The Long Tail of Charitable Giving

In The Long Tail (TLT), the third stop on my tour of social media (SM) books, Chris Anderson discussed the impact of the Internet on markets, and although Anderson did not address nonprofits in TLT, his theory has implications for Reston Interfaith (RI) and other nonprofits.

According to Anderson, the Internet has reduced the impact of geography and production and distribution costs, factors that previously were barriers in many traditional markets and tended to limit consumers’ choices. Distribution costs have largely disappeared for products such as music and movies that can be distributed over the Internet. Similarly, geography is a minimal factor now in demand for physical goods that can be ordered online and shipped anywhere.  And with YouTube, potentially everyone can find an audience for their multimedia creations. The Internet has made it possible for many niche markets to develop and thrive.

Successful traditional markets relied on large demand for a small number of popular products (think, Hollywood box-office “hits”). The hits in any market reside in the tall “head” of the sales curve (the black area, left), when sales volume is plotted against the number of unique items sold, ranked by popularity. The “long tail” (LT) refers to the flat end of the curve (the green area, above), where there is small demand for a large number of unique products (think, indie films via Netflix). The Internet has helped end this monopoly of the hit and reveal the demand for niche products, according to Anderson.

obligatory long tail slideEven before SM primer Groundswell told businesses to embrace SM technology, Anderson told them that they should figure out how to be in the LT of their markets to remain successful.  Since Anderson’s publication in 2004 of an article that gave rise to TLT, some people have criticized his data and predictions, but few would argue with his basic theory. This slide (right), included in a venture capital pitch in 2005, suggested that Anderson’s theory had been readily accepted, to the point of being cliché.

Much has been written about the LT for businesses. But what is the LT for nonprofits and charitable giving, and what does the LT mean for RI? Anderson didn’t write about nonprofits in TLT.  And neither Groundswell nor its SM cousin, Engage!, addressed nonprofits beyond mention of nonprofit SM coach Beth Kanter and SM’s promise for fund-raising. Even so, after reading these books, I’ve concluded that: (1) the LT of charitable giving is the many people willing to donate small amounts to RI’s mission, once they know about it, contrasted with the few large donors at the head of the curve; and, (2) RI should stay active on SM and pay attention to how people behave online to reach more small donors in its local community.  More specifically, smartphones are now outselling personal computers, so RI should “go mobile” to make it easier for people to donate and promote RI online to their social networks.

RI does well with Web 1.0 and 2.0 practices; to really push into the LT of the curve, though, RI should optimize for mobile devices (“simplified Web 3.0″) with the following techniques.

  • Establish a text-to-give vehicle. A recent survey by The mGive Foundation reported that donors like the immediacy and convenience of text donations, would like the option to text donations of $25 or more, and are willing to follow text donations with larger donations via other channels.


    QR code for Nonprofit Tech 2.0

  • Establish quick response (QR) codes for donations. Donating via scanned QR codes is even more convenient than texting.  I scanned this QR code (right) to access a mobile web page for Nonprofit Tech 2.0.
  • Establish a presence on geolocation sites (e.g., Foursquare, Gowalla) to foster connections among RI’s supporters in its local community.

  • Create web pages for mobile devices to make it easier to learn about RI and donate on the go.

  • Incorporate mobile social media into live events. RI holds fund-raisers that it promotes on its website and via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.  To make it easier for supporters to donate and promote RI to their networks, RI can also display text-to-donate and QR codes in online channels and printed materials at the event site, and add check-ins on geolocation sites.

By making it easier for supporters to give small, frequent donations, and promote RI to their networks, RI can reach into the LT of charitable giving to better accomplish its mission.

I’ll leave you with social media tips for nonprofits, from John Haydon, Inbound Zombie.

Thanks for reading!

Gallery | This entry was posted in Reston Interfaith, Social Media, The Long Tail and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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