10 Truths about Social Media’s Impact on Nonprofit Fundraising and Marketing

Print Friendly


Nonprofits wanting gifts should give them.  Relationships work that way. And relationships count for everything. Getting and retaining donors (and, really, any type of constituent) is all about building and stewarding relationships.  Satisfying, long-term relationships; not quick transactions. And lasting relationships are measured by the mutually sustaining benefits experienced by all parties over time. Give and get.

TOP 10 TRUTHS (We’ll explore what to do about these truths below).

  1. The principle of reciprocity applies in spades to social media. If you use it simply to broadcast stuff about you, you’re not going to get much in return. No clicks. No shares. No actions. No gifts.  As social media guru Brian Solis reminds us: “If social media warranted a mantra, it would sound something like this, “Always pay it forward and never forget to pay it back.“. You must make sure that what you’re offering up through social channels is a generous, meaningful gift to your constituents. Generosity begets generosity.
  2. Social media can help you win friends and influence people; or it can help you alienate folks. Consider this scenario: You post something on your Facebook page, and somebody ‘likes’ you; you never correspond with that person again. You ask for comments on your blog, and somebody comments; you never respond back to that person. Why even bother if you’re just going through the motions? “X” number of people today ‘liked’ us means very little. Your social media connections are not statistics.  They’re living, breathing people with hopes, dreams, fears and needs.
  3. Social media is a powerful gift-giving tool. I’m not talking about your donors giving to you through this mechanism; I’m talking about you giving to your donors. I don’t mean offering premiums and other tangible gifts.  Donors don’t want them. (Research shows they actually suppress sustained giving). If you want folks to invest in you over time, you must invest in them over time. This means giving them something they truly value.
  4. Social media already impacts your constituents’ behavior.  That’s the elephant in the room. The one that can’t be ignored. It’s why social media has been called ‘disruptive technology.’ Because we’re all empowered now to have ‘real time’ conversations. In multiple places. At multiple times.  In other words, on our own terms. As businesses, we’ve no choice but to adapt or die. We can’t cocoon ourselves in the comforting ritual of our old business practices.
  5. Today’s customers (aka donors) have a voice that is louder than ever before in history. You no longer own your brand; your constituents define it. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says, “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”    There’s that elephant in the room again — and why social media is leading social transformation in both for profit and nonprofit businesses. We’ve entered the era of ‘Generation Connected’ where folks won’t hesitate to share recommendations, whether positive or negative. The new power of social and economic influencers is a game changer.
  6. Social media is an incredible gift to your organization. Whatever you do, don’t consider social media to be about “spin.”  It’s not something you do to folks.  Managed effectively, it’s something folks do for us. Who could have known that the tried-and-true most effective form of marketing – word of mouth – would have a virtual forum in which to run rampant?  Who could have imagined we would have a way to learn so much about what our constituents care about?  Who could’ve foreseen there’d be a way for our constituents to help us build the services they really need and want to invest in?
  7. Your choice today is between transaction and transformation. For too long, nonprofits have been more in the getting than giving business.  You secure a gift, dump the donor into a database, and you’re pretty much done (until the next ask) — . betraying your donors.  Fundraising, fundraising, fundraising all the time. Businesses betray their customers similarly. Sales, sales, sales all the time.  Transaction, transaction, transaction.  Very expensive, and ultimately not sustainable.  Going this route will preclude transformative investment and change. You’ll plod along, gaining and losing supporters. Frustrating to you. Frustrating to your supporters.
  8. Social media in 2013 is not a nicety; it’s essential — time to get serious. If you want to unlock your competitive advantage within the current social zeitgeist you must construct a relationship-building machine. If you’re still putting the fundraising cart before the friendraising horse you’ve got it backwards. That’s not how building sustainable constituent support ever worked. Today it’s truer than ever. Today you absolutely must be donor-centered. All the time. It’s not just a buzzword. It’s a way of life. Generosity inspires generosity.
  9. Many nonprofit leaders – including executive directors –don’t really get social media. This may be the biggest problem of all. Like executives in for profit business, they are moved by their business objectives – working in the trenches to fulfill their mission. To them, social media is merely ‘technology.’ Peripheral; not central.
  10. ‘Social’ is central to any successful business in today’s highly connected world.  Forget the word ‘media’ (my hunch is that it won’t be long before we simply drop this quaint terminology and begin to consider our development/marketing communications strategy holistically). Social is the way we become aware. Social is the way we get our needs met. Social is the way we learn more. Social is the ties that bind. . Social is the language we speak.

WHAT TO DO: If your goal is securing more philanthropy to fulfill your mission, then make a social roadmap to get yourself there.

Give folks a game to play or a contest to enter on Pinterest (see what other nonprofits are doing with Pinterest here).

Tell a remarkable, motivating story on Facebook; ask folks to share their stories.

Offer useful information via your blog, YouTube, Slideshare or e-newsletter. (e.g., a tip sheet on “10 Ways to Recycle;” an e-book on “How to Prevent School Bullying;” a video on “How to Stop Smoking.”).

Ask for constituent input on Twitter (e.g., maybe they can help you choose a name for your e-newsletter or giving club).

Ask folks to join you in adding their names to a petition (e.g. to bring clean water to your community or save funding for the arts).

  • Use social to facilitate referrals.  When I began in fundraising we ran “Let your Friends Be our Friends” campaigns that involved mailing forms to folks and asking them to send us back names. It worked, but not well. Just not that user-friendly.  And not a big enough universe with which to share. Social media, done right, makes it easy to share with oodles of friends at the touch of a button. CAVEAT: Folks won’t share crap. You’ve got to make your content shareable. Always put yourself in the shoes of your consumer; then ask WIIFM?
  • Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes by consolidating data so you can get one view of folks.  I know; it can seem daunting. People connect with you through multiple points of entry and getting all the data in one place isn’t easy. My advice? Don’t cocoon. Don’t assume you can’t do this. You may think you can’t afford to.  Consider perhaps that you can’t afford not to. For some folks who can help, check out The Connected Cause, Beth Kanter’s Blog and Measuring the Networked Nonprofit.
  • Lead the charge to create a networked culture of philanthropy. Isn’t it interesting that we talk all the time about “giving and getting” when we’re trying to lay responsibility for lack of fundraising success on our board members?  Truth be told, “give and get” is not just for board members anymore. In a networked nonprofit everyone gives and gets.
  • Embrace the digital revolution; accept the fact that it’s the end of business as usual. For some help, check out this free ebook, The Little Blue Book of Social Transformation, that outlines 20 principles to lead change. It’s a collaboration of Salesforce and Altimeter Group to help executives understand the real impact of social media and in turn how to lead meaningful (and lucrative) transformation. It’s a quick read that’s well worth your time. You may also want to check The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age by David Neff and Randal Moss.

CONCLUSION: To get you must give. This entire article has been about the value-for-value exchange – the exchange with social media facilitates — between you and your constituents. Never forget context when it comes to building and executing your social media plan. Get clarity on why you’re doing this.  Communication should have a purpose. It won’t help you meet your goals unless you know where you’re going with it. Out of context, social media exchanges are just transactions. Ask yourself this question: What am I going to do to make this exchange mean something, now and in the future?

That’s how you’ll move from transaction to transformation.

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
Fascinating and inspiring stuff. Thanks for sharing Ian! https://t.co/bz26v8SsSU - 6 hours ago
Claire Axelrad
MYS - Free Preview - JK

Please Leave a Comment!