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She'd been running for years, and raising money for cancer research, but when Lisa Miller turned 35 this summer, she decided to mark the milestone with something big: a two-day cycling odyssey on Alberta's Cowboy Trail. But Ms. Miller had no idea just how big her participation in the Ride to Conquer Cancer would be – until she put out her fundraising plea on Facebook.

"Almost every other day, I had somebody link it on their own page," says the energetic blonde.

Social media turned out to be the only fundraising platform Ms. Miller needed. Pledges poured in from friends at home in Edmonton, as well as the rest of Canada, the U.S., and even Egypt. By the time she got on her bike that weekend in June, she'd raised $2,700.

Ms. Miller is a charity's dream: She's highly connected, tech-savvy and ready to give. And she's using social media to bring in dollars to non-profits at a minuscule fraction of the cost of a direct-mail campaign.

But while it might seem that socially minded Facebook friends are everywhere, fundraisers such as Ms. Miller are still a drop in the bucket. According to an industry survey of 980 charities, roughly half raised nothing on social networks in 2011. Those that did mostly raised less than $10,000. Only 4 per cent raised more than $100,000.

Nevertheless, as the number of Canadians who report donations on their taxes has hit an all-time low of 23 per cent, charities are increasingly turning their attention to sites like Facebook and Twitter, battling to figure out how to make them work as money-spinners. Social media is seen as the way of the future.

Certainly, humanitarian crises have shown the way, especially since the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. While the donations may come through as $10 or $25 clicks, when millions of people rise to the occasion, as happened after the Haiti earthquake, a billion dollars can be raised quickly, through the Internet. Bill Clinton calls it