In July of 2003, I met a very successful friend and had a brief conversation which was mostly funny and a little disturbing. I advised my friend I had accepted a new position as CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Shocked, he asked, “Isn’t that a not-for-profit job?” He then added, “Like fundraising..... like bakesales?” Having spent 10 years working in the not-for-profit sector, I can absolutely say, “This ain’t no bake sale.”
First, a few absolutely surprising facts on the size and importance of the not-for-profit (NFP) sector in Canada. Two million people are employed in the charitable/NFP sector and 13.3 million people volunteer. This sector contributes 7.8 per cent to Canadian GDP, including $10.6-billion in annual donations. There are 165,000 non-profits and charities registered in Canada. This sector is huge, playing an extraordinary role in the Canadian economy.
As citizens in every country are painfully aware, governments at all levels are out of money. Governments are looking at where they can cut. There’s just no more additional money, even for the most worthy of civil society causes and for the not-for-profit sector. This means at exactly the time when so many healthcare, education, environmental, artistic and social service organizations need the most help, the financial resources from the government will not be there. So, this has created an urgent and widespread call to arms as not-for-profits re-think themselves as social enterprises. A social enterprise serves the public good but uses the best of the private sector as well as the not-for-profit sector to achieve their mission.
Social enterprises, large and small, understand and have moved aggressively into using the tools of social media and technology to help raise the funds so urgently required to deliver on their promise to their community of supporters. As we have seen in the private sector, the impact of big data and social media networks has given savvy leaders an opportunity to get their word out and to help fund their work. The world of philanthropy and fundraising has been totally revolutionized by visionaries and mostly young leaders who have embraced the new media tools which are so commonly used today to inform, energize, and raise financial resources from a very broad audience.
Virtually every not-for-profit organization has a website and a digital footprint today. Even the smallest and most local of organizations have the ability to set up a web site, a blog, and to use widely available online fundraising technology for their events and fundraising appeals. While organizations like the United Way and the World Wildlife Fund still employ traditional fundraising strategies and proven community engagement tools, they also have taken leadership roles and reaching out to build online communities of support. Safe to say every not-for-profit in the country welcomes volunteers and is looking for staff who have the social media skills to help engage communities of supporters online.
Just as some traditional forms of fundraising like telemarketing and street intercept canvassers cause major irritation to the vast majority of Canadians, sending waves of untargeted emails or posting meaningless banner ads just irritate potential supporters and donors. One of the most important lessons we have learned at The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation is that what is weak or ineffective in traditional offline fundraising is mirrored online. In essence, if you have weak offline strategies, you also have weak online strategies.
The most exciting aspect of the revolution in social media and online fundraising activities for the not-for-profit sector is the extraordinary democracy and incredible reach that a great cause can generate. While bake sales will never be replaced in neighbourhoods, offices and schools, the best of social enterprise organizations will fast track their reach through bold new social media strategies which delight their community of supporters.
Paul Alofs is president and CEO of The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.