Fundraising news, ideas and inspiration for professional charity fundraisers

How do I budget for social media fundraising?

How do I budget for social media fundraising?

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:

  • Start with a popular, sexy, fashionable or timely cause (sorry but this still makes a difference)
  • Have and share a genuinely human story in a warm and non-patronising way
  • Make the story about the person and their dreams, not the charity’s (at least not until later…)
  • Make it emotional but positive
  • Use images or video throughout
  • Sprinkle in some celebrity comment via social media
  • Share it across your social networks
  • Make it easy for donors to give at every opportunity
  • Share success as a ‘push’ for more donations
  • Be sufficiently fleet of foot to get your communications and messages out to your audiences quickly
  • Don’t expect it to work overnight but be prepared to share and talk about it if it does

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

And the very best of British luck to Mr Stephen Sutton – top fella.

Kevin is the founder of Bottom Line Ideas and has a deep-rooted passion for ideas that actually work in the real world. Those ideas help charities of all shapes and sizes to get their stories and messages to the audiences they need to hear them. And then persuade them to act!

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