Mastering Viral Marketing to Promote Your Cause
You work for a small to mid-sized nonprofit organization. Your demand is steady, your employees happy, and your finances good. But you know you can do better. What can you do to further promote your cause?
The answer is viral marketing.
Wikipedia describes viral marketing as follows:
“Viral marketing and viral advertising refer to marketing techniques that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological or computer viruses.”
Nonprofit (and profit) organizations can use viral fundraising to promote the reach of their organization, the power of their brand, and the impact of their cause by using existing social network technologies.
For a simple analogy, think of viral marketing along the lines of gossip. Tell one family member about a new boyfriend or girlfriend and you can guarantee a distant cousin you haven’t heard from in months will be calling within days. Your mother tells your aunt, who tells your uncle and cousins, who tell your grandparents, and on. Soon everyone knows.
Viral marketing follows the same exponential principle: direct contact with 10 people will lead eventually lead to a thousand. The key is to use an established networking platform so that your organization can do the basic promotion and the proficiency of the application will do the rest.
Best Practices in Viral Fundraising
Today’s Wall Street Journal article entitled “A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy” lists five best practice models for viral fundraising:
- Kiva.org allows internet lenders to offer interest-free microfinance loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries. Impact: almost 90,000 lenders have loaned $10 million since the fall of 2005
- Project Agape enables Facebook users to create online communities for their favorite causes. Impact: 2.5 million users raised $300,000 since May 2007
- MySpace Impact Awards allow users to vote on charities that used MySpace to their greatest advantage. The winning charity is awarded $10,000. Note the beauty of this endeavor in that it promotes nonprofit philanthropy while forwarding its own branding
- SixDegrees.org cleverly leverages the theory that everyone in the world is connected by six degrees of separation (or Kevin Bacon) by having users create “charity badges” to promote their personal causes using click-throughs, thus raising money for their nonprofits of choice. Impact: 6,000 users have raised $740,000 since January 2007
- DonorsChoose.org promises thrills through its “Blogger Challenge” as users take on dares if certain amounts of money are raised. (I couldn’t find a link for this on their site, but its efficacy is nonprofit legend and I believe it to be true.) More importantly DonorsChoose.org provide visitors with a nationwide menu of giving through classroom wish lists posted by public school teachers. Impact: $13 million has benefited 621,000 children ($3 million has been raised in 2007 to date). Note how effective their graphics are for conveying the impact that donors have to the organization. Learn from this!
Why Viral Marketing is So Effective
Viral marketing’s success is based on the fact that it uses established social networking platforms to accomplish its task. People involved in MySpace, Facebook, Friendster are seeking connectivity and interactivity. Viral marketing harnesses this desire and uses it for its own ends.
An additional reason that viral fundraising is so successful is that it is transparent and accountable. A well organized website shows an exact pathway to how money is spent and whom it benefits without the politics or barriers to entry of an offline organization.
It also allows money to be raised in small increments with minimal overhead for optimal impact. Combining resources in this manner can have an amazing effect that never before possible in human history.
Best Practice Highlight: Kiva.org
Let’s take a closer look at Kiva.org to understand a master in viral fundraising. Kiva.org has shifted the model of the Grameen Bank online by taking global connectivity and internet philanthropy to an evolutionary level. You aren’t going to see a more transparent or user friendly business model than Kiva’s portfolio of entrepreneurs.
Each entrepreneur’s page features personal photos, the loan amount requested as well as a tally of how much has been raised, a timeframe for recompense, a profile of the field partners, current lenders, and similar concurrent endeavors seeking support. It even includes an embedding code for users’ personal promotion.
The time has come for nonprofit organizations to harness the power of the internet and maximize their cause and brand promotion through use of the world wide web.
We have passed the age when a static homepage is sufficient to represent a professional image. Interactivity is the key to an effective web presence, whether it means actively updating your press release section, running a blog, or regularly updating donors and contacts on organizational achievements.
Viral fundraising and marketing through social networking have the symbiotic effect of maximizing users’ feelings of connectivity with the organization and giving them a feeling of ownership with the cause.
Here’s the bottom line: social networking tools are the paradigm for the web’s current capabilities. Any nonprofit organization serious about creating meaningful social change and promoting the reach of their organization will take simple measures to learn and activate viral fundraising for cause-based marketing.
I am confident in our abilities as nonprofit leaders to take these essential steps in advancing nonprofit practice. Go forth and network!