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Allison Gauss
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A Key to Social Fundraising: Let Donors Express Themselves

If you have a smartphone, you have probably purchased a phone case to protect it. Did you get a black one? A blue one? Or maybe you chose a zebra print or a case with your favorite baseball team’s mascot or a custom case with a picture of your dog. Nowadays, shopping for something simple comes with a seemingly endless number of options. And many people like it that way.

The ability to express your interests and preferences is now expected by most consumers and this trend has already crossed into the world of nonprofit fundraising. We see this not only in personal fundraising pages but in donations made in memoriam of a loved one, in the costumes worn in charity races, and even in giving the donors a choice of which of an organization’s programs to support.

What is less clear is whether this self-expression is beneficial to nonprofit fundraisers. Wouldn’t it present a more unified message if fundraisers and donors used the same pages and materials? To get to the bottom of this, we will inspect where this desire for self-expression comes from and how it might affect a fundraiser’s relationship with the cause.

Western Societies Value the Individual

Let’s begin by pointing out how important self-expression is in western societies, particularly in the United States. After all, the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights protects Americans’ freedom of speech and expression. And in individualistic societies, choices are often seen as an expression of who the chooser is.

People make choices, in part, to present themselves in a certain light. In individualistic societies, uniqueness is a desirable trait that impacts our choices. Research and daily experience show us that when people are asked to make a choice, they often choose differently from their peers. For example, have you ever been out to dinner with a group of friends and when it comes time to order, someone changes their mind just so that they are not getting the same dish as someone else? Even though Denise wanted the pasta, she ordered the chicken so that she and Brenda don’t end up with the same thing. This pursuit of uniqueness can actually lead to making less satisfying choices.

“I Tweet, Therefore I Am”

While social media is a place where people express their interests and personality, some sociologists say it is also a way that people form their idea of self. In an essay on the sociology at play on Twitter, Dhiraj Murthy explains,

[pullquote3 align=“center”]“For active users of Twitter, posting tweets is part of their identity maintenance … or, as a Cartesian aphorism: I tweet, therefore I am.” [/pullquote3]

So expressing ourselves may actually be part of how we construct our understanding of our selves. And this is where the intersection between self-expression and charitable causes gets very interesting.

Research dating back to the 1970s has supported the idea that “ verbal expression of attitudes makes people believe in those attitudes more.” This can be a valuable tool for nonprofits seeking to engage and empower fundraisers.

After reading about your cause and how your organization is helping, people may agree that it is a worthwhile cause and your programs have a positive impact. But if you ask them to explain why they feel it is a worthy cause and why they care, the act of expressing their opinion or preference may actually intensify their attachment to the cause. Suddenly all those campaigns that ask individuals to explain their connection to a cause seem pretty smart.

Take this awesome example of empowering fundraisers through self-expression from City of Hope. They made a great explainer video encouraging supporters to personalize their fundraising pages and tell their story to garner donations.

Or, take this other great example from The Red Cross, which is allowing Morgan to tell others about why she’s engaged with the organization.

A Sign of Authenticity

As we’ve mentioned in the past , transparency is extremely important for nonprofits to connect with millennial donors, but authenticity may be just as valuable. Not only does a fundraiser’s ability to tell their story and personalize their page empower them, it sends the message to donors that your organization is funded and driven by real, relatable people. They are not being asked to donate by an e-mail or a website, they are being asked by Morgan. Giving fundraisers the chance to represent their connection to the cause shows that you value their experiences and trust them to speak on your behalf.

What If I Don’t Like What They Say?

If you decide to make self-expression part of your nonprofit’s fundraising campaigns, you will still want to have rules and guidelines for fundraisers. While you want them to connect with the cause and appeal to donors, their fundraising page is still tied to your brand. A great way to give some guidance while still honoring fundraisers’ individuality is to offer them several stylistic options to choose from. If your brand uses the colors blue and yellow, allow fundraisers to choose from various templates with one or both colors or give them the option to make a birthday page or a fundraising page to go along with a sporting event.

Even with these standardized options, it is still a good idea to monitor fundraising pages made on your nonprofit’s behalf. Then, if someone posts content you don’t want your brand associated with, you can act swiftly by contacting the poster or removing the page.


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Image Credit: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office

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