The past few years have seen the rise and rise of social networking sites on the internet. Many charities have leapt into this new sea of opportunity - or at least paddled in the shallows. Nearly everyone has at least thought about whether they should have a Facebook page.
Most social networking sites now allow charities to create some form of group that the public can join. The 'owner' of the group can then email its members through the site, add applications for members to download to their profiles and ask them to promote their 'activism' to their friends.
Some sites also offer the option for supporters to donate to the charity through the groups they join. There is no evidence yet that these 'donate' mechanisms have been successful in the UK, although there appear to have been some huge winners in the US.
One thing to watch is what you get from these donations. Do you get the donors' names and addresses? Is there data protection opt-in? Are you giving donors a Gift Aid option, or do you just get the money?
If you do not have a donation option on your website - or you don't have a site - then using a social networking site might be better than nothing. But if you offer the opportunity to donate through your own site, it could be better to add a link on your group page to the 'donate' page on your main site. That way you can get supporters' details, offer opt-in and Gift Aid, and control any follow-up thank-you messages. Cash in hand may seem attractive, but it is names that allow you to build relationships.
If these new networks are the only way you can reach a younger audience, they deserve a close look. But it is important to balance the ease with which the donor can give against the benefits of data capture and building relationships.
Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.