At Razoo, the intersection of social media and social missions

August 26, 2012

With the clock ticking closer to midnight, Girls on the Run–D.C. was just a few dollars shy of clinching second place in last November’s Give to the Max Day, a 24-hour contest in which nonprofits compete to raise money and attract donors online.

A plea on the organization’s social networks brought in the needed donations, and Girls on the Run–D.C. ended the marathon fundraiser with $17,500 in contributions and prize money in its coffers.

Razoo, an Internet and social media-oriented fundraising platform, has carried out 15 Give to the Max events across the country. The company, which has offices in the District and San Francisco, aims to help nonprofit organizations increase donations through digital outreach and competitions.

Lesley Mansford join Razoo as chief executive one year ago this month, bringing to the company a background in video and online gaming from her work at Electronic Arts and an upstart called Pogo.com.

Razoo announced earlier this month it has helped 14,000 organizations collect $100 million since it was founded in 2007, with more than half that amount raised in the past nine months alone.

“If someone gives a donation online and posts that on Facebook and Twitter, it’s extremely powerful,” Mansford said. “Social media is obviously a powerful tool for storytelling.”

The rise of social media was welcomed by many in the nonprofit sector as an easy way to inform people about an organization’s mission. But “likes” and “follows” have not converted to donations as readily as some had hoped.

“Three or four years ago, people were talking about this as though it were the Holy Grail,” said Andrew Watt, president and chief executive of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. “They’ve recognized now that what they’ve done is expand their repertoire for how to interact with donors.”

Starting a dialogue

Many nonprofits use a multi-pronged approach to courting financial backers. Mansford said social media offers one way that organizations can maintain regular contact with supporters and spread their message virally.

“People tend to think of online as removing the personal quality of giving, but it does provide us with powerful ways of continuing to engage donors post that first donation,” Mansford said. “So it’s the beginning of a dialogue and relationship.”

But online giving isn’t without its limitations. Donations through digital channels are often smaller and more sporadic than other methods of fundraising, such as grants or corporate sponsors, Watt said.

“It’s not something that you can build your expectations on or develop a business plan around,” Watt said. “Working at how you can develop deeper relationships coming out of social media is something that people are going to have to focus on.”

Betsy Lovejoy, executive director for Girls on the Run–D.C., which promotes character development, fun and fitness for girls through running, said Give to the Max Day was the group’s largest attempt at using social media to raise money. The group has used social media to successfully recruit volunteers in the past, she said.

Washington area nonprofits raised more than $2 million during Razoo’s Give to the Max Day last year. But day-to-day online donations typically come in a trickle, not a flood. As a result, online giving supplements, rather than replaces, other fundraising activities, Lovejoy said.

“I don’t know that I would be able to rely on it so much as approaching the same foundations every year or the same corporate donors every year,” she said.

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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