If your nonprofit is making its first forays into the realm of social media, it's wise to continue learning about each new tool out there that might help you formulate your strategy. One tool that was specifically created for nonprofits and has been receiving quite a bit of buzz is Causes, an online platform for philanthropy that makes its home on Facebook. Causes states on its web site that since its formation in 2007, it has built a community of 140 million users, raised $30 million for 25,000 charities, and developed 500,000 user-created "causes."
On May 4, manager of nonprofit services at Causes, Sarah Koch, visited the Foundation Center to give a seminar on how Causes works and how to make the most of it. Wondering if Causes is right for your nonprofit? Here are a few highlights from Sarah's presentation.
What is a "cause"? On Causes, a cause can be started by anyone, whether an organization or an individual, and a cause is not necessarily synonymous with a specific nonprofit. (Different story when it comes to fundraising - see below.) Rather, a cause is a campaign created by a user (which can be your own nonprofit or some outside person) to gather support and awareness about a particular issue (supporting arts education, saving an endangered species, fighting a particular disease, etc.). Each cause that is created gets its own profile page, on which supporters can communicate, promote the issue, and even raise money. It is also possible for one nonprofit to have multiple causes.
How does Causes compare with what your charity already does on its web site?
What makes Causes different is that it works as a bottom-up grassroots organizing tool. The fact that anyone can create a cause, and the fact that the cause depends on peer-to-peer referral, means that the platform can augment the work that you already do by putting your supporters to work, using them to reach new audiences who might not already be familiar with your organization.
When one of your supporters interacts with your Causes page, the information is broadcast to their friends on Facebook, who in turn hear about your cause and have the option to join. The viral nature of this can boost your network of supporters beyond what it would have been through your web site alone.
How can I raise money through Causes?
A Cause page must list a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization as a beneficiary in order to conduct fundraising activities, and Causes uses Guidestar to ascertain that the nonprofit is legitimate. You will also need to have enabled online donations through your Guidestar profile in order to be eligible for online donations through Causes. If you're eligible, your Causes profile will feature a "donate" button that will process any supporter's donations through Network for Good.
On the 15th of each month, funds from all of the donations of the past month will be sent to the address listed in your Guidestar profile. If you are not eligible to fundraise directly through Causes, you can still fundraise indirectly by providing a link to your organization's web site for people to donate. For even more in-depth information, the Causes blog has a helpful posting on best practices for fundraising projects, and their forums can answer a lot of questions as well.
What other tools can I use beyond fundraising? In addition to working on fundraising projects, you can also start petitions through Causes – in your page's Nonprofit Partner Center, you can create and customize your petition for use on your main Causes profile, then send bulletins to your supporters, who can sign and share the petition on Facebook.
You can also use bulletins, the primary communications method for Causes, to run a media campaign. Whenever something new is going on with your nonprofit, you have the option of posting your bulletins to any of your Causes pages, or to your members' Facebook newsfeeds, or by emailing the bulletin to your supporters. These bulletins can include invitations to donate, to ask friends to donate, or to invite more people to join the cause. Also, if your organization has a regular Facebook page in addition to a Causes page, you can create a Causes tab on your Facebook page that will link the two and make it easier for people to join your cause and donate.
To learn more about what Causes has to offer, you can check out their monthly nonprofit newsletters, which will alert you to new features coming out, and also read their blog for more news and information. To learn more about using social media in general for your nonprofit, try searching the Foundation Center's Knowledge Base using the term "social media" to find classes, articles, and archived events on the subject, or search or library catalog using the subject/descriptor "Online social networks."
-- Tracy Kaufman, Library Assistant