In September, the Dōgen Institute ventured into new territory. For the first time, we conducted an online fundraiser. While we've had this idea for a long while, it's only recently that we obtained enough of an online following to be able to try something and be effective. Over the past 21 months, the number of people following our Facebook page has increased from about 850 at the beginning of 2015 to over 2,300 at the start of the campaign in September 2016.
This increase in our followers is a tribute to the consistency of purpose and dedication of our web editors over the years. They continue to publish web posts containing Okumura Roshi's work in various formats, such as the very popular waka poems. One of our Dōgen Institute web editors lives part the time in Ireland and the other editor is in Los Angeles – a mirror of the geographically diverse audience which we are reaching.
Most of the people who follow our Facebook page are not regular practitioners at Sanshin. Nevertheless, they are all interested in the Dharma in some way, shape or form. Some are regular practitioners, some are occasional practitioners, some have only a slight interest in Buddhism, or none at all, but all seem to have an interest in the messages being conveyed through our social media. This is one of the goals of the Dōgen Institute – to bring teachings such as these to a wide and diverse audience.
In September, we decided to ask our DI followers for dana in return for bringing these messages to them. We pledged to run our campaign for only a week, and then not again for a year. We asked only for five dollars from each contributor. During the campaign we actively posted solicitations on Facebook, and also published three new waka poems. Our current web editor was instrumental in altering the website and preparing the news posts for the campaign. One of our board members created the PayPal buttons needed for the campaign. Our sincere appreciation is offered to them.
As of the end of the campaign, we had received 39 donations totaling just over $750. Many people gave the suggested five dollar amount, and we also had a few larger donations. We had not set a dollar amount for this campaign, because we had no grounds to compare. However, for direct mail ad campaigns, somewhere between 1 and 2% return per customer is about average, and it seems that percentage is more or less the same for online efforts. So our response rate seems right in line with those averages, although we collected more than if everyone had given just five dollars.
Just as importantly, we learned more about how to conduct the campaign, and received and employed suggestions as to how to post more effectively during a campaign. Over time, our audience will gradually expand (based on our past, real numbers), so future campaigns will hopefully expand as well. It should be easier to run campaigns the next time around too, now that we have more organizational knowledge about how to do it.
I am happy we have put together the first campaign, we earned some money, and maybe some goodwill, and we learned more about how to do a campaign. Next spring, our goal will be to run a Dōgen Institute email and snail mail fundraising campaign.