Fundraising Envy

TheNew York Times’ article Utilities Turn Their Customers Green With Envy provides a few good pointers for social network fundraising, even though the article is about utility bills. The Sacramento, California utility company created a pilot program that issued personalized bills to some customers, using “smiley faces” and “frowny faces” on the utility statements in order to illustrate how a customer’s electricity consumption compares with his/her neighbors’ consumption. Those who received comparative, personalized statements cut their energy efficiency by 2% more than those who did not receive smiley or frowny faces.

The article article also cited an experiment conducted by social psychologist Robert Cialdini, of Arizona State University, and another colleague that illustrates the effect of peer pressure.  “…(Cialdini) and a colleague left different messages on doorknobs in a middle-class neighborhood north of San Diego. One type urged the residents to conserve energy to save the earth for future generations; another emphasized financial savings. But the only kind of message to have any significant effect, Dr. Cialdini said, was one that said neighbors had already taken steps to curb their energy use.”

Social network fundraising should include competition to reap higher rewards.

image courtesy of Cambodia4kids

image courtesy of Cambodia4kids

The concept of social network fundraising is leveraging one’s own social network to raise funds. Facebook and MySpace are two online social networks that have figured out that leveraging one’s peer network for good is good business…and raises funds. They utilize the concept of “people to people fundraising” — raising money from people you know, rewarding them and making it fun. Beth Kanter posted a summary of the concept in her post here, and be sure to read the comments which offer further amplification of the concept.

How can we leverage our networks to raise funds the most efficiently?  Think about what the municipality of Sacramento learned:

  • People react (and change behavior!) based on how they compare with their neighbors/friends.
  • People compete to be as good as their neighbors/friends, as long as the comparative results are public.

There are many great examples of organizations utilizing Facebook Causes, Chipin and other online donation programs and widgets which incorporate the two points. For example, the Facebook Causes application allows network friends to view who else has donated, what amount, and how close the network is to reaching the entire fundraising goal. Joe Green, founder of Facebook Causes says “Facebook and other social networking sites mimic existing relationships, making users feel more pressure to get involved.” (Beth Kanter’s Five Things I Discovered About Facebook Birthday Cause highlights all the best features of the Birthday Cause application.)

Can we quantify what difference the “public” aspect of people to people, or network, fundraising makes compared to non-disclosed givers and amounts? I’d love to hear of further pilot studies using online giving where one group knows how much its peers/network friends are giving and the other does not.

My bet? Peer pressure is just that, and it makes a big difference.

Further reading:

Online fundraising widgets at We Are Media and a toolkit for getting started linked here.

Social micro-fundraising tools: screen shots and compilation on Mashable.

Wild Apricot also compiled a List of Online Fundraising Tools to consider, many of which are peer-to-peer based tools.

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4 responses to “Fundraising Envy

  1. Great links and observations about the ‘challenge’ aspect of giving and raising funds (and ‘friends’!).

    Care2’s study shows that raising $ online isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…maybe yet. I’m helping Hostelling International-USA explore the web as tool to find interested travelers, so we’re having success finding friends and verbal & volunteer supporters, and I think these results are greater than trying to raise funds.


  2. communityorganizer20

    Thanks for your comment. I had originally included a link to Care2’s slide show about social networking fundraising and mentioned that it is not as effective as email-based fundraising. However, I deleted it as I felt this fact took away from the main point of the post: the idea of peer pressure on fundraising campaigns. Interested readers can view Justin Perkins’ Care2 slide show at

    You also raise a good point about using the web to find supporters and “evangelists,” which has proven to be quite possible. Let me know what social media approaches you find most successful for attracting evangelizers and supporters!

  3. The Great Shmendrecki

    I’m actually part of the social energy savings experiment listed at the tail of the article. In that instance, though a great idea that has received a fair amount of local attention, the “peer pressure” aspect does not seem to have worked.

    Even within the participants there seems to be little action I’ve been able to see. Too bad. Even so I believe it an excellent idea that for whatever reasons may not be working as well in this instance.

  4. I am fascinated by the comparison between social marketing techniques and fundraising. Both are tools to influence behaviors you want to see become permanent. The comparison implies that people give in part based on what they perceive to be the social norm for charitable giving.

    Peer pressure has a negative connotation for me as a motivator for giving. It implies that people do not actually support the cause they give to, rather that they give to the cause because it makes them feel uncomfortable straying from the social norm of their “friends.” So if that is why social media fundraising works, I think that social media fundraising will collapse eventually, because it is hard to get repeat gifts that are motivated on avoidance of discomfort.

    Hildy Gottlieb has an interesting blog post about the unsustainable nature of social media fundraising on her blog here:

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