Mo Cost, High Return?

Last week in my social media marketing class with @peterwagstaff, I raised the value of social media for not for profit organisations who typically struggle with tight budgets and limited marketing resources.

The response was quick and dramatic from within the room – too often organisations inaccurately believe that social media is a low or no cost activity and do not adequately account for the need to allocate employee time and effort into developing content and maintaining a presence online that is current, engaging and responsive.

Whilst social media may be free, social media marketing is definitely not.


Recent statistics suggest that 58% of marketers invest six hours a week on social media activities and 15% average over 20 hours. This represents a significant chunk of the typical 40 hour working week and as the old adage goes, “time is money”. Organisations also often invest significant dollars in traditional  marketing channels to drive traffic to their social media platforms.

So what benefit does social media offer not for profit organisations, if any?

Working for one myself – community agency LifeWorks Relationship Counselling and Education Services – I have found social media to be an invaluable resource. Two years ago, the majority of LifeWorks’ (limited) marketing budget was swallowed up by exceedingly high cost listings on Yellow Pages directories and sporadic advertisements in local newspapers and radio. As a result, the organisation’s exposure was limited to a single channel and it was unable to afford the frequency necessary to leverage traditional media.

Through the use of social media, we have had access to an unprecedented level of marketing resources that have allowed us to diversify our activities and build a meaningful brand. For us it is not about having a Facebook page (but we encourage all ‘likes’ here!) as our often discrete work in counselling, mediation and family violence have limited the desire for people to promote their patronage of the service.

Rather, social media has provided access to information, resources and connections that we can use to improve our profile and reach.


  • Rather than purchase expensive stock images we have used Facebook and to recruit volunteer models, photographers and makeup artists to conduct our own photoshoot and build a library of unique, high resolution images to use on our website and across all our marketing collateral for under $500.
  • Through blogs we learned of the Google Grants initiative and now have thousands of dollars worth of adword campaigns running online at no cost.
  • Rather than spend money on print advertising, we have gained exposure in the press by using to gain positive PR and build relationships with journalists to the extent that we are now on the speed dial of The Herald Sun relationships editor and even Channel Ten’s ‘The Project’.
  • Most recently we have made tentative steps into ‘digital storytelling’ with free flip cameras from donortec and hosting on Vimeo. (Check out our first video here!)

All this has been achieved in under eighteen months, at less than half the cost of the Yellow Pages ad and we have already seen a positive impact on website traffic and client numbers.

But…for many not for profit organisations, marketing is not just about building awareness and profile, but about actively sourcing funds and converting support into donations.

So the big question in this space is how does social media rate as a fundraising channel?

For causes such as Movember, there is no doubt that social media has played a dramatic role in terms of building both visibility and contributions. As co-founder Adam Garone acknowledges, social media provided the vehicle to amplify word of mouth exponentially so that the 450 Australian moustaches they grew and $54,000 they raised in 2004 exploded into 450,000 moustaches and $81 million in donations globally in 2010. Wow!

Social media is also opening up new ‘crowdfunding’ resources such as kickstarter and givenow and locally, Deloitte Digital partner Pete Williams (@rexster) harnessed the power of Twitter to organise 1.5million in donations and temporary housing for Flowerdale in the wake of the 2009 bushfires.

These examples showcase real social media successes for NFP organisations and causes but at the same time, a recent report quantified the fundraising value of Facebook supporters at $161.30, a figure significantly less than the $214.81 of those acquired through other channels.

Could this be because supporters feel they have made a sufficient contribution by ‘liking’ a cause or charity through social networking sites? Or is it that channels such as direct mail still do better at converting passive support into financial action? Is it just because this is a new activity or do not for profits need to be more creative in the social media space?

Would love to hear what you think!

Have you ever made a donation via Facebook or kickstarter?

Have you seen any great cause marketing online?

Until next time…


10 thoughts on “Mo Cost, High Return?

  1. Brad says:

    Nice one Kim.

    Even if the fundraising value of users of social media sites such as Facebook is less than through other channels, I would have thought that this was more than offset by the potentially much lower acquisition cost of those users.

    Well crafted social media campaigns can potentially scale exponentially (as your Movember example demonstrates), with near zero marginal cost, which is very difficult to achieve via other channels. Suggests that organisations with a compelling story to tell (or an interesting way to tell it) that believe they can achieve the critical mass to go viral would be well advised to put more energies into social media rather than other, more traditional channels.

    • Kim Edwards says:

      Great food for thought Brad, thanks for your input. I guess the pressure is really on for NFP organisations to become far more creative in their story telling and ‘get social’. Like you say, the scalability and potential reach is extraordinary.

  2. Tanya Suffolk says:

    Interesting blog Kim. Sourcing money for charities/not-for-profit organisations must be both rewarding but challenging and frustrating at times.

    During morning tea at a cafe recently, I listed to a man desperately trying to persuade shoppers to stop and donate to the fantastic Australian cause that he was raising funds for. I admired his persistance and his creativity in coming up with a range of one-liners, trying to entice people over to listen to his well-rehearsed sales pitch. I’m sad to say that the vast majority of people walked past, surprising given that we were in quite a wealthy suburb. If people are so reluctant to donate face-to-face, encouraging people to donate via the Internet I can only imagine would be harder.

    A lot of people I know are still sceptical of financial transactions performed online. Although most do it, they prefer to stick to companies that they know and trust well. I know for me personally, I am hesitant to donate online unless the charity/cause is very well-known or it has been personally recommended to me by friends and family. It’s sad but the internet is still riddled with scams, and many looking so genuine, that this is definitely a deterrent. I still want to feel like I know where my money is going, and the inpersonal nature of the internet is a barrier.

    This is probably where the importance of relationship and profile building are interlinked in social media. Organisations not only need to stand out and get noticed by the public, but also be likeable and trustworthy. Social media can be effective when its done well.

    • Kim Edwards says:

      Thanks for your insights Tanya and such a valid point you raise regarding the ‘speed of trust’. As you say, it really is all about building meaningful relationships and if NFP organisations are going to use social media platforms to do this, they need to be fully committed and dedicate adequate time and resources to do it well. Social media does not operate on 9 to 5 or part time hours so there is no point ‘starting the conversation’ if you just walk away. Thanks again for bringing a new dimension to the discussion!

  3. Well done, Kim… a great case study, detailing appropriate use of SM by NFPs. Can we use this content in our book, please? 🙂

    • Kim Edwards says:

      Thanks Wags – it would be great to have a chapter on social media for NFP – the stats are pretty compelling – over 600,000 NFP organisations in Australia , employing 1 in 15 people. Could be an interesting angle to consider.

  4. Pear says:


    I really like your block both the content and the design.

    And in fact I have read about kickstart website and went into study about it’s website a little bit before I came to Australian. I find the crowd-funding platform very interesting. People who started seem to understand what the whole idea of social media is and they just ride on to it. Seeing from your examples, social media has opened doors to many affairs. I feel that there are no more rules for people in the online world and social media is one of the tools for people to achieve what they want.

  5. Pear- Kanditadt says:

    I also agree with Peter. I think this case should definitely in our wiki.

  6. Kaye Swanton says:

    I have read through your blog and think it raises very salient points not just for the NFP sector but for me as a CEO. You rightly quantify the time it takes to attend to social media and for many of us in the NFP sector any kind of marketing budget has at times been more of a luxury than an essential. For old school like myself it has required an expansion of thinking and a challenge to even know how to recruit properly such that social media is appropriately in the marketing mix and within the expertise of the marketer and fund raiser.

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