One of the most popular questions nonprofits ask our Giving Gurus is “Where’s the money in social media?” (Sometimes folks say ROI, but they usually mean fundraising.)

Debra Askanase (@askdebra) has a great post on that today. For Debra, the important question isn’t can a nonprofit fundraise on Twitter, but when does engagement turn into donations. Engagement is precursor.

If you are going to commit time and energy to social media, pick one or two platforms that make sense for your organization and act as if you want to meet people and learn from them. They want to talk to you, and you should want to listen to them. That’s why your fans and followers online are following your organization, after all. So talk. Yes, publish your newsy updates, but ask questions and listen…learn…engage…and respond.

– via communityorganizer20.com

Only then, relationship in place, does it make sense to talk about money.

Sound familiar? It’s probably not too different from how you cultivate major donors today. Only online, without the lunches.

Social media has a couple of benefits. It’s online, so more of your staff can join in. And by listening, you get to hear directly from your customers.

This isn’t as scairy as it sounds. After all, you’re asking your people to talk about a cause they love, with people who range from curious to interested to even committed like you.

You may find that you wind up with gifts more valuable than donations: volunteers, evangelists, fundraisers. Friends, after all, are priceless.