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A simple approach to online fundraising from the very clever and cool AJ Leon

by Christiana Stergiou

Fundraising is not all about Facebook, Twitter, blogs and websites. Fundraising is about things like storytelling, engaging, asking and thanking. That’s why I was so relieved to meet AJ Leon, digital problem solver, New Yorker and sometimes fundraiser, at the International Fundraising Congress (IFC ) in the Netherlands last October.

AJ was at IFC sharing the story of his work with Global Hope Network International (GHNI) to raise $72,000 in three hours with a mobile phone and a $250 budget to fund change in the village of Ola Nagale in Kenya.

It sounds simple, and a significant part of the simplicity is that it doesn’t rely on the latest whizz bang technology. I was relieved to hear AJ say that we will never be able to keep up with technology. Instead, he believes that three main concepts – digital storytelling, influencer outreach and the donor experience – will remain a constant when it comes to raising funds online, regardless of the technology at hand. And these are the main tactics in his digital fundraising model.

Digital storytelling

AJ believes future of giving will be at the local project level. A basic fundraising principle is that ‘people give to people’ and so he forecasts that more people will want to give at a project level and feel that they are directly connecting with the people that they help, rather than giving to an big organisation or a brand. Perhaps one day soon, logos could be a thing of the past, because the internet is giving people direct access to the people that organisations help.

The way to get your message across is with stories. “Without stories you raise no money. With no money, no work gets done”. AJ was instrumental in helping the organisation Epic Change develop its “Twitter Kids of Tanzania” campaign, where laptops were provided to kids in a Tanzanian school for which Epic Change was raising money. The kids introduced themselves to the world via Twitter, shared their stories and connected directly with donors. As a result, Epic Change, a relatively unknown organisation, raised $100,000 to fund a library in the school.

Influencer outreach

AJ’s calls his fundraising model ‘unfundraising’. It is all about getting influential people to tell your story for you, and to share it with their communities. He suggests some influencers are simply “geeks with lots of friends” and classes himself this way. In the online world, there are followers, fans and influencers. It is the last category that can incite people to action.

Finding these people is not about how many followers you have, it’s about the type of followers you have. He says, ‘go deep not wide’. Build relationships, rather than focussing on the numbers. Comment on blogs, retweet their news, engage without asking for anything first. And, offer stories that they may want to share.

For the Ola Nagale village in Kenya, GHNI was able to connect with a high profile blogger, who had posted some comments on the GHNI blog. The manager at GHNI picked up the phone and asked for her help. As a result, she visited the village in Kenya and then shared her experience with her subscribers and followers.

Experiential philanthropy

For AJ it is important that donors become part of your story and part of your family. He feels that the ‘donate now’ button is a dreadful invention, and instead, he focuses on the power of ‘joining’. The power is that they become part of you and they can experience the things you do, sometimes even firsthand. He uses three traditional sales techniques to promote this:

  • FINALITY – Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Villages like Ola Nagale that are helped by GHNI, are committed to transforming themselves to escape perpetual poverty and dependance. This is a three-five year transformation that donors can experience over time through the photo-story based website/blog, video streaming and facebook.
  • SCARCITY – GHNI was looking for just 100 people giving $12 per month. After 100 people had joined – that is,  become monthly givers to this project – the ‘offer’ was closed.
  • VALUE ADD – What do people get in return for joining this community? For this project, they had access to live video streams from the village, a private Facebook members only group, where they had access to the GHNI’s project staff, and live video conferences from the village. This has so far resulted in a 95 per cent retention rate of regular givers.

The technology…

Now I’m sure you do want to know what technolgoy enabled this project. It goes something like this:

  • A Tumblr photo blog as the main storytelling platform.
  • A mobile phone that enabled a local person, who was appointed as village journalist, to take photos, add simple captions and upload them directly to the blog.
  • Mailchip to provide blog updates to donors via email.
  • Facebook to enable discussion between GNHI project staff and donors. This was set up as a private, donors-only, group.
  • GoToMeeting.com meant that donors could join a video conference or live feed from the village.

You can connect with AJ here. This article was originally published on the Connecting Up (nonprofit tech and innovation) blog. Thanks AJ and Connecting Up, you’re fab!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Pedro Menezes 6 December, 2014 at 3:55 am

Really awesome example for any fundraising campaign :)

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