This week saw the publication of research by the Fundraising Standards Board about trust and charitable giving (thanks to UK Fundraising for the link). Interestingly, this report found that people who are already donors to a particular organisation have high levels of trust that it will deliver its aims and purpose. So, if you are already well-informed about the work of the charity and have chosen to support it in the past then you’re more likely to continue to support it in the future than your neighbour, who may have no such existing relationship with that organisation. Fundraisers amongst us no doubt recognise this virtuous circle.
Another report out this week, the Hodgson report on charities, includes some more negative elements of the supporter/charity relationship. Reporting on the poor public perception of ‘chuggers’ and door step collections, it reflects on some of the reputation-damaging stories which have been circulating about the voluntary sector in recent months. Like trust, distrust of a charity’s methods and motives may be hard to stop once it has got established in the minds of potential or ex-supporters.
So where does social media fit into this picture?
Take a moment to consider just what strange beasts charities are. They could be anything from a band of volunteers trying to meet need in their local area to global organisations of a size and professionalism to rival many international companies. They could be operated by you, your mum or your next door neighbour or by some committed individuals on the other side of the world. They may be delivering services in your neighbourhood, or in communities that you will probably never see with your own two eyes. But whatever their size, structures or location, unlike many organisations in the business world the charity has to be seen to be clear in its purpose and above-reproach in its operation. In short, we need to be able to trust it.
Social media is an excellent tool for charities, because it’s all about fostering and enabling human connections and relationships. Be it ever so tiny, a charity will probably have more supporters or potential supporters than can be met personally and in a meaningful way by its organisers or staff. For large national or international charities, then the gap between them and their body of supporters is even wider. Social media helps you to bridge this gap.
Social media really is about conversation. If we use Twitter and Facebook and all the rest just to broadcast our corporate messages, then at best we’re creating a digital noticeboard – useful, but not exactly personal. But by treating the people who have taken the trouble to contact us via social media as people, answering their questions, supporting their fundraising activities, talking with them about their experiences, then we can put the personal back into their relationship with your charity. People trust people; by using the personal connections that social media gives, a charity can start to build and reinforce that trust until, as the report says, it triggers a virtuous circle of donation, support and action.
Not a bad result for the price of a tweet!