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    July 12, 2008

    Are sneezers going to wipe us out?

    Growing up, every little girl dreams of being a....

    Well whatever it is, I doubt that any little girl or boy grows up thinking to themselves, "When I grow up, I'd like to be a nonprofit direct-response fundraiser!" Almost every I have ever met in this field have taken a zig-zag path to get here.

    But now that we've gotten here and become experts in our fields, it does give us some comfort to know that this is not an easy business to be in, that it takes skill, experience, and a yes, sometimes a little magic "feel" for where your donor heads are at to ensure our respective organizations/clients raise the funds they need to continue serving the community and the world.

    We have certainly carved out a niche for ourselves-add us together with major development officers and without us, some organizations would barely stay afloat. But as technology develops and tools like social networking become common-place, even I wonder if the very thing I advocate-that organizations need to get on the Gen Y bandwagon and get very comfortable with today's online world and tools-may indeed make me and my kind obsolete. If we succeed in turning the every day donor into mini fundraising factories on the web, then what, precisely, will we be needed for?

    Web tools have made it easy for anyone to become a super organized activist/fundraiser and spread the word with amazing reach. Case in point, I recently got invited to a Facebook "event" by a former co-worked, titled "Lil Help Please." A friend needs help? Well I am at least going to take a look at what it is right? I mean this is someone I know asking for help, so I at least owe him the courtesy..

    Turned out my friend's band was in a runoff contest with out local area bands-the prize was pretty big by band world: the band with the largest amount of votes gets to open for Coldplay when they play in the DC area. "Help my band win by voting for us" was the basic message, and when I got to the voting site, over 350 people had already voted.

    I felt great about myself-3 minutes of my day and I did my part to help a friend. Isn't that was getting to donors is really all about? Making them feel good about being part of your cause?

    Now for those who are not familiar, Facebook events don't in fact have to be actual "events" taking place, they are just a good way to tap into everyone you know at once by sending out a blast announcement. There are other ways to get info out to your network on Facebook (and other networking sites), for example by posting a note, or a bulletin announcement (bulletins are a pretty popular feature on MySpace). And I have no idea if my friend did this on purpose, but in the very fact that he chose to contact all of us through the "event" application ensured that word would spread far beyond the reach of his personal network, without him even having to ask us to pass the word on. Why?

    Well, because one of the key features of Social networking sites are "updates" that let you know what your networks are doing, thinking, reading about, which groups people are joining, etc.

    So now let's say that in addition to going to the actual voting site, I had "accepted" my friends invitation as Facebook encourages me to do. Well, this would now show up as an update to my profile, and all my friends who were interested in what I had been up to would be able to view that I am now attending the "Lil Help Please" event. "I wonder where Miriam is going?" some might think, and click on the publicly viewable event. Voila-viral marketing.

    Now just imagine that a world where not just plugged in Gen Yers, but web-savvy grandparents, baby boomers, Gen Xers, and everyone in between got online, got engaged, and when excited about something, reached out to their networks: "Sponsor me in my Race for Life", "Grandma is a fan of the American Heart Association," "Dad just gave to Doctors Without Borders," "Mom is attending 'Cleaning Up the Local Park'" on Wednesday.

    Now, from my perspective, this kind of power to organize is a dream come true for those who are charged with event-specific fundraising. But what about the rest of us? In this world of donors-turned fundraisers would we be obsolete?

    (go to that URL at your own risk-I just found a cool photo, have no idea who Cody is.)

    I don't think so. After all, someone would still have to identify the best mini fundraising factory prospects, engage with them, create a space where they can come together and talk to each other and share "best practices". Someone would have to "launch" campaigns, learn what worked best for everyone. Someone to keep track of budgets, and goals, and report back to the higher ups, right? And yes, there will always be people who can still be reached with the traditional direct mail or email.

    On a slightly different note, but to the topic of constantly developing our fundraising toolset, here is a link to a great article on the role unique landing pages can play in driving conversion from traffic that results from search marketing. (Translation: if you are trying to drive your donors to online donations, where on your website should you direct them for best chances of donors actually donating? Answer-probably not your home page.)

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