As charities move away from the more traditional models of fundraising, third sector organisations need to understand how best to utilise brand prosumers for fundraising online – as well as be aware of the pitfalls.

The proliferation of new technologies has disrupted the traditional model of charity fundraising. We have seen a paradigm shift away from ‘reactive fundraising’, where a charity brand engages in a direct broadcast with donors via traditional touchpoints and using its brand and beneficiaries as leverage to incite donation. In its place is ‘proactive fundraising’, which sees digitally mobilised citizen volunteers instigate and undertake fundraising activities, soliciting donations from their online peer-to-peer social network. While fundraising isn’t a new technique employed by charities, the appropriation of the Internet as a locus for peer-to-peer fundraising by individuals holds multiple potential benefits. This is due to the ease of one-click donation, its reach into larger networks of engaged social communities, and the fact that personal solicitation has proved more effective than solicitations directly from charities. However, many charities have still not yet embraced this new model of peer authenticated fundraising.

Within the landscape of online fundraising, VFCs take on the role of co-creators, or co-producers, involving themselves as the drivers of mass collaboration amongst a network of peers. The VFCs continually push out messaging via social media, badged with the beneficiary charity’s logo and mission statement, as part of their appeals for funds. At the same time they consume the act of giving their time and efforts. To that end, during the process of fundraising, the VFC becomes a ‘prosumer’. As such, it has been suggested that fundraising is undergoing a transformation into a democratic activity due to the mass participatory nature and personal messaging of social media framed by peer authenticated fundraising.

Utilising VFCs as brand prosumers has its advantages for charities in that it is cost effective, freeing up funds to use elsewhere. But this relationship has been criticised in the media, such as The Guardian and Third Sector, for the potential dilution or confusion of the brand’s campaigning message by VFCs. This is suggested to be a threat to the potency of a charity’s mission and therefore its ability to create a competitive advantage over others within its sector. This could hinder a charity’s ability to successfully compete for grants, and lobby on behalf of its beneficiaries. As such, Bryan Miller suggests that as endorsements via peer-to-peer social networks are becoming increasingly valuable, charities need to ensure that they are able to give VFCs personal experiences of the organisation that are worth relaying to their peers. This will facilitate authentic ‘e-word-of-mouth’ message distribution in order to mitigate any dilution of the campaign’s message.

 

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