How Social Media Complements Nonprofit Donor Moves Management

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How can social media complement nonprofit donor moves management?

I’ve said this before. It bears repeating.  You are stuck. Yes, you.

You may have been the best major gift officer on the planet five years ago.  But that was then. This is now. The buying/giving market has fundamentally changed.

Why it’s the end of business as usual:

Donors have unlimited access to information. Yup. That’s what the digital revolution hath wrought. You can’t hide anything from folks.  And they don’t need you to spoon feed it to them.  So, what do they want from you?  Transparency and successful outcomes from your organization. Connection and authenticity from you.

Your success today is inextricably linked to your organization’s success.  You may say that was always the case.  I hear you. But, not in the same way. Because you are no longer the only interpreter of your organization to your donor.

It can no longer be about the spin you put on things.  Or your charming personality. Or anything that bespeaks razzle-dazzle slick sales tactics.  As good as you may be with people, the selling/fundraising arena has changed.  Because your value to folks is only as good as the value they seek.  And they’ve changed.

We’ve left the land of caveat emptor and entered that of caveat venditor. Put on your Google Glasses if you want to see clearly.

Here’s what I see:

The donor environment has dramatically changed, and it’s complex. There’s a lot going on. A new generation of philanthropists (many former entrepreneurs and venture capitalists) has been investing in social issues with a business approach. Their focus has been on quantitative measurement, because that’s what’s easiest to measure.  But conversation at the recent Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) asked a provocative question: “Does concentration on measuring impact in numbers because we need to report back, curtail our goals and turn our social investments into an end instead of treating them as the means?”  The answer was: “Yes.”

What does this mean for you?  One thing it means is that you can’t just quote a bunch of statistics to prove to your donors that you’re being effective. Quoting research studies no longer cuts it, because with so much information at their fingertips people have become incredibly savvy.

First, donors can read and interpret data for themselves. Second, they know that statistics lie. And they know that things evolve and change in today’s world more rapidly than we can adapt. So how can they stay on top of things and know if they’re truly having a positive impact?  Because that’s the end philanthropists truly seek.

Donors want storytelling from you.  Ongoing storytelling in a continual feedback loop where information is flowing. I like to think of it as a soap opera or serial drama. “Next on Charity Water…” “Coming soon on Natural Resources Defense Council…” Your donors are eagerly anticipating the next installment.

How are you delivering? Just meeting donors for lunch once a year won’t cut it. It’s a lovely, traditional model of sustaining relationships, but it doesn’t tend to build them over time when so many others are competing for your attention in a very crowded media marketplace.

Major gifts officers today must become consummate “drip” story tellers. Your donors want an ongoing tale. A little today. A little next week. And so forth. There’s no better delivery mechanism for “drip” storytelling than social media. And don’t get hung up on thinking it’s just Facebook or Twitter. It’s lots of things… email; texting; LinkedIn (where a lot of professionals, aka donors, are); Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Yelp… if you start to ask, you’ll be surprised to find out what your donors are doing digitally.

What does this have to do with “Moves Management?” Everything. Social media today is one of the principle ways folks interact with brands.  And your organization is no exception. If you fail to engage with them, they’ll come to their own conclusions.

You’d better do the job.  If you don’t, your donors will go elsewhere.  Because with unlimited access to information they know exactly where to go.  And if other organizations do a better job, and more actively participate in social dialogues in the channels people frequent, those organizations will come out as victors.

I’m not suggesting you simply ‘talk’ about your work online.  That’s the old sales paradigm. The new zeitgeist requires collaboration and networking skills. Today’s consumers are incredibly connected. And they want to be even more connected. Why do you think folks are adding “friends” and “followers” all the time? What’s been called “Generation C” cuts across all demographics, and they’re demanding a voice. They don’t want you, or anyone, speaking on their behalf.

Folks want you to offer them something of value. And your nonprofit’s stories are something they can’t so easily find for themselves because they evolve in real time and often behind the scenes. “Story telling,” in fact, is not a buzz word but is emerging as a new evaluation vehicle. As noted in a recent article in the Huffington Post, “We’ve seen that as a world, we need to do better at measuring what we cherish, not only what we can count.”

You must become adept at sussing out what your donors cherish.  Offer them compelling stories of people helped… environments saved… diseases cured – and all because they are such active movers in being the change they want to see in the world.  That’s the new “moves management.” Demonstrate to folks that they are the movers; it’s not about you moving them, like so many players on a chess board.

Were I a major gifts officer today, I would recognize that some of the best tools for providing a continual feedback loop to donors are online. What’s more, social channels have a nice spontaneous quality that helps you to build relationships in a manner that doesn’t seem pre-meditated or designed solely to drive future gifts. When you casually forward an inspiring quote or a link to an interesting article you saw on Twitter — absolutely knowing this is something that will tickle your donor — then you’ve given a gift.

I’d begin by making sure all my support systems were in place.  In other words, donors expect to receive what are often referred to as ‘background’ moves in moves management — a steady stream of less-personal interactions contributing to their ongoing education, inspiration and engagement. The e-newsletters, online advocacy requests, event invitations and volunteer opportunities that drive our prospects to our website and ask them to share with others. So before you get to your own social “moves” make sure this other stuff is happening. You’ll also want to assure that your website has up-to-date, compelling information, including stories and visuals, which will provide a prospective major donor with everything they need to come to a decision to make a leadership gift.

Next I’d look at my own portfolio. If I had 150 prospects to manage, I would divide them by five.  Then I’d have 30 prospects each day that required some kind of “drip.”  Sometimes I’d offer story installments; other times I’d just “touch base.” I’d reserve 45 – 60 minutes/day (maybe right after I dripped my coffee) and begin to give them the digital K-cup of their choice (in other words, I know they wouldn’t all select the same method of communication, so I wouldn’t send out a mass Tweet to everyone). Here are 14 online things I’d consider adding to my portfolio of “moves”:

  1. Join a LinkedIn group discussion in a group that my prospect participates in or begin a new group (see all sorts of ways to beef up your LinkedIn presence in 10 Ways to Get More Website Traffic from LinkedIn).
  2. Congratulate my prospect on a status update posted to LinkedIn or Facebook.
  3. Create several different G+ circles for my prospects interested in different programs; then begin adding those I find on G+; that way I can send relevant updates to them later on as a group (see Advanced Google+ Networking Strategies for more on how to use G+).
  4. Retweet my prospect’s tweet, and make a positive comment about it. It shows I’m noticing them, paying attention and generally being one of their fans.
  5. Send a fun, chatty tweet, or forward one of interest, to my prospect who enjoys Twitter dialogue. Again, it indicates I’m thinking of them – and not just when asking for a gift.
  6. Share a snippet of a story about one of our clients on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or wherever my prospects of the day hang out. It’s a convenient way to remind them why they gave, and help them feel great about the impact of their giving.
  7. Send a text with a quick update: “Guess what? First nail was hammered today. Thought you’d want to know!” It shows them I think of them as an “insider.”
  8. Share a link to an engaging blog post that might be of interest to my prospect(s). I could do this on any channel, and even via email.
  9. Endorse my prospect for a particular skill on LinkedIn (see 8 Ways to Make LinkedIn Endorsements Work for You and Your Network).
  10. Pin something from my prospect’s Pinterest board.
  11. Start a Pinterest board and pin photos of people being helped; then alert my prospects on Pinterest to take a look and maybe pin their own photo showing them volunteering. Or maybe start a recipe or crafts board and ask them to pin there (see more ideas in  24 Ways to Use Pinterest to Drive Fundraising and Cause Awareness).
  12. Send my prospect a link to a video “from the field” that I’d uploaded to YouTube (it doesn’t have to be fancy; see 7 Secrets of YouTube Marketing).
  13. Invite my prospect to an online conference call to hear an expert speak about the latest developments in our work (see this example from CARE ).
  14. Start a social media contest and encourage my prospects to play.  Some of them might even end up forward the game to their friends! (see 6 Benefits of Running Social Media Contests).

These ideas are just a start. I’d also use LinkedIn (especially for professionals and boomers), Facebook (if I have a younger demographic, especially millenials) and G+ for prospect research. Social media and major gift programs are made for each other when it comes to research. What a great way to find out who they are connected to, and who might be able to serve as a door opener for me or my executive director, development chair or board president! If you have the resources, and want to get really sophisticated, you can also use automated lead scoring tools to rank your prospects as to potential giving readiness.

Any major gift officer who is solely reliant on their fundraising database and in-house researcher for leads is soon to be obsolete.  The same holds true for said major gift officer who relies solely on the traditional relationship-building model of calling to set up visits.  These activities still have their place, but they’re the tip of a melting iceberg. There’s global warming all around us, and we’re going to have to swim or sink.

Here’s the bottom line: the buyer/donor environment is more informed, more social, more connected and more demanding than ever before.  It’s going to get even more so as the numbers using social media grow exponentially. Simply relying on old relationship-building models and providing information inward/out without recognizing these changes is a recipe for failure. And, heck, what an opportunity we have to do more effective stewardship!

Visit your donors virtually every chance you get.  It doesn’t mean you give up on the face-to-face or voice-to-voice visit. Nothing beats that.  But we all know how difficult it is to get those visits.  Even when engaging in the very best practices, it can be a frustrating challenge.  All too often, we simply give up and that prospect’s card is put into the pile to “try again next year.” Now, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can steward and steward and steward… then, when we finally get the visit, the time will be ripe for the all-important ask!

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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Claire Axelrad


  1. Wendell Clark says

    Great article! This article has given me lots to ponder and ways to think differently about being a MGO.

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing Steil and Wendell. I appreciate the encouragement, and hope you do ONE thing differently moving forward. A culture shift begins with a single step. :-)

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