How do I budget for social media fundraising?

Howard Lake | 30 April 2014 | Blogs

Stephen Sutton's fundraising campaign for Teenage Cancer Trust
Steven Sutton raised funds for Teenage Cancer Trust

Teenage Cancer Trusts‘s number one individual fundraiser right now must be terminally ill Stephen Sutton.  I received an email yesterday telling me that he had reached his £1m target and Facebook was abuzz so I duly clicked on his Just Giving page and wow!  It was over £3m… how is this possible?
Teenage Cancer Trust Stephen Sutton campaign JG totalExperts will suggest that there are certain essential aspects to all social media fundraising success.  These might include:

Seems to me that Teenage Cancer Trust and Stephen Sutton have got this pretty much nailed.  But how are they going to replicate this next month or next year?
That might sound like a spurious and maybe even callous question but most fundraisers live in a world of targets.  And senior fundraisers live in a world of meeting targets and setting budgets, a process dictated by accounting and financial practices mostly developed for industry or the public sector.  That’s not necessarily bad but it does mean an almost slavish approach which requires fundraisers and managers to look at what they did in the past, overlay their ideas for the next period, add a sprinkle of inflation and come up with a budget by which they will be judged for the next XX months.
And this is the problem with successes like this one.  Lots of charities could say they’ve taken the steps above.  In fact I’ve been working with two in the last fortnight who have followed the advice of experts almost to the letter and not seen anything like this level of success.  So why does it work some times and not others?
Personally, I think social media-driven campaigns will continue to add great value but that they simply can’t be planned like quarterly mailshots, marathons or gala events – there’s just too much X-factor involved (dictionary definition, not talent show). And that means its hugely difficult to secure resources to deliver them in the first place.  If we can’t forecast with certainty potential returns, we lose out on the investment during budgeting time.
So, I see two possible solutions:

  1. Finance directors and CEOs allow us some genuinely speculative budget to plan the unplannable and see if our organisations can generate £3m… maybe
  2. We continue to try and secure modest testing and communications budgets that we use to grow social networks, share awesome stories and hope that someone or some group leverages that with / for us bringing to bear their social networks. And we make it easy for them to succeed once they do.

No prizes for guessing which I think will be more likely…
That said, I will donate £100 to the Teenage Cancer Trust campaign if anyone in their team gets in touch and lays out honestly what they did that was different to what other charities do and led to their awesome success.  And then I’ll share it with everyone.  You’ll get me at [email protected]
And the very best of British luck to Mr Stephen Sutton – top fella.

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