Tweeting for Dollars: How Social Media Helps Charities

SBirett    November 14, 2016

It would be safe to assume in the digital era – where everything is immediate or available with the tap of a button – that charities would have quickly implemented social media tools to allow for optimum fundraising opportunities. Oddly enough, this is not the case. In fact, far from it. Many organizations are still manually accepting and processing donations, losing out on a magnitude of funding opportunities.

For non-profits looking to increase donations and expand their reach, there is no denying that the web, and more specifically social media, is the way to go and CanadaHelps is the go-to organization to get non-profits started using online promotion and fundraising.

CanadaHelps is a true trailblazer when it comes to philanthropy. Dating back to its humble roots when three undergraduate students mapped out a vision that was as ground-breaking as it was prescient. In 1999, the trio developed the hard to sell concept of a web based platform that would enable Canadians to make online donations to any registered charity. After convincing major supports to back their vision, it launched in 2000 and saw more than $150,000 donated.

Today the organization is connected to 16,000 registered charities in Canada and deems itself “Canada’s platform for donating and fundraising online”.

Today, CanadaHelps is a non-profit organization working within the non-profit sector to fulfill the digital gap that many small and mid-sized Canadian non-profit organizations simply cannot facilitate on their own. To date, over one million Canadians have supported charities through the e-donations and over $650 million in donations has been received.

Paul Nazareth, VP Community Engagement, CanadaHelps is passionate about his role in educating non-profit organizations and providing the necessary tools and direction to charities to ultimately expand donation revenue. He recognizes and understands the importance in networking and exploring technological advances and works to celebrate those accomplishments as well as encourage others to venture outside of the typical fundraising activities.

“The future is digital,’ he says. “Organizations will need to evolve or will get left behind.”

The common denominator for non-profits that are resistant to incorporating social media may on the surface be attributed to time and manpower, but when you start digging deeper, it is simply the old ways that are holding people back. As Mr. Nazareth says, it’s like you’re not starving until you’re really starving. If an organization is raising $20,000 annually, it is too often assumed that current methods are working, and there is no need for change. But as Mr. Nazareth explains, if the organization were to look beyond that, to what could possibly be brought in on an annual basis by incorporating minimal cost fundraising tools and online technology, coupled with social media, organizations would not just be surviving but thriving – and in a much better position to fulfill their mandates.

The easier it is for people to donate, the more likely they will.
As Patrick Johnston, Chair of the CanadaHelps Board of Directors, notes in his blog post “CanadaHelps: Past, Present, Future” he says his position has allowed him to “have a much better appreciation of the importance of being open to new ideas and taking risks on potentially innovative but untested ideas. Many charities, and the donors who support them, tend to be risk-averse – sometimes to a fault.”

For a number of non-profit organizations, the future of social media is to simply embrace it. There are many charities that have yet to even create a corporate Facebook page, let alone think to the future and how the Internet of Things, or live streaming may benefit their fundraising efforts. Having the capability to accept donations online through CanadaHelps is a great first step in digitalization, but it’s what organizations do with these tools, through social media, that is really going to make a difference.

According to Mr. Nazareth, a key component to consider when incorporating social media into fundraising campaigns is to spark an emotional response. He used a small library in Nova Scotia as an example explaining how this tiny little library that was the heart of a small rural area on Canada’s east coast was in desperate need of funding to provide a much needed new space. With the support of Margaret Atwood’s tweets with the hashtags #KillamCorner, #Library, #NS, the library raised its $20,000 goal primarily through online donations processed and tax receipted by CanadaHelps.

It’s safe to say, those dollars were not local. Social media is what enabled this story’s reach to extend far beyond the east coast. Funds came from various individuals across Canada from donors who reacted on emotion – an attachment to their own local library, memories, a desire to preserve a small town necessity. It’s a perfect example of regional paradigm only accessible to charities through social outlets.

Mr. Nazareth notes,“place and space are not the same.” This is a concept that charities need to start exploring to achieve for future growth.

Simply because an organization services a specific region does not mean that donors should be boxed into the boundaries of a map. He said agencies need to start thinking of their home community as an anchor but expanding reach far beyond that jurisdiction. People could have numerous ties to communities across the country, it’s just about making that connection and social media is the way to do it. Hashtags, celebrities, trending topics, those are all easy ways to gather a following and get a charity noticed.

While some charities are still struggling to realize the advantages of social media for meeting their needs, there are a small number that are already forging the way to social success with futuristic ideas.

Jason Shim is what Mr. Nazareth refers to as “the king of digital fundraising in Canada” due to his ability to integrate social and e-commerce concepts and adapt them to benefit the charitable sector. He has spent his career working with numerous charities to develop and deploy effective digital media strategies and policies to better engage community members. He is currently the Digital Media Manager for Pathways to Education Canada enabling the organization to be the first registered Canadian charity to issue tax receipts for bitcoin donations.

Through his bitcoin donation program, community members can donate from the touch of a button using “peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority or banks; managing transactions and the issuing of bitcoins is carried out collectively by the network. Bitcoin is described as an “open-source” that is designed for public use with no owners.

Having bitcoin accessibility on mobiles, whereby individuals can pay with a simple two step scan-and-pay, makes donating extremely easy. And when something is easy, we all know it is more likely to be undertaken. Not only is donating via bitcoin easy, it enables charities to easily reach far beyond their current donor base as bitcoins are borderless meaning no extra international transfer fees or limitations.

With so many possibilities available, it’s hard to fathom why there are thousands of non-profit charities conducting manual giving operations and maxing out and no more than $20,000 of donated funds each year. But the answer is relatively simple – they’re stuck.

Once agencies can overcome the hurdle of just getting started, the opportunities are infinite. Take Furniture Bank for example.

As Furniture Bank’s executive director Dan Kershaw noted in the organization’s recent Ingenious Awards nomination,

“Within Furniture Bank we’re very proud of being innovative and pushing boundaries but it’s not something we push to be recognized for.”

He went on to say that “A lot of people especially in the not-for-profit space, generally run from technology because they don’t understand it.”
When it was founded in 1998, the non-profit was no different than many non-profits utilizing spreadsheets, paper and clipboards to track and manage inventory.

Furniture Bank, in collaboration with, was able to develop a customized platform and Ipad app for the organization. It was noted that the 48-person staff and 11-truck fleet that operates Furniture Bank went from supporting 5,600 clients in 2014 to an expected 10,000 or more by the end of 2016 thanks to the interconnectedness of technology.

Mr. Nazareth says that most organizations use the excuse of money being what is holding them back. After speaking with Mr. Nazareth, the timeless saying ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ comes to mind when thinking about the way many non-profits fundraise.

Mr. Nazareth also noted that the future of fundraising and social media will likely see more customized engagement opportunities. Already technologically advanced charities are incorporating things such as Google Glass which provides the opportunity to connect with donors in completely new ways. He noted one organization that was able to provide donors and prospective donors virtual tours of facilities that they help fund and rooms named in recognition of contributions.

In Marty Swant’s recent Ad Week article How Virtual Reality is Inspiring Donors to Dig Deep for Charitable Causes he talks about a black tie gala in support of providing access to clean water, where New Yorkers dressed to the nines were able to virtually transport themselves into a small Ethiopian village to witness a family’s lifestyle and hardships and then experience the reaction and the changes when access to clean water was provided.

Lessons for Others

Bitcoin, customized apps, virtual reality – It is amazing what is being developed, and the infinite possibilities of the future.

For non-profits, the future is limitless, it is just a matter of being willing to change and to embrace change. Once an organization has entered the world of social media, the possibilities are truly endless and it is great to think that all of the new technologies can be used to support the work of non-profits to make the world a better place.

Organization: CanadaHelps
Industry: Non-Profit
Name of Organization Contact: Paul Nazareth, VP Community Engagement

Authored by: SBirett

If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.


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