Good news! Social networks have gone mainstream. Most nonprofits have at least one or two social media accounts, with Facebook being the most popular at the moment. Social media means access, and the opportunity to reach the 95 percent of supporters who wish to remain anonymous and who were previously unreachable. And, social media has evened out the playing field, so small nonprofits can take advantage of this digital outreach too.

But how might social media be used to foster donations?

Although the use of social media is about creative engagement and extending reach, there is a direct correlation between individual fundraising success on peer-to-peer platforms and the use of social media.

Peer-to-peer fundraising works because friends like to tell their friends about what they’re doing, including news about their philanthropic efforts. Social media amplifies and spreads the “ask.”

But is that the only reason? According to the Cygnus Donor Survey Where Philanthropy is headed in 2012, “The main reason why people sponsor is their relationship with the event participants (67 percent) but the cause also is a meaningful motivator, with 50 percent of event sponsors saying that the mission or reputation of the charity influenced their decision.” Passion for a cause at 50 percent represents a strong “second place” finish and points to the opportunity to cultivate and retain these sponsor-type donors in the future. Further, according to the same survey, 59 percent who had sponsored an event participant had never been asked by a nonprofit to make a direct contribution.

Raising awareness about a cause is a valid goal. Consider the “Do It In a Dress” Campaign, benefiting the nonprofit, One Girl. Wearing a school dress directly ties to the mission: “When a girl is educated, everything changes.”

How might you most effectively let others increase awareness, fundraise and cultivate long-term donors for your nonprofit?

First, Pick Your Platform. Andrea Berry and Stella Hernandez of Idealware recommend exploring in-house options through your constituent relationship management (CRM) system. If this is your first campaign, stick to simpler, easy-to-use tools. Remember that “(peer-to-peer fundraising) is an iterative process, and every attempt yields new knowledge and skills and builds your network for the next round.”

As an alternative to an in-house option, consider a third-party platform, like Causevox, Razoo, or Crowdrise, to name just a few. Rob Wu, founder of Causevox, has three pieces of advice for forging this relationship:

1. Make sure you can customize the platform, including the domain name, to reinforce your brand.

2. Ensure the platform is easy to use and empowers individual fundraisers.

3. The platform should offer content creation tools. Great content increases your search engine optimization (SEO), extending a campaign’s reach.

Create a social media calendar that celebrates and educates. Help participants feel a part of your organization. Yes, the communication should focus on the event and the participant, but outreach also should strive to motivate passion for the cause.

Provide tools. Children’s Hospital of Colorado Foundation sets their Courage Classic riders up for success. Their fundraising tools include access to online and offline donation forms, an easy email center, and tips on how to tell your story, setting up a blog and using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. My favorite recommendations are: “Raise $1,000 in 10 steps” and “…simply ask 50 of your Facebook friends to donate $20 each.”

Champion “team captains,” your “key influencers.” The National MS Society focuses on specific relationship-building activities with its team captains. Local chapters create team-building events and have an active rapport with each captain. Team captains also are recognized every year at the national conference.

Make it fun by awarding prizes to fundraisers and donors alike. The Robin Hood Foundation’s “Team NYC Marathon 2012” recently offered a Yankee’s T-shirt signed by Derek Jeter for every $28 donation. If you donated $24 to Water for People’s“Time Well Spent” campaign, during a specified time period, you were entered into a contest for autographed Olympic swim gear. Children’s Hospital of Colorado Foundation awards special biking gear to recognize repeat riders who have achieved certain fundraising levels.

Capture and analyze social media data. Organizations are beginning to track social media data through their social CRM, using a tool like Avectra’s A-Score™ or by hand with the analytics already provided on the social media site. Examining the “likes” and the number of individual fundraisers, for example, helps you measure awareness, the reach of your campaign and determines your next steps.

Harvest an ask, after the event. This assumes that you’ve done an outstanding job thanking the donor and/or participant the first time and provided a memorable event experience. Also, you now know the event participant a little better and the reasons why he or she committed to your organization.

Survey your participants and their supporters to learn about their interests in your organization. Perhaps you’ll identify another team captain or a new volunteer. When sending a direct solicitation, be creative. Make the ask about specific ways your nonprofit is moving its mission forward.

Go Mainstream. Bring peer-to-peer fundraising to your organization to harvest and retain new supporters of your mission!

I’d like to thank Julie Butcher, CIO of the National MS Society for her contributions to this article.