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Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Social trysumers and the free experience era.

By Marcelo Iniarra

I was contacted by SOFII a couple of weeks ago to write a regular blog on interesting fundraising trends and innovations. I have been scratching my head fairly consistently ever since about how best to begin a series of posts on one of my favourite elements of fundraising, and indeed the primary focus of my career as a consultant, innovation.

Those of you that know me through work, or have attended one of the workshops or seminars that I give at various fundraising events around the world will probably be aware of my philosophy that innovation should be a primary focus within all social organisations. In this post I will be focusing primarily on innovation within the area of fundraising.

After more than a decade promoting this philosophy, firstly from within Greenpeace and later as a creative strategist at my own company,, with clients such as UNICEF, UNHCR, Action Aid and SOS Kinderdorf, I began to notice a pattern emerging regarding supporter needs.

As some of you may be aware, during my time at Greenpeace, I was one of the pioneers of digital media within the social sector. While promoting digital innovation within the organisation, I began to notice more and more people getting involved as cyber activists, e-newsletter subscribers, mobile phone donors and through other means of digital participation, even though many of them had never actually donated money.

A pressing question began to emerge in my mind. What if we started to consider these people not just as mere contacts in our databases but as people with a new access to the organisation, people who are interested in the cause and might one day go on to make a donation so long as their free experience of our organisation turned out to be a favourable one?

During a time when digital media is enabling us to have so many experiences for free – we can consult encyclopaedias, listen to music, watch television, read newspapers, all without spending a single penny, social organisations must also join the free experience era and involve people in their work before asking for a donation.

The term that I invented for these supporters, ‘social trysumers’ is probably best explained in the chapter Social Trysumers and the Hidden Gate in the Pyramid , that I co-wrote with my former Greenpeace colleague and friend Alfredo Botti, which appears in the book, Internet Management for Non-profits.

Social trysumers is based on a concept that first appeared on the website in March 2007. Trysumers, simply put, refers to a new breed of consumer who wants to ‘try before they buy’. In my opinion, supporters of our social organisations are certainly no different and, largely thanks to the boom in digital media, there has been an in

creasing emergence of non-financial supporters in search of new and creative proposals for social change.

As a result of this new door, we then discovered that changes must be made to the traditional fundraising pyramid in order to bring it up to date with this new free experience era. The traditional fundraising pyramid only permitted access to the organisation by making a donation. Entry could be gained by making a one-time donation, by becoming a monthly donor, or by leaving a legacy, but it always involved an initial financial contribution.

The new fundraising pyramid includes a new entrance – a non-financial, digital entrance – as well as a whole new level from which millions of people can potentially begin their journey of commitment to an organisation.

In my experience, there are two kinds of people that inhabit this new level of the fundraising pyramid. The first kind, the ‘social trysumers’, wants to experience the social sector via new media, without incurring any costs. Maybe they will like what they find and go on to support the organisation financially, or maybe they won’t...

The second group consists of a more traditional sort of social participant who wants to become part of a digital movement, activism or community and enters the new pyramid that way. These kinds of people already want to form part of the organisation but do not want to commit to a donation right away.

Some examples of successfully implemented social trysumer programmes include several campaigns developed by Greenpeace and, which encourage people who want to help a cause or individual to get involved, say bu signing a petition or calling a government into account. The hope is that this experience will make the trysumers think, ‘Hey, I love doing things for this organisation’. Then, when there is a financial appeal, these people will respond by saying, ‘Sure, I’ll support your cause financially because I know how important it is to fight for, how difficult it is to achieve certain goals, and I know that you’ll make the most out of my donation’.

Of course, the issue of sustainability is vital for social organisations and it is therefore important that we obtain as much contact data for our social trysumer databases as possible, in order to persuade them to cross the line into a financial relationship with the organisation at a later date.

As a result of these dramatic changes to the very foundation of fundraising, the question also arises as to whether fundraising itself should change in order to accommodate this new breed of supporter. Which department should be in charge of managing the social trysumer database? Should the communications area manage the email or SMS information? Should the campaign area take charge of involving the trysumers in digital action? Must the fundraising area invite the trysumers to donate in order to achieve its organisational objectives?

I believe that now, more than ever, there should be public mobilisation or supporter mobilisation departments, integrally leading non-financial relationships with the organisation. This would constitute a significant change in fundraising. Given the new paradigms introduced by electronic media, perhaps the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived more than 2,000 years ago and could not possibly have imagined that his wise advice would still apply today, was very right in stating, ‘There is nothing permanent except change’.

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