older methods (think of those long-form donation letters) onto the web. Jan van Voorst (disclaimer: a friend, and former business partner at Green Options Media) has been finding ways to make smart use of the web as a fundraising vehicle longer than most: he founded Planetsave (now a part of Important Media) in 1999. Planetsave’s original mission involved creating ways for people to donate to environmental organizations by doing the kinds of things they’d do anyway online: for instance, a user could protect 5 square feet of rainforest just by sending email with Planetsave’s service.
While the web’s changed radically in the past twelve years, the desire to give easily hasn’t… and so Jan has moved back into the for-profit charitable fundraising realm with a new site: LikeitforGood.com. Recognizing the central role that social media now plays in web use, Like it for Good offers users the chance to donate to causes they support by sharing weekly campaigns on the site through services like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. Want to, for instance, protect coral reefs this week? Just give the post at Like it for Good a Facebook like, a Tweet, or a +1.
It’s an intriguing business and fundraising model, so last week, I sent Jan some questions about Like it for Good’s approach.
Jeff McIntire-Strasburg: When I first visited the site, my immediate reaction was “Oh, this is like the old ‘click to donate’ sites that were popular 5-10 years ago.” So, correct me… how is Like It for Good different?
Jan van Voorst: The concept is the same — a click equals a donation — however, the major difference is combining the old “click to donate” with viral aspect of social media. In this case, if you click and “like,” a post it is displayed in your Facebook news stream, giving all of your network the opportunity to click and make a free donation as well.
JM-S: This is a for-profit effort… how do you generate revenue?
JvV: I recruit sponsors/advertisers who are interested in being associated with helping causes, and bringing that association to the public eye. These sponsors/advertisers’ message is seen by thousands and thousands of people. They basically get to speak to thousands of people interested in making a difference. They pay a fee which covers the donation and my work.
JM-S: For years, you’ve made a living from giving people easy opportunities to raise money for/make donations to causes and charities important to them. I would guess that some users are adamant about knowing that these small actions really do support these causes. How do you ensure that users feel confident with your services, whether the old Planetsave email system or Like it for Good?
JvV: Those users probably are not my users. I have never felt that I had to prove myself and rarely have I been questioned. I always provide information and links back to the charities, all of which are hand-picked by me. I also have donation receipts, etc.
Furthermore I engage my users. When I owned and operated Planetsave, I published the content, participated in an active discussion forum, and answered email after email of user questions. The result was an active, loyal community. Likeitforgood.com will become a large base of loyal users due to social media networking. Friends and acquaintances are building this community, which is where the initial trust will come from. These social media forums provide tools for growth which were not available during the Planetsave years. Small actions in large numbers equal large actions.
JM-S: I’d also guess that you occasionally hear from people who don’t like the notion of for-profit fundraising. What are the advantages of your model? That is, can you argue that the charities and causes you support benefit from the fact that you’re doing this as a business rather than as a non-profit yourself?
JvV: Again, there is power in numbers. The charities benefit more as Likeitforgood.com grows. Currently the donations are small because the user base is relatively small; however, with this model, even a small user base has the opportunity to make a significant impact. Friends tell friends that tell other friends.
The charity also benefits from the visibility as a sponsor does. The opportunity for a charity to spread their message through social media outlets to people that will pay attention enough to click to support a cause is huge. And, don’t forget there is a different cause with each post, so as the user base grows, the charity is reaching out to a larger group of people that could potentially take on their cause.
JM-S: And, to continue the thought from that last question: what can non-profits learn from the for-profit sector? What can business (in general) do for environmental and social challenges that non-profits can’t (or, maybe, not as well).
JvV: For profit models play by much different rules. Non-profits would rule out many of the ways a for-profit can engage their base. I don’t want to make a blanket statement and say that this is true for all nonprofits, but from my experience, nonprofits don’t normally sell their products or services. For-profits, however, ask for money in an entirely different way: often selling a product or service to the customer. A non-profit often asks that the supporter give out of pocket for the greater good or the cause. I am using capitalism to move the masses to become charity supporters with out having to spend their own money. It is difficult for a non-profit to operate in this fashion.
I’ve been using Like It for Good for a little over a week now. It’s as easy as advertised, both in terms of “donating,” and getting the word out… if you use any of the social media sites mentioned above, you’re good to go. Give it a try, and then tell us what you think about the concept itself, the organizations with which Jan is working, or anything else that strikes you.