Social Media ≠ Fundraising

This week a friend sent a link to an AP story — Is your Facebook ‘charity work’ doing any good? — focused on how nonprofits can’t expect social media/networking. This prompted one of my patented long-winded replies. I figured I’d share it with a broader audience here.

These articles alternatively amuse and frustrate me. They group all “social networking” together in one phrase, and then spend all their time talking about Facebook and annoying ad campaigns. Then the article is over 500 words later and you feel dumber for it — you have no idea what to do next.

To me, social networking is not a fundraising system or method. It’s part of an ecosystem of relationship management, co-creation and social participation. And there’s no “one way” or system or technology or platform to make it work for you. Moreover, not everything WILL work for you.

Consider… go back and read the article and wherever it talks about “social networking” substitute “direct mail.” Is anyone suggesting that direct mail, on its own, is the savior of fundraising operations? Does anyone propose that direct mail is a way to reach everyone you want to reach? Is it the only way to maintain a relationship?

We have a spectrum of tools available to us today that weren’t available 10 years ago and certainly not 20 years ago. It requires that we learn some new techniques along the way, but the baseline fundraising proposition must remain the same: “we do X (something good) for you and for the ‘community and we deserve your financial, emotional and public support, please help us and your fellow man.” That’s it.

What I would say about social networking is that it’s different from all prior fundraising technologies in one fundamental — and market-changing — way: It allows donors to find and talk to each other. Rather than being a one-to-many communications model, it’s many-to-many.

Just think about that for a bit. This offers tremendous upsides, but also tremendous downsides. If, for example, your nonprofit is not behaving well in the world (in the eyes of some donors), they can spark a revolution against your current leadership, strike out on their own to create a competing service and so on. Because they can find one another now, they can use the social networking fabric against you.

Scary? Well, yes. But so long as you behave in a way that’s engaging, open, supportive and so on in your public communications, tribe leadership and interactions, you likely have little to fear. The nonprofits that put old-school fundraisers on the social media bandwagon will regret it — because those folks will use it as a bullhorn / bully pulpit, and that will fail gloriously and publicly.

Social media is, more than anything else, a leveling of the playing field and the productive networking of a formerly passive audience. What happens next is up to the people that use it — both in the nonprofits and in the philanthropic community (which now includes tiny players, not just the rich).

Transparency, openness, honesty, creativity, fun, sociability, seriousness of purpose, and tribal leadership are required to make social media work for you / with you. Anything less and the results will likely be unpleasant.

"I'm in the Audience Business"

In addition to covering developments in the technology sector, This Week in Tech — the flagship of Leo Laporte’s podcasting network — often hosts guests directly participating in the media revolution that’s already in progress. And they often have illuminating conversations about what is and isn’t working in old and new media spaces, and in the spaces in between.

This week the conversation offered this little gem from Shira Lazar, a young pro in both new and old media (at time index 5:14):

“For me, I say I’m in the Audience Business.”

Bingo. This is the future for nearly all media (but not absolutely all). If you don’t have or can’t maintain control over media distribution in a 1-to-many distribution model, then you must learn to engage an audience.

This is also known as building and leading a Tribe.

Be sure to listen to TWiT 190 from about 3:20 to 13:00 for the complete old/new media and audience conversation. Plenty of relevant ideas for public media leaders.

Out of the mouths of (27 year old) babes

If you’re involved in public radio, this is required reading / listening.

Jesse Thorn, host of public radio’s The Sound of Young America (which is really a podcast that happens to be on a handful of 25+ public radio stations nationwide), speaks with Josuha Benton (Nieman Journalism Lab / Harvard) about his notions of creativity, business, media scale, public radio economics, audience interaction, passion, awesome content and more.

In particular, he nails the problems of the public radio industry today: the saturation of the older, educated white market and the industry’s pull back from attempts to stretch into new market segments with old formulas. He also keenly understands and explains the financial models in “the system.”

Because what Thorn proposes is that public media programs, hosts, writers, and others do is, well… make great content and directly interact with the audience that gels around the content and experience. He’s suggesting you build a Tribe.

Take a listen…

While listening, pay special attention to his observations about how he pays himself for his work, how he interacts with his audience, and how small-scale his show’s production model is. Also pay attention to how he thinks programs in the future will work — using mass media as “calling cards” or “advertising” for the interactive media experience the programs are creating.

From a Tribes perspective and a mass media model perspective, there’s only one other major national project I know of that’s doing the same thing: Planet Money, in a tiny, experimental pocket of NPR. And that could be said to be an outgrowth of the defunct Bryant Park Project.

There will remain a place for mass-produced and mass-appeal general news production. But for everything else, and especially for any local station that wants to survive, your future is in building a community around awesome content and services, a la Jesse Thorn.

Bonus Listening: If you haven’t heard the SxSW presentation by Merlin Mann and John Gruber on creating content online, that’s your immediate next destination. Indeed, here’s your reading list for surviving in the 21st century media world:

Double-Bonus Listening / UPDATE 2009-04-19: Thanks to the unstoppable Jesse Thorn for stopping by with a comment (below) and sharing the link from the discussion at the 2009 Integrated Media Association conference in Atlanta. Highly recommended, too. Thanks Jesse!