Well, I knew it would happen sooner or later but Blackbaud has finally done it. They’re starting to do what was once possible only by hiring a team of developers and spending a large sum of money with version 5.5 of Blackbaud NetCommunity (BBNC). What is it I’m talking about? The wholesale merging of social networking with your fundraising tool. BBNC developer Tim Wolf gave me a tour of BBNC last week.
It’s a difficult topic to wrap your head around if you’re not used to looking at analytics tools and you don’t understand the basics of data aggregation and its eventual power as a fundraising tool. However, imagine merging social networking analytics tools like the kind you find when you run a Facebook Fan Page with the data from Raiser’s Edge. This allows for the dream of Total Information Awareness that the US Government proposed in its war on terror now applied to your organization’s fundraising efforts. Sound scary? Not really. This is an opt-in approach to learning all about your online constituents. Here are the basics:
- You can now create a social network on your BBNC site. The functionality is modeled more on Facebook than it is on Myspace. It’s dedicated to the creation of a walled garden of data for your nonprofit’s use. This means that your org will have total and complete control of constituent data on your site.
- The integration tools are more directed at Facebook users at this moment in that it can integrate with your Facebook friends list and drive invites to join your network to them in an attempt at a viral spread of the network through existing Facebook networks.
- Most importantly, that social network can engage in a two-way data transfer between itself and Raiser’s Edge.
Things that still need to be built out include the business intelligence reporting tools that would allow you to do deep data mining of your users once the social network has run for some time. I suspect that Blackbaud will probably have these tools up once you have the requisite data to do so.
Social media activist Beth Kanter raised this issue quite a bit. Those of you who remember her campaign last year on Causes’ contest run in December may have remembered her frenzied Twittering which not only exhorted us to action but also bemoaned the lack of reporting tools for Causes and the lack of reasonable fundraising logic.
BBNC proposes to solve all of that by including fundraising business logic already baked into Raiser’s Edge and merging it with the BBNC social networking application. Because of the opt-in nature of a social networking application, you can gather more data about a constituent’s demographic profile but also build a profile based on resulting user activity. You would have a sense of the social graph of your constituents but more importantly you will eventually be able to find the supernodes in your social network and more rapidly incorporate those supernodes into your social media campaigns.
One side effect of BBNC is that it will retard adoption of third-party social networks by hundreds of nonprofits. At the same time, this should hopefully force developers at Change.org, zazengo, ammado, justmeans, Razoo, Bring Light and a host of other networks to reconsider the kind of tools that they will make available to their users. Many of these networks tend to see their value proposition in terms of the badge-like nature of their network in a user’s profile. This just results in a rather simplistic me-too effect as users join the cause du jour. Simply saying that you’re part of a nonprofit’s constituent base has very little bottom line effect for a nonprofit. When advocates for nonprofit participation in social media ask nonprofits to join in on Causes, they are in effect asking a nonprofit to make an entrepreneurial move into a space where they may have little expertise on staff and with little expectation of a monetary return. Worse, with existing nonprofit social networks (or Facebook), you will not have enough tools to help you understand if there is ANY monetary return at all. This explains the relatively tepid responses of nonprofits to most nonprofit social networking applications. BBNC does a lot to restore the balance by asking nonprofits to instead build on their constituents already in their Raiser’s Edge database and by using the already existing skill sets many nonprofit staff members have in Raiser’s Edge.
Of course, there are several questions. For those nonprofits using BBNC and hoping to use the social networking features, this is also an entrepreneurial move. BBNC currently allows for a fairly complete customization and redesign of its tools to more closely match your existing website’s look and feel. A rollout of a BBNC social network will have redesign and marketing costs associated with it. This can be substantial.
Will the users show up? And if so, can your organization provide enough content to allow the users to more adequately participate in your mission? If users can’t show a badge illustrating their relationship to your organization on a third-party social network like Facebook, will that be an inherent limitation to their activity on your network? Is this better suited to organizations with a strong advocacy appeal so that non-monetary asks can be accumulated in some form of soft credit? Tons of questions here, I’m sure you can make up your own. Then again, these are more interesting questions to ask and have answered than the ones nonprofits have been faced with for the last couple of years in regards to their social networking strategy.