Nonprofits and Social Media: Discovery, Cultivation, Solicitation and Stewardship

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When nonprofit organizations (NPOs) approach fundraising there are four basic steps or stages that need to be addressed – discovery, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. While face to face connections and personal relationships play vital roles in each stage, social media can lend a helping hand. Using social media to complement each stage can free up time for development staff and help cast a larger net for donor prospecting.


Finding donors is the first step in fundraising. You can’t solicit a gift if there’s nobody around to ask. Some NPOs, like universities, have a built-in feeder system – alumni are an easy place to start. But most of us aren’t working for universities and trying to capture the attention and hearts of donors is hard work.

Social media is the perfect way to get your organization noticed and help connect people to the cause. Create a video about what your NPO does and why someone should care. You can get a lot of traction when a video goes viral. For more info on using videos for exposure, read my last month’s post “Nonprofits and Social Media: The Power of Video Story Telling.”

Post the most exciting news on programs and events on your website where it’s easy for people to find. Creating a blog to talk about what your NPO is doing each week or month is another way to attract a following. Nancy E. Schwartz talks about the nuts and bolts of blogs and how NPOs can benefit from them in the article “Should Your Nonprofit Launch a Blog?”


So now that you’ve done some discovery and found key people that have interest in your cause, how do you get them to buy in? Cultivation! Making an ask too soon can be poison to a relationship. “To Ask or Not to Ask, That is the Question,” is a blog post from my personal website that discusses this topic in more detail. Before you can solicit a donor you have to make sure they have a link, an interest and the ability to give. The only way to do that is to cultivate.

While this step relies heavily on one-on-one contact, there is still room for social media’s help. People want to feel connected and like they are a part of something before they contribute big gifts. They want to be “in the know.” NPOs can easily accomplish this by using social media sites to post updates, announcements, event information and any other tidbits on what makes your organization unique. Sites like Google+ and Facebook allow a conversation to unfold with comments and share capabilities, while Twitter allows people to re-tweet your posts to carry the message even further. Joining groups on LinkedIn also allows you to reach a more targeted audience that has built-in members.


Before we start this section, let me be clear – you should never, ever, EVER make a personal solicitation in any way via social media. It’s just a bad idea. Online giving campaigns are one thing. Personal, major gift solicitations are a whole different thing. You can, however, use the news of success from your one-on-one solicitations to make other people want to give.

Grant Space hosted a web chat in April 2011 about using social media to cultivate donors. One of the guests for that chat was John Haydon, founder of Inbound Zombie, a social media strategy firm in Cambridge, MA. In that chat he said, “Potential donors will be more likely to act if they see their friends doing the same…” (read the full chat here). He couldn’t be more right! People want to be part of things that are successful. Seeing others giving to your cause is a great way to highlight that your NPO is a success.

When someone gives a generous donation to your NPO, ask them if you can publicize it. Use social media sites to post announcements and links to press releases that have run in the media about the contributions. Have the donor write a guest blog about why they chose to give such a generous gift to your organization. Use your successes to make people ask why they wouldn’t give to your organization!


Once you have solicited and closed the gift, the most important step is stewardship. Stewardship goes far beyond saying thank you – although that is a HUGE first step! Stewardship means keeping donors informed, involved and important. Getting the gift shouldn’t be your NPO’s long term goal, it should be one mile marker along the way to a lifetime of giving and support.

The thank you for a gift should come from you personally, but the steps beyond that can be integrated into social media. Posting information about how money you’ve raised is being used is a great thing, as well as telling stories of successes you’ve had meeting goals associated with your mission. Giving donors early access to information about events or breaking news with email lists or special sections of your website can make them feel important. Consistently posting new content to your blog or Facebook page will make donors feel informed. And organizing Twitter chats or hangouts on Google+ will make donors feel involved. Ask for input and then make sure you follow up on ideas and suggestions.

Fundraising is a personal business built on relationships, without a doubt. But social media is a great tool to assist us nonprofits with those relationships and help us gain new ones, as well. Do you have interesting ways you’re using social media to fundraise for your nonprofits? Post your thoughts below!

Amy Stephan
This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Amy Stephan. Amy is a consultant and non-profit professional with more than 10 years of field experience working in fundraising and development. She provides nonprofits with help in fundraising and major gifts, capital campaigns, board and volunteer development and staff leadership, working with organizations of all sizes to plan, implement and assess social media strategies. While holding leadership positions with local branches of organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Diabetes Association, Amy developed a passion for all things related to fundraising and non-profits. In addition to her non-profit work, she is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked as a full-time writer and editor for daily newspapers and magazines. +Amy Stephan
Amy Stephan
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