Fundraising in the digital age - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Fundraising in the digital age

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Posted: Sunday, May 8, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 1:34 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

It's no secret that electronic media has become the new standard for communication in the social and business worlds. Companies take advantage of the Internet, including social media sites, due in part to convenience and speed.

Because of these positives and the collective jump by society onto the electronic bandwagon, non-profit organizations, who operate on bare-bones communication and marketing staff, are doing what they can to provide information and give electronic options to their followers.

For example, the Grand Canyon Chapter of the America Red Cross, which covers 87,000 square miles of Arizona, from Yuma to Phoenix to the Hoover Dam, has two paid communication positions.

A spokesperson for the organization said the staff has their work cut out for them especially since direct-mail donations have fallen off by 40 percent over the last four years.

"We have to get creative to make up for it," said Mark Weldon, communications director for the Grand Canyon Chapter. "(Donations from) the Internet have probably doubled in the past few years and a lot of that can be attributed to social media."

The chapter set up a Facebook page two-and-a-half years ago and has gone from 75 followers the first year to nearly 1,000 today.

Through the page, they inform the public of events such as the reported 534 disasters, the majority of which were house fires, in their coverage area in the last year alone.

"The news of those disasters and the people that the Red Cross help don't always make the news and reach the ears of the average citizen," Weldon said. "These are usually low income homes or families that have lost everything. We set them up with food and clothing and whatever else they might need."

When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Americans were quick to respond. And of the $230 million raised nationally in support of Haiti, $33 million came from text message donations.

"The American people are very episodic in giving and also generous," Weldon said. "But there is still a need to be able to inform and educate the public of the disasters that are taking place in our backyard.

"We're totally funded by the America public and we rely on their generosities, not the state, county or at the federal level."

One of the biggest fundraisers of the year in Arizona is the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure, a 60-mile walk that brings in millions of dollars every year for breast cancer research and awareness.

Approximately 30,000 people take part in the walk every year and the Arizona race brought in $3.2 million last year, the majority of which was generated by the 3-Day for the Cure.

A spokesperson said that 64 percent of participants registered for the event online, an increase of 10 percent since 2007.

"It's definitely the convenience factor," Shawn Elmore, development director, said. "And we switched to a brand new website in January that offers a lot more options and a lot more flexibility in registering and donating online."

This was also the first year that they implemented a Facebook widget and through that brought in $25,000.

On the organization's page, members share stories that Elmore said can help connect and inspire people, even if they don't have the money to donate.

"When you get people involved and interested, especially through something like Facebook, you are building up support for years to come," Elmore said. "We are making it a total communications stream."

At the spiritual level, local churches are also getting into the game. Eighty percent of the congregation at Mountain View Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills choose to receive the church's newsletter by electronic means, a spokesperson said. They also use Facebook to promote upcoming events.

"While it is not our No. 1 form of communication, we are slowly moving in the direction of using it a lot more than we used to," Darla Gonzalez, director of administration for MVLC, said in an email. "We recently added online giving as a way for membership to conveniently donate to the church making tracking, reporting and giving easier."

In addition to the convenience factor, using electronic means helps environmentally due to less use of paper, which also saves money for the church.

But for those who think that electronic media is a less-personal form of communication, Gonzalez says the church still prefers the old-fashion face-to-face meetings whenever possible.

"It's important for MVLC to keep things personal," she said. "We still send handwritten notes to visitors and prefer face-to-face contact, classes and fellowship dinners as the optimal way of communicating with our members - while still embracing technology and understanding the needs of the members."

• Contact writer: (480) 898-4903 or troemhild@ahwatukee.com

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