The newly renovated and expanded University of Michigan Museum of Art is a social place: Tuesday night, several hundred people attended a kick-off fête for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, while Wednesday brought members of the Cultural Alliance of Southeastern Michigan together for their annual meeting. The focus of Wednesday’s day-long event was also social, as in social networking – specifically, how nonprofits can use social media like blogs, Twitter and Facebook to fundraise, market and strengthen their organization.
Being social animals ourselves, The Chronicle dropped by both events, but was able to spend a bit more time at the Cultural Alliance forum, which was well represented by Ann Arbor groups, including the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, University Musical Society and Arts Alliance, among others.
Linh Song of the NEW Center in Ann Arbor was one of the event’s organizers. She presented a session on fundraising with Twitter, Facebook, Tipjoy and other online tools. She started by defining social media – it’s about conversations, not monologues, with an ethos of honesty and transparency. Participants are people, not organizations – institutional control is being ceded to consumer control.
Though it’s an effective, low-cost way to reach out, she said, most nonprofits aren’t taking advantage of social media. “We need to catch up.”
Song described Twitter as perfect for communicating with a nonprofit’s constituency and raising money. “It’s like a stream of consciousness coming from your organization.” NEW uses Twitter to promote workshops and other events, but also to pass along links that other nonprofits might find interesting, and to talk about what staff members are doing. (One recent Tweet: “Quality Coffee Friday at the NEW Center today. Tenants are loving @Sweetwaters House Blend and House Decaf!”)
Related to Twitter, TipJoy is an application that allows you to raise money via your Twitter network. It’s an alternative to the more well-known PayPal e-commerce system, Song said, and is preferable for nonprofits because it charges lower administrative fees for the transactions. Song reported that a nonprofit called charity: water raised $250,000 in a week-long TipJoy campaign.
Facebook is another way to communicate with current or potential supporters of your nonprofit, Song said. She described an application called lil Green Patch, a game that’s free to play – Facebook users create and tend a virtual garden – but that’s also used to raise money for the Nature Conservancy. (The creator of lil Green Patch, David King, will be coming to the area in May for the Michigan Nonprofit Association SuperConference.)
Following Song’s presentation, three panelists talked about how they use blogs and social media. Mariah Cherem, a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, works with Yelp, a site for reviews of restaurants, realtors and a range of other businesses and organizations. Cherem stressed that though Yelp has a nationwide reach, its power lies in allowing you to find reviews or make your own comments about businesses in your local community.
Jim Griffioen, a former attorney and stay-at-home dad, runs the blog Sweet Juniper, which he started after the birth of his daughter, Juniper. He now has about 50,000 visitors to his site each week, and has an agency selling ads for him: “I just get the checks – it’s incredible.” Engaging with readers is crucial, he said. When organizations do a blog, they often don’t do much with it. “If you do it half-ass, no one’s going to read it.” He suggested finding someone who’s passionate about the organization, and letting them blog without fencing them in.
The third panelist was Jessica Rauch, founder of The Generation Project. Her site allows donors to craft their own way of giving, then links them with low-income K-12 students who’ll benefit from their gift. The UM Law School’s Business Law Association, for example, recently held a fundraiser to provide interview clothes for Detroit students seeking after-school or summer jobs.
Now, back to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival kickoff party the previous day. Who have they booked for this year? Their website is counting down the days to the official public announcement – currently with three days left. Based on the brochure they were handing around at the party, though, there’ll be something similar to but not exactly Beyonce, plenty for folks who mind their steps, a martini that you can’t drink, some people who are just making stuff up, plus eleven more acts to choose from.