Philanthropy & Funding

Make It Personal

The rapid spread of social media has catapulted the possibilities and scale of relationship-building into the stratosphere.

Last week, at the Social Innovation Summit in Palo Alto, the combination of hypersuccessful social media companies (Google, Facebook, LinkedIn) and nonprofit luminaries (Room to Read, Donors Choose, charity: water) made one thing clear—to make it big, you need to make it personal.

This concept isn’t a new revelation. Marketing professionals and nonprofit fundraisers have long known that connecting with a person’s individual interests is key to forging a strong and beneficial relationship. The rapid spread of social media has catapulted the possibilities and scale of relationship-building into the stratosphere.

Social Innovation Summit speaker Charles Best of

Charles Best of (left) with Charles Porch of Facebook. (Photo courtesy of the Social Innovation Summit)

Charles Best, founder of, is incredibly warm, genuine, and quick to hug, but he’s also a relationship-building genius. In a fascinating interview with Charles Porch of Facebook, Charles Best detailed how he enabled to provide a record $40 million to fund 300,000 classroom projects in the US.

The concept is deceptively simple, potential donors enter their personal interests and an online database provides them with a list of classroom projects that connect with their interests.  Are you an artist? Consider funding a silkscreen press for an art class. Did your father love to hike? Honor his memory by purchasing trees for a classroom to plant. 

Then, once the project is complete, you receive a note from the teacher with photos. The donor who funded the silkscreen press will receive artwork made by the children with that press. It’s high touch, both online and offline. maximizes the personalization potential of Facebook by asking the donor if they want to post the donation on their Facebook Wall. Friends then read the update and feel compelled to make a donation too. Even more successful are teacher-generated updates.  These two types of status updates on Facebook have raised a combined $1.9 million so far.

Social Innovation Summit speaker Scott Harrison of charity:water

Scott Harrison of charity:water. (Photo Courtesy of the Social Innovation Summit)

Another successful nonprofit, charity: water hit it big with a campaign to ask people to raise money for their birthday using a “donate $X for X number of years” campaign model. Will and Jada Smith raised over $100,000 by asking the public to donate $42 to honor Will’s 42nd birthday. Charity: water makes its media personal too, with an impressively creative ad campaign reminding us what our life in the US would be like without water. Videos featuring Jennifer Connelly and impactful baby bottles ads bring the message home.

Charity: water is also beta-testing a my charity: water site that allows individual fundraisers to make a customized fundraising page. It then lists the top achievers on the homepage. It also provides graphics for multiple social media uses, including backgrounds for Twitter pages and banners for Facebook pages.

Facebook is adding new customization features constantly, and nonprofits would be wise to pay attention. One recent app called Timeline offers users the ability to post an outline of their entire life. Another app called Causes allows a user to keep a fundraising post at the top of their Facebook page for the duration of the campaign. I have no doubt that both and charity: water will find a way to leverage both of these new tools to reach donors in a personal way and generate windfalls of funds for their very honorable causes.

Tracker Pixel for Entry


  • Simone N. Sneed, CEO & Founder Catching Brilliance's avatar

    BY Simone N. Sneed, CEO & Founder Catching Brilliance

    ON December 6, 2011 01:16 PM

    Stephanie, thank you for this article. I had the opportunity to attend an event recently with the Alliance for Global Good. The topic of the conference was Innovation & Philanthropy. The rousing eight hour dialogue featured individuals from some of the “hypersuccessful” companies you mention. I’m fascinated by the idea that to “make it big, you need to make it personal” I agree with you, however I feel that what is even more important and may play into the success of these companies in a tremendous way is that it is personal.

    Some of the most succesful charities and companies are filled with indivduals who are deeply personally invested and committed to the work. As such, their goal may be to make it big, but their motivation is to have a personal effect on other people using their daily jobs as the vehicle for societal transformation.

    A woman who works at Google described the level of satisfaction people have in their jobs and how this satisfaction leads to innovation and then that innovation begets success. I think if we can encourage more people to follow their passions…then their work (be it in NGOs or businesses) will be personal and that will be translated in their marketing, branding and success.

  • BY Charles Best,

    ON December 6, 2011 02:54 PM

    Stephanie, thank you so much for your rousing description of  My colleagues and I will strive to live up to your kind words!

Leave a Comment


Please enter the word you see in the image below:


SSIR reserves the right to remove comments it deems offensive or inappropriate.
If We Want Our Funding to Change the World… - Thumbnail
Philanthropy & Funding

If We Want Our Funding to Change the World…

Featuring Donors Forum

Grantmakers and nonprofit leaders at the Donors Forum—an annual convening in Illinois to advance social change institutions—discuss the real cost of running an effective nonprofit and why it is essential for grantmakers to support indirect costs.

Great Management Creates Great Impact - Thumbnail
Philanthropy & Funding

Great Management Creates Great Impact

Featuring Josh Beckenstein

Philanthropist Josh Bekenstein of Bain Capital explains how philanthropists unwilling to cover nonprofits’ indirect or overhead costs are missing the opportunity to completely support that organization’s mission.