Goodbye collecting tins, and hello Twitter followers. The future of giving is online.

The emergence of philanthropic social media is transforming the way society is giving back to the nonprofit sector through avenues such as Facebook and Twitter, making charity a more interactive experience than ever.

The nonprofit sector raised a total of $298 billion in 2011. Of that, $22 billion was raised online, according to the Charitable Giving Report from The Blackbaud Index. Blackbaud, a software company for nonprofits, measures giving statistics from nonprofit organizations to determine monthly fundraising totals. Blackbaud's overall totals were taken from Giving USA reports.

Online giving has grown since 2006, the furthest back Blackbaud's data goes, with a fundraising total of $296 billion, $6.8 of which came from online donations.

"Anyone who is not taking advantage of social media is really going to be left behind," said Sally Boucher, director of research at Wealth Engine Institute, a data and analytics company.

A new generation of givers

Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other social sharing sites create buzz for nonprofits like the American Cancer Society.

"Our approach and general strategy for all channels in social media is to use social media to engage with customers," said Jennifer Brady, director of Digital Platforms for the American Cancer Society.

When it comes right down to it, it's all about getting the conversation started.

"To me, the most important thing about social media is the interaction," said Boucher. "Most nonprofits don't raise a lot of money from it. Everyone is a little disappointed that we are not raising more money that way, but the other advantages really dwarf the dollars raised."

And through an increased effort to create a stronger social media presence, nonprofits are connecting with the next generation of givers — the Millennials.

According to Achieve's 2012 Millennial Impact Report, a survey of more than 6,500 adults ages 20-35 on their involvement with nonprofits, 67 percent reported they have interacted with a nonprofit on Facebook, the most used social site in the study.

"Social media, with its immediacy and ease of connection, continues to play a central role in Millennials’ relationships and interactions with nonprofit organizations," the study reported.

Of those who actively use Facebook, 92 percent reported "liking" a nonprofit's page, and 69 percent reported to following news updates.

Connecting the world

If you were to ask nonprofit marketing and communications consultant Susan Chavez the appeal behind social media based philanthropy, she would tell you that it's in the connectivity.

"For individual nonprofits, that's always been the issue. How do you reach out to folks? How do you find common ground so they can support you in your mission?" she said. "Now you are getting to hear from (donors) and what projects they like to fund, and what work they are doing."

And now it's more accessible than ever since the rise of smartphones.

Achieve reported that 77 percent of all Millennials own a smartphone. Of that number, 79 percent reported that they have connected with a nonprofit on their smartphone, most commonly through Facebook or Email.

And with a larger number of people connected through social media, comes a larger pool of potential donors.

"(Social media) has really increased the number of people who you can ask for a donation, so that's why we are seeing social media really help amplify fundraising because you just have access to a lot more people that you may not have had an email for," Brady of the American Cancer Society said.

Calculated efforts

Another benefit to nonprofits using social media to create relationships and start conversations among potential donors is the vast amount of data generated.

"(Social media) is generating data that people want you to know about them. They are putting it out there specifically to showcase their interests. Any non-profit that's listening to that is going to have an advantage in creating a relationship and targeting their appeals," said Boucher.

Seizing opportunistic data nonprofits can create better fundraisers, Boucher said.

"If you think about the way we broadcast our messages, whether it's TV or advertising in magazines, billboards, radio, even direct mail, this very little way to measure the impact of these messages and dollars you are spending," Boucher said.

With social media, she explained, the impact of an organizations reach is quantified by gaging click-throughs, shares and conversations.

"Social media is just another filter, a really important filter that you can pass your prospect list through to determine what their real interests are. If you can get the people listening to you to share with with their friends, you can attract many more ears. It's an exponential increase."

Emmilie Buchanan-Whitlock is an intern for the Deseret News with Mormon Times. She recently graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho. Contact her by email: or on Twitter: emmiliewhitlock