Are highly personalized fundraising pages the future of online fundraising? Marc Sirkin, Chief Community Officer of Autism Speaks says "yes." He recently collaborated with Blackbaud to build Autism Speaks U to give students a collaborative way to raise funds and awareness for Autism Speaks, while also supporting their local autism communities. The website, which integrates personal fundraising templates, lets “students be creative instead of us being prescriptive in terms of what they can do, and how they can do it," said Sirkin. “That said, I also wanted to give them an easy to use the platform that would handle credit cards, registration and avoid their having to write a single line of html to launch a killer fundraising or awareness web page.”
Sirkin was inspired to experiment with this fundraising platform because he feels students are the future of philanthropy. He also had the support of Autism Speaks senior management and its Board of Directors to be creative and entrepreneurial in ramping up their fundraising program.
What makes Autism Speaks U and their new personal fundraising templates unique? “Our new site goes way beyond typical personal fundraising pages. We tried to combine the best of what we are seeing in the community/social media space, the nonprofit sector and anywhere else that could provide inspiration, like gaming, Foursquare and Farmville. We have big plans to expand this program once we prove the basic model is a success. I’m passionate because I know that volunteers and fundraisers want the ability to deeply personalize their experience with their charity of choice, and that we now have the technology to make that a reality.”
Since the new personal fundraising templates were integrated into Autism U, about $30K has been raised to support Autism Speaks. Though Sirkin has a long way to reach his multi-million dollar goal (he estimates it will take about two years) and is still figuring out logistics such as does Autism Speaks pay for out of pocket expenses by fundraising event organizers to coordinate events, he is confident that highly personalized fundraising pages will bring in the money.
"The trick to all of this 'social media stuff' is to figure out how to scale up personal conversations. Once we put a personal fundraising platform in place and figure out who is using it, we can drive all sorts of programmatic approaches through the site – everything from public recognition to internships to valuable career advice and access to decision makers and beyond. It’s literally all on the table as well as incentives, gaming, points programs and a flat out phenomenal community service experience. If we do all that stuff, we’re sure the money will come; and even if it doesn’t, we’ll be creating the volunteer base for the future generation of Autism Speaks."
At the end of the day though, Sirkin's entrepreneurialism shines through. "If it fails, it fails. I will think of something else."