A recent US Republican Party social media experiment misfired not because of poor moderation, as some critics have assumed, but because site managers failed to recruit and motivate the right community. This post explores ways to create an open, uncensored forum that can more constructively represent both loyal followers and potential converts who were (presumably) the intended targets of the site.
Saying they want to “give the American people a megaphone to speak out,” last week GOP Congressional leaders announced a new web site, AmericaSpeakingOut.com, an open “town meeting” where everyone has an “[o]pportunity to change the way Congress works by proposing ideas for a new policy agenda.”
Earlier this week I participated in an exciting brainstorming session for an online fundraising event. My client is an education-focused non-profit. They want a homegrown solution that is customized to their needs and frees them from 3rd party fees. And it has to be ready for launch at a live breakfast event next month. (Yes, it is a short time frame – viva la technology!)
We arrived at what we think is a new framework for online fundraising, a hybrid between the time-honored “this thermometer shows progress towards our goal” and the scavenger contest vibe of mobile social crowdsourcing apps – like Foursquare and Gowalla – which is along the lines of “you just added your tenth new venue to our database – here’s a virtual prize to reward you and keep you going.”
First we’ll offer supporters an opportunity equivalent to “sponsoring a table” at a physical event. But instead of offering companies or individuals the opportunity to purchase enough tickets to fill one (or more) tables in a hotel conference room, we’ll offer supporters the opportunity to form a team and sponsor one or more students, at $1500 a student. In this way people can participate whether or not they can contribute $1500 up front.
The people forming teams, hereinafter “team captains,” are really pledging to assemble a personal fundraising network big enough to sponsor some number of students at the rate of $1500/student. Of course a team’s captain could opt to cover their target contribution entirely by themselves if that’s how they roll. But we expect to be able to find many more captains who think they can achieve $1500 (or some multiple thereof) by combining their own personal generosity with outreach to generous friends.
Here’s where it gets interesting from a social media standpoint:
We’ll provide each team captain with a unique link to their team’s own donation page. (From a technical standpoint, it’s really the same donation page dynamically rendered as the donation page for a particular team depending on the link followed – more about this below.) Captains can distribute the team’s link to their friends, and their friends can disribute it to their friends, and so on. And when I say “distribute” I mean via email, blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc., accompanied by the non-profit’s own call to action or whatever each captain thinks will get the job done.
When people click on the team link they arrive on the team donation page and are presented with encouragement to contribute to the team’s success. On one side they’ll see what the team has commited to, and how far along the team has come (our take on the classic thermometer-of-progress graphic), and a leaderboard that compares the commitments and progress of the various teams.
Suggested contribution amounts will be in increments of $10, in an effort to attract small donors (as Obama’s campaign recently demonstrated) as well as higher-rollers. A key feature is that each donation increment is tied to a symbolic (“virtual”) milestone towards the $1500 goal. For example, $10-40 could buy a virtual sponsored student virtual school supplies; $50-100 could buy virtual text books or a backpack; $150-250 could buy a virtual chair or a desk; etc.
Once someone makes a contribution on the team page they are rewarded not only by a thank you message, and by seeing that they have moved the team towards its goal, they also see graphics depicting the symbolic milestones – virtual books, supplies, etc. – their contribution equated to.
Once someone makes a contribution they are also given the opportunity to invite their friends to join the team (via quick links to email, Facebook, and Twitter).
Before people make a contribution on the team page they are also asked to enter into the team donation form the name of the person who sent them the team page link (hereafter “the referrer”). This may have been someone besides the team captain, it may even be someone the captain doesn’t know. Each referrer’s name is recorded, along with the donations attributed to them, and the organization, the team captain, and the referrers themselves can all be kept informed of the impact of each referrer. In this fashion referrers can bask in the knowledge that they were successful in recruiting contributors; captains will know who to thank (or who to give a pep talk to); and the organization can get intelligence about which team captains and team members were the most effective recruiters – handy for subsequent campaigns. In addition, referrers who ran particularly successful “campaigns” can be debriefed in order to discover, and potentially duplicate, their secrets.
As alluded to above, all of the team donation pages required for multiple online fundraising events can be created with relatively few tweaks to the current web site, using the current online donation form and the existing donor database. Basically all that is required is:
a single new dynamic web page that mashes-up (embeds) the current donation form;
a few additional visible and hidden form fields (adding team ID, referrer name);
a couple of new database tables (or a new database if needed for security) to associate donor and amount with team and referrer; and
a handful of simple but colorful icon-like graphics.
Its a relatively simple matter to query the new data tables in order to compute what is needed to dynamically display the team leaderboard and the graphics showing milestones available or acquired through a donation.
Version one of this framework will have to be kept simple – some of the above features may not make the cut. Future editions will have additional features, like enabling people to sign themselves up as team captains. To keep it simple we’re keeping this an administrator-only process for this event. Summary reports about referrers will be generated by a human administrator behind the scenes now, but later this can be automatically emailed or displayed via an online dashboard. Yet another feature addition might be a referrer leaderboard that encourages friendly competition between individual referrers.
Looking forward to your feedback! Is this being done already by anyone? Are there any low-hanging fruits we could add to this framework?