National Harbor, Md.
To hear Marc Sirkin tell it, the next online fund-raising concept won’t require more than one staff member and would raise not thousands but millions of dollars.
Mr. Sirkin, chief community officer at Autism Speaks, spoke Thursday in a presentation called “Integrating Social Media, Donor Engagement, and Online Fund Raising” at the Blackbaud Conference for Nonprofits. His organization is trying to motivate college students. already loyal donors, into people who regularly seek donations for the charity.
Since 2009, Mr. Sirkin’s role is to figure out new ways to attract revenue through the use of social media. Leading a team of eight social-media and fund-raising staff members, he is focused on expanding intimate conversations among supporters into a perpetual fund-raising machine.
So far, the autism advocacy organization is doing everything right: it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Ning, Flickr, Digg, and the like. While Autism Speaks has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars through these Web platforms, it’s not enough, Mr. Sirkin says.
The five-year-old New York charity raises half of its money through walkathons and the like; the other half is raised online. But Mr. Sirkin says online will tip that equation this year and in the years to come. So he’s betting big on social media’s potential as a consistent fund-raising tool—with a hands-free touch.
Its first full-fledged fund-raising experiment using social media is Austism Speaks U, an effort that gives college students software they need to easily start their own fund-raising events.
“To any student in the world who feels like he wants to help raise money for us, here’s an entire platform for them,” Mr. Sirkin says. “They don’t need to do how to do code , just connect with their community.”
Students create their own profile, share it to their friends, and see how much money they are raising. They can do a team fund-raising event, a ticketed event, an publicity event or add their own touches, from pancake breakfasts to car washes.
Mr. Sirkin says college students were already doing this anyway, so the charity is simply making it much easier for them to directly send money to the organization. Previously, Austism Speaks often took unsolicited calls from students who said they had raised money for the charity and wanted to know how to give it to the organization. “Therein lies the real trick to this whole thing,” Mr. Sirkin says. “It’s mixing old world with new world.”
Since the Web site was relaunched a month ago, Autism Speaks U has already raised $10,000, with the goal of $40,000 by the end of the year. The charity spent $50,000 to $60,000 to build the fund-raising platform, Mr. Sirkin says. (Editor’s note: The previous sentence has been revised to correct the amount Autism Speaks has raised so far.)
“This is the future of online fund raising,” he says. “Here’s a real opportunity, a multi-million dollar opportunity.”
But to make this concept succeed, Mr. Sirkin says it needs to be “self-propelling” and only require one person to run. “It it fails, it fails,” he says. “It very well might. I don’t know. But that’s what we’re trying.”