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Social media’s impact on fundraising in the 21st century

Rachel Ankers October 27, 2017

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Let’s face it…. We all need money to run our churches, our organizations, and our non-profit adventures.  As a result, Christian leaders have to spend some portion of their time and energies on fundraising to do all God has called them and their people to do. But fundraising in the 21st century looks a little different than it did 20 years ago. With the changes in social media come changes in how churches and organizations raise funds.

But in the midst of implementing your mission and vision, have you ever had the following internal monologue?

“Why can’t I raise the money I need for my ministry?  I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. I blog and make videos. I get likes and re-tweets and what seems like a million positive, supportive comments. We’ve profiled ourselves everywhere.  But still, the funds aren’t flowing in.  What’s wrong?”

Some of us who find it challenging to raise the funds we need. It may be because we are working on establishing our online profile and missing one crucial element that will make all the difference.

It’s the definition of currency.

Currency seems like an easy concept to grasp.  It is a medium meant to be circulated, traded, and, at times, accumulated.  It represents stored value of some kind.  Whether it was the gold or silver standard of years gone by, the paper iteration of cash and checks, or the e-version of credit and debit payments that seem to be the norm today, currency is part of what makes the world around us function.

Currency is also something of which we have in limited supply.  Very few of us could say we have an unending supply of currency. That means we need to pick and choose on what we spend that currency.  The spending of our limited currency is a key way to express what is important to us.

Our social media-driven world has created many new kinds of currency, though.  Likes, shares, tweets and re-tweets, stories, and links are just some of the ways that have entered our culture. This new currency allows us to express our interest and support for events, causes or charities, all without spending a dime.  In other words, social media has created a “substitute” currency.  There is no doubt that this new definition of currency has impact, albeit different from the purely economic impact of the pre-social media era.

The problem for many churches and non-profit organizations, however, is that likes, shares, and tweets don’t pay the very real bills that come with running their operations. Converting (monetizing) social media currency into real money has proven to be elusive to many, if not most.  Creating and posting high quality content and getting people interacting with it can be important. But this work does not pay the bills. In fact, it can be quite expensive.  Yes, the old adage “You have to spend money to make money” remains true.  However, we have to recognize that social media has a different value than simple cash and may not help in achieving fund raising goals.

Keep in mind that many social media users are also unfamiliar with the type of currency social media interaction produces.  They feel that liking your status, re-tweeting your story, or subscribing to your blog fulfills their emotional and fiscal responsibility for your cause. They often see a social media currency contribution as being as good as writing you a check.

In light of this, organizations and churches must clarify what they are asking people to do during fund raising campaigns.  If you are asking them to donate money, be clear and specific on that.  Be courageous and ask them personally and directly for a financial contribution.  Ask with passion.  Ask consistently.  Invite them to partner with you.  In the same way, if you are asking your constituency to help you build awareness about an issue or to lend their voice to a cause, be equally clear and specific on that.  Social media currency can be valuable, but be careful not to confuse it with good old-fashioned cash.

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