Social Media: It’s Not Just for Kids Anymore – 9 Adaptive Tips for Fundraisers Using Social Media

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When’s the last time you found it easy to get a group of prospects together at a house party? Or to schedule a meeting between a prospect and your E.D.? In this busy world it’s becoming more and more challenging.  But there’s another way: Fundraisers using social media.

It’s time for fundraisers to reinvent their relationship with social media.  Stop thinking it’s for kids. Former Golden Girls actress, Betty White, created quite a stir a few years ago after creating a Facebook account — in her 80’s! Stop thinking about it as something that marketing does.  Or something that’s only for acquiring small donors. It’s time to put social front and center among your relationship-building strategies. Yes, you.

Do not — I repeat, DO NOT — leave social media communication and engagement solely in the hands of your marketing staff.  I’ve been a broken record for years on the essential need to integrate marketing and fundraising. It’s never been as crystal clear why this is important since the explosion of the digital revolution.

Marketers for years have tended to think outbound.  What’s going on in the organization that we can push to our mailing list?  What do we have to tell them? What can they do for us? (buy a ticket, attend a rally, retweet a video).  Those things aren’t bad, but they’re not likely to get you a long-term supporter relationship.  They’ll get you what drives most nonprofit marketers – a one-time transaction.

Development professionals must think inbound. Even if you’re not ready to step in and do battle with marketing, you can do something that will make a huge difference. You can tweak your own model.

It’s time for some donor service innovation. You know the importance of being donor-centered. You’ve read Penelope Burk by now (I hope). (And, btw, there’s plenty of literature on customer service innovation you can share with your marketing folks when you’re ready to get holistic about your “customer” experience, eliminate silos in your organization and integrate marketing and development).  The point is this: it’s all about the consumer perspective.

WIIFM?  That’s what folks ask before they’ll engage with you in any way (and that includes taking a phone call or accepting a visit). Folks are super busy. If you’re like most development staffers, my guess is you’re having a really hard time getting folks to agree to meet with you. Or even return your calls.  So what can you do to tweak the system that’s no longer working so well?

Enter social media.  It’s huge. It’s the number one way people find out about brands (yes, you’re a brand) these days.  Usage is growing by leaps and bounds – and the users are not who you might assume. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 80% of American adults have cell phones today, and 37% of them go online from their phones. Two-thirds of online adults are now Facebook users.  Boomers and millennials track very closely in their use of email and search engines. And, surprisingly, they’re not very far apart in their use of the Internet for e-commerce either. More than half of social gamers are 50+.

If you can provide value to prospects who use social media (the lion’s share), and make it snappy, they’ll be all over you like a cheap suit (yes, even those major donors who tend to wear expensive suits!).  Give folks what they want and you’ll be amazed at the results.  And these days a lot of folks – across age and income ranges – want quick, real-time connections via Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and G+.  You’ve got to meet them where they are.

It may be today’s best practice. I recently read an old-school article about fundraising basics that offered a hierarchy of ways to connect with major donors.  Visit. Phone. Mail. Email.  In practice these days it’s not always so.  Many busy business folks would much rather communicate via email than snail mail or even phone.  Texting is even more personal.  So don’t be rigid.  Try to figure out with each major donor their favored way of communication. Insisting on a visit you’re never gong to get – and then back-burnering that prospect for next year – is not a productive strategy.

Some Actionable Tips:

Note:  The key is figuring out, with each of your top prospects, which channels they frequent.  Once you’ve done that research, you’re ready to put together a plan of “touches” to engage them and build a transforming, lasting relationship. So…

Look up your top prospects on:

1. LinkedIn. If they’re there, ask to connect with them.  Once you do, you’ll see all status updates they post.  Whenever they get a promotion, congratulate them.  Whenever they start a discussion or share an article, comment on it. Endorse them for skills you know they have (see 8 Ways to Make LinkedIn Endorsements Work for You and Your Network). Show them you know them and are interested in what they’re up to.  Treat them as if they’re a member of your family.

2. G+ and Facebook. Engage with them as suggested for LinkedIn, above (also see Advanced Google+ Networking Strategies for more on how to use G+). You can also send holiday greetings and birthday well wishes.

3. Twitter.  If they’re active in the space, follow them. Retweet an occasional tweet and make a positive comment about it. Become one of their fans, and show you are paying attention to them. Don’t stalk, of course.  If the posts are purely personal you may want to stay away.  But if they’re more philosophical, or sharing news links, then go for it. And send them occasional fun, chatty tweets, holiday greetings and birthday wishes.

4. Pinterest.  If they “pin” consider following one or more of their boards and commenting on some of the pins. You can repin the pins to one of your boards if it makes sense (e.g., consider developing a “Recipes from Supporters” Board; then pin donor recipes for kid snacks or nutritious meals for seniors or pet treats).

Find out if your prospect texts, skypes, IMs, Instagrams or…

what’s their favorite mode of communication?  It may surprise you. Ask them. You can do it individually, or through a one-question survey on Google Docs or Survey Monkey. For those who tell you they like to communicate via social media:

5. Share snippets of stories on social media channels that show the impact of their support. They don’t have to commit to reading a lot, but you can include a link should they be interested enough to read more. Or send something they can view, like a link to a video “from the field” that you’ve uploaded to YouTube (see 7 Secrets of YouTube Marketing).

6. Send quick ‘insider’ updates: “Guess what? First nail was hammered today. Thought you’d want to know!”  “Believe it or not, you did it! Our campaign goal was reached today – because of you!  See what this means [link to a blog post, story on your website or youtube video talking about how 50 more kids will get scholarships, 10 more homeless will get housing, etc.].

7. Host a virtual “house party.Invite prospects who skype or use G+ Hangouts to hear an expert speak about the latest developments in your work (see this example from CARE ). You can even simply host an online conference or webinar using Go To Meeting, which anyone who uses email can view.

8. Be sure to share whenever you’re launching something fun, like a social media game or contest, and encourage your prospects to play and/or forward to their friends(see 6 Benefits of Running Social Media Contests).  Again, folks are super busy.  They may be disappointed when they find out after the fact about the contest.  So treat them like the VIPs they are.  Give them a personal heads-up!

9. Create “how-to” videos that may be useful to your supporters. Christian Hospital in St. Louis offers youtube videos of surgical procedures, narrated by the surgeons themselves, to ease fears.

How do you use social media to find new donor prospects or build sustaining relationships with current donors? What are tips for fundraisers using social media?

Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE contributes a monthly column on Social Media and Nonprofits. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success' 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad
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