Philanthropy & Funding

Friendraising Versus Slacktivism

Unmotivated donors didn’t materialize out of the ether when social media started taking over the world.

The Myth of Slactivism
“What about all those people who retweet your fundraising campaign but don’t actually donate? They aren’t helping, right?”

“Do you worry that social media encourages people to resist engaging as on-the-ground activists, and instead to just sign online petitions?”

“How much is a simple “Like” on Facebook worth to a nonprofit? Why bother?”

You heard it here first: Hands down, the most popular questions to ask a social media expert working for social good relate to slacktivism: what it is, why it is, and how to get rid of it. While researching my new book, Twitter for Good, I encountered this phenomenon in spades.

And I’m here to say, once and for all, that I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

Slacktivism Didn’t Start with Social Media
Unmotivated donors didn’t materialize out of the ether when social media started taking over the world.

There have always been individuals who are willing to volunteer 30 minutes of time to call up donors, but who are not willing to write you a check. There will always be an urbanite ready to pass off a half-eaten sandwich to a homeless man instead of buying him a sandwich. As I learned when starting Hope Runs, there will always be someone who wants to donate a pair of used running shoes rather than cut a check. 

This is the way the nonprofit world works, and this is just fine.

There are thousands of causes in the world. Some donors support many organizations and yours isn’t their priority—hence, they look for a less engaged way to help. Some aren’t moved by your cause but feel obligated to do something small. Some donors aren’t really donors at all—for your cause or anyone else’s.

Social media hasn’t changed this.

What social media has changed is the ease with which you can create weak ties with people who may be interested in your cause. This is the crux of the concept that some have coined “friendraising.” Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and many other platforms make it easy to share your message with the world in a new way. First, they allow you to target a mass audience, making the possibility for viral spread far more viable than ever before. Second, they allow you to connect with influencers in a way that wasn’t possible before—for example, on Twitter, you can technically send an @reply to any influencer out there. Tweet a hundred and one might respond.

One law of nonprofit support is that inevitably some early supporters who first make small gifts turn into big donors later on. For every hundred people that send their dirty, worn-out running shoes to help the Hope Runs athletic programs in Africa (nary a $5 bill for international shipping enclosed), one just might one day send a check to support an educational scholarship. It’s just the way it is, and nonprofits accept this. The same law holds true for supporters you connect with on social media.

Social media hasn’t created slacktivism anymore than Charity Navigator has created nonprofit financial accountability, and it’s time to rethink our plague-like fear of the big, hairy slactivism beast.

The next time someone likes your campaign but doesn’t give you money, think about the upshot: Never before have you been able to spread a message so easily to so many potential supporters.

Today only: Download the electronic version of Twitter for Good free via a number of outlets, including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

If you miss that window, you can still download the first chapter for free.

image Claire Diaz Ortiz (nee Williams) leads social innovation at Twitter and wrote Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. Follow @ClaireD on Twitter or read her blog.

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  • BY Timothy Ogden

    ON September 7, 2011 12:07 PM

    I think you’re addressing the wrong issue and the wrong question here.

    People aren’t afraid of slacktivism or worried about promoting it. They are afraid that social media campaigns are not effective, especially as compared to other campaigns in terms of raising actual dollars and actual volunteer time.

    Thus far, the record of impact from “friendraising” in terms of these real outcomes is decidedly thin. While there are a few outstanding examples, the vast majority of non-profits find that such campaigns raise little money and little action beyond likes and clicks.

  • BY Timothy Ogden

    ON September 7, 2011 12:10 PM

    Continued from above:

    Many of these campaigns are admittedly poorly executed. Social media campaigns require focus, attention and talent. But that brings us back to the issue of limited resources.

    Should non-profits devote their best and brightest to social media campaigns as opposed to other approaches with proven records of raising money and other resources?

    That’s the real question and issue, not fear of slacktivism.

  • Lee Hightower, Duke University's avatar

    BY Lee Hightower, Duke University

    ON September 11, 2011 10:08 PM

    In the virtual world, seemingly pointless matters gain the most attention and make the most money. Rather than being critical, you must understand: what appears meaningless to you is probably meaningful to some of your neighbors in the near or distant realms of cyberspace. 

    There are two wonderful benefits of using social media. First, it is that it is cheaper than traditional forms of fundraising. Although you may initially make less money, you don’t have to consume as many resources asking for it.  Second, although you may lose points for begging in the real world, you can actually gain kudos/‘web cred’ for creatively begging for almost anything online.

    Echoing Claire’s conclusion, embrace this new opportunity to introduce yourself and your organization to a broader audience. Practically, if you make enough friends, you will eventually have a larger pool of people who may be willing to support you. Avoid mentioning money during the initial ‘meet and greet’ process. Similar to the real world, people will be more likely to befriend and support you, if you are not asking for cash up front.

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