It's contagious. It's bringing in new donors and extra funds. But it's unpredictable and hard to control. It's viral fundraising - when a story, e-mail, video, call to action or event catches fire online and is passed from person to person, creating a wave of response and giving. "It could be an e-mail. It could be a social network. It could be a video on YouTube. So when you use the term 'it went viral,' it merely means that people told their friends about it via word-of-mouth," explains Madeline Stanionis, CEO of Watershed, a San Francisco-based online fundraising and advocacy company.
While viral fundraising is an organic phenomenon, fundraisers can still prepare and be ready to take action when a news story or one of its Web 2.0 posts ignites a viral response. Below are tips from experts in online fundraising to position your organization to capitalize on viral marketing.
1. Build Support on Social Networks and Blogs
"You want a presence on the social networks. It might not have done a single thing for you in the past, but you want to have it in place so that when something does happen - when you get that Internet moment, what we call that 'watershed moment' - that you have it in place," says Stanionis. She also suggests building relationships with bloggers who are friendly to your issue so you can immediately reach out to them in the instance of a viral campaign. Heather Mansfield, owner of Los Angeles-based marketing firm DIOSA | Communications, points out the other benefits of social networks including brand building and gaining new online subscribers who marketers can call upon to spread the word in the event of a viral occurrence.
2. Create Content With Viral Potential
"Your chance of getting a video that goes viral on YouTube is probably one in a million," Mansfield asserts. "The biggest thing is having something that hits a nerve with people - that nerve can be funny or controversial. It's more just [about] finding a subject matter that will end up really pulling people back in on their own," suggests Paul Phillips, online fundraising manager for PETA. Phillips reports that a PETA video posted on MySpace exposing Chinese fur farms (where dogs and cats are killed for their skin) recently went viral. The video easily spread throughout MySpace and numerous outside blogs because it included embedding code. To drive viewers back to its site from the video, PETA also included a link to an advocacy landing page with more information on the issue and asked in several languages to encourage international viewers to donate.