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Gary Laermer Headshot

Turning Fans Into Fundraisers

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It is a new world of opportunity. For three straight days, every time I could refresh my Internet browser and see that dozens of new donors had made a gift to the YMCA of Greater New York. The bottom of our giving pyramid was filling up with new people, new names, new e-mail addresses - all people that care about New York City kids.

To our surprise, gifts were pouring in from the United Kingdom, Australia, Eastern Europe, South America, and from all across America. Some gave $1, some gave $1,000 to give kids in Bedford-Stuyvesant the opportunity to go to YMCA summer camp this year. After three days, more than $100,000 had been raised by over 3,000 unique donors via just one personal online giving page.

These gifts were unanticipated and not the result of a well-thought out development strategy. Rather, this extraordinary outpouring was the result of what occurred when one Brandon Stanton, founder of the popular blog "Humans of New York" blog and member of the Bedford-Stuyvesant YMCA, decided to ask his social media fan base to consider supporting our kids.

The story behind Brandon Stanton's personal giving page is one for the philanthropy history books, and will undoubtedly be used as a case study in years to come about how social media is changing then nature of giving. More important than the back story detailing why Brandon asked his followers to donate, is why Brandon decided to choose our organization as his charity of choice. As development professionals become more adept at using sophisticated social media software to identify key influencers, it's more important than ever to remember that building strong relationships is still fundamental to fundraising.

Here's why Brandon Stanton chose the Y: He was a member of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Y for years. He joined the Y when his blog was in its infancy. Staff at the Y cared about him and his work. Friendships were formed. He was asked to volunteer and got engaged in our mission. He realized the impact our organization has in the community. He saw our good work every day though his own eyes.

So when Brandon decided to ask his fan base to support a cause, his choice was easy. He knew that all donations would be put to good use. He knew he would be in a position to give back to his local community. Since his online giving campaign has ended, Brandon has agreed to speak to our staff about personal fundraising and we have chosen to celebrate him as a Y Champion at an upcoming event.

Brandon's generosity and good will also prompted us to concentrate more on the role of social media could play in philanthropy and building new friends. Here are a couple of quick tips I'd like to share:

• Know your fans/followers: Perform an audit of who "likes" and "follows" you. Perhaps you'll identify someone with large giving potential or with an established social media base.

• Be nimble: Don't let policies or procedures get in the way of one person's will to help your organization. Evaluate opportunities and go with your gut.

• Technology is just a vehicle: Relationship building may be different online, but it's just as important.

• Understand that traditional media is still important: Brandon's efforts were written up by news outlets around the world.

As the world of philanthropy and non-profit increasingly moves online, I have no doubt that I will be refreshing my browser more frequently to see the wonderful work being done by fans turned fundraisers!