[Note: This posting was written by Andrew Gossen, Senior Associate Director at the Alumni Association of Princeton University. Andrew has a wide range of responsibilities, including oversight for alumni education programming. This is his second guest posting. He wrote about GoCrossCampus in 2007.]
There has been a recent increase in media coverage of a new breed of web sites that combine social networking with philanthropy, such as Ammado and Razoo. When I started getting news stories on Facebook telling me that Princeton alumni were joining Razoo’s Princeton University Alumni and Donor Network, I went in for a closer look.
The concept is simple: sites such as Ammado and Razoo connect users with two groups:
- non-profit organizations that have a presence on the website, and
- other users with similar philanthropic interests.
The sites also make it possible to donate to the non-profits. Giving activity then appears on users' profiles and is disseminated throughout their networks. This philanthropic activity is the new type of social information that makes these sites distinctive.
This raises the question: what is the potential impact of the sites on development and alumni relations in one of the largest non-profit sectors, colleges and universities? I have two initial thoughts:
- There’s a transparency issue with these sites that ought to worry advancement officers. It’s not clear for instance, exactly where the money goes. Does it go to the Development Office? If so, where? Annual Giving? If so, are there processes to make sure the gift is credited to the appropriate donor or donor group?
- There is also an issue with restricted funds. On Razoo, for instance, in addition to allowing the user to specify the amount and recurrence of the donation, the donor can designate the money for a “specific fund, project, person or account.” How are restricted funds channeled into the appropriate accounts, to guard against comingling of funds? What happens if a donor specifies a use that isn’t officially endorsed or permitted? My guess is that for many university development offices, extensive groundwork would be needed to integrate this type of donation stream into established advancement practices.
While the pages for the non-profits on the sites allow some customization – news feeds, video feeds, logos, links to the organizations’ websites, and so on – an unscientific investigation of about a dozen college and university pages on Razoo suggests that few of them are taking advantage of these features. Indeed, I wonder how many of them are even aware that these pages exist?
Of course, many schools don’t have the resources necessary to develop a presence on every social and professional networking site that pops up. When a page on Razoo appears to be your institution asking for money, however, the game changes. We invest enormous effort in multifaceted communications to cultivate, solicit and steward donors. With the advent of this sort of third-party solicitation, advancement offices have lost their monopoly on fundraising-related communications, and that changes the environment. Would we even want a third party to appear to be raising funds on our behalf? This is a serious policy question.
As of this writing, the Princeton University Alumni and Donor Network on Razoo has approximately 50 members who have donated approximately $225 since its apparent creation in December 2008. In the context of a $1.75 billion campaign, that’s nothing. Nevertheless, as is so often the case with Web 2.0, the ground is shifting ever so slightly. These new sites may offer as many opportunities as challenges, and we must pay close attention.