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Give until it zooks! – Online fundraiser helps region

By   /   Saturday, January 31st, 2009  /   Comments Off on Give until it zooks! – Online fundraiser helps region

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Even if givezooks! didn’t exactly coin the term “social fundraising,” the company is at least looking to revolutionize the concept.

A Santa Barbara-based Internet startup, givezooks! is using the power of social networking tools to transform the way nonprofits and other grassroots campaigns fundraise and connect with donors.

“Social fundraising, as we call it, is the concept of the future,” said Chief Executive Officer Carol Schrader.

She, along with co-founders Joe Fazio, Eric Schrader and David Parsin, started the for-profit company in October 2007 and launched givezooks.com a year later. They already have 35 clients and say they only hope to expand it into what they see as a virtually untapped market. The site has helped its clients raise over $5 million to date.

Many nonprofits are now realizing that “if they’re going to interact with the next generation of donors, they’re going to have to reach them online,” Schrader said. “The motivation for all the founders was that we felt that the nonprofit sector wasn’t benefiting from the latest technology.”

Using the power of social networking sites such as Facebook, Digg, Newsvine, LinkedIn, Technorati and MySpace, givezooks! gives clients one-stop access to some of the Web’s best tools to reach out to potential donors. With a subscription – which ranges from $99 to $399 a month depending on the size and needs of the organization – clients log in to an account where they can start a variety of fundraising appeals, wish-lists and grassroots campaigns.

For smaller nonprofits, such as the Krishnamurti Foundation of America in Ojai, they can create a customized fundraising platform without in-house tech staff.

“It’s enabled us to take a huge leap forward,” said Jackie Saunders, director of development at the Krishnamurti Foundation. Now, she said, she doesn’t have to wait for the foundation’s small IT department to help her develop a new online campaign. Instead, she can log in to their account and have a new campaign going at the click of a button.

Krishnamurti’s annual appeal is just one example of a givezooks! campaign. On the campaign’s page, supporters can make a donation, track the campaign’s progress (currently at more than $500,000 into the $800,000 goal) and share the page with friends through any variety of social networking sites or e-mail.

“It’s really magnetized a lot of donations for us,” Saunders said.

“Judging from the economy, more and more nonprofits like us are going to be scaling back,” she said. She anticipates that as a general trend, many of those organizations will start to move away from large, specialized administrative teams and toward smaller teams with broad-based skills. Givezooks! can play a part in that, she explained, by allowing people like her with creative writing and organizational skills to concentrate on launching campaigns without having to get caught up in the technical details of actually creating a Web site.

“It’s really liberated me to be able to do what I want,” she said.

Sarah Lauderdale, director of media and special events at the Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, or CADA, in Santa Barbara, agreed. “Any new resource or tool, especially in these interesting economic times, that can help us to reach a younger donor group is a good thing,” she said.

Whereas CADA primarily tried to market to supporters through direct mail before, the organization is now able to reach a much broader range of people and has found that online fundraising is a huge cost cutter and an environmentally-friendly alternative as well.

Nonprofits have already discovered how to be more autonomous on the Web through services such as e-mail marketer Constant Contact. “Those kinds of services are already entrenched in the nonprofit culture,” Saunders said, and “givezooks! is just a logical extension of that.”

As social networking continues to link those with common interests, Schrader said givezooks! seemed like a logical step forward for her and the other co-founders.

“The timing really was now,” she said, especially given her almost 20 years of marketing experience.

She and Fazio, Eric Schrader and Parsin all worked together previously in the San Francisco Bay Area at Agile Software, now Oracle, and other start-up firms. Years later, in May 2007, the four of them again saw an opportunity to use their combined marketing and technology skills and started givezooks!, which also has an office in Palo Alto.

“We just saw an opportunity to take our technology backgrounds and make a bigger impact,” Schrader said.

Of course, the whole concept of social networking and online marketing is nothing new, but Schrader said that givezooks! is the first site to combine all of those tools into a single platform that smaller organizations can use.

“Nobody’s ever put it together in the way we have,” she said.

Schrader said, if there was ever any doubt before about the effectiveness of online fundraising, Barack Obama’s record-breaking online campaign proved that the Web is a very viable way to reach the younger generation. In September 2008 alone, the then presidential candidate raked in $150 million in funds, much of which was attributed to thousands of small online contributions made by individuals.

“We just thought, ‘why not apply that same theory to nonprofits?’” Schrader explained. “The Web is the perfect way to do outreach.”

There is over $300 billion in charitable giving a year, yet only an estimated 1 to 10 percent of that is done online. That’s a landscape Schrader and her team hopes to revolutionize. Given the size of the market and the seemingly endless potential of the Internet, that task may just prove doable.

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