Social Media and Museum Fundraising: 3 Easy Ways to Jump-Start a Relationship

The Fundraising Process

*This post is directed toward museum professionals, but these simple fundraising to-dos translate to nearly all nonprofits.

In March, I spoke about how zoos and aquariums can engage audiences using social media at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mid-Year Meeting. Before the session started, I asked folks to raise their hands according to which department they served in their institution. No less than 30 of the 40 people in the room worked in marketing and PR departments. About eight or nine people worked in education, conservation, or husbandry (which is important; online engagement is an effective tool for education)

…and only one person was part of a development department.

Social media does not belong to the marketing department. In fact, the museums that use it best focus on engagement and education. Social media and online engagement are incredible new tools in our ‘museum professional’ toolboxes… Social media informs. It educates. It creates connections….So why aren’t fundraisers getting with these new tools like the marketers?

Creating an effective social media presence requires collaboration with multiple museum departments. Utilizing social media within the development department is just plain smart. I don’t just mean utilizing social media to help meet a museum’s bottom line through mobile giving campaigns (like this one) or publicizing membership events–though it can be used very effectively for these purposes. If marketing, education, and development can work together to track social media interaction and engage audiences, then it can benefit all three divisions.

Here are three easy, low-resource ways that social media can help development departments build connections and keep a pulse on donor engagement:


1) Note interactions with donors on Facebook and Twitter to monitor buy-in.

An advantage that the development division has? They know who the donors are. Engagement of these folks is particularly important and may lead to further giving. Figure out which of your donors ‘like’ you on Facebook and make it a habit to skim your organization’s Facebook page at the end of each day (or week, even) to see if a donor engaged on the site. This information helps you keep a pulse on your donors. For instance, you may just have a better chances making a formal ask to someone who you know is seeing and interacting with your content. That person is actively keeping tabs on the institution and engaged on a day-to-day basis (and you know it).


2) Make a private Twitter list of small and large-scale donors- and make a point to interact with them. 

Retweet them, @ reply them. Whatever you do, don’t ignore them. Because Twitter is a site for active engagement and open information-share, there’s potential to summon excitement and connection through this platform. It’s a bit more difficult to create direct conversation on Facebook. Quick Google searches can often indicate whether or not a specific donor has a twitter account.  It’s easy to quickly search and compile a list of donor’s Twitter accounts to pass along to the marketing department (or whomever is managing social media). Give them the list and ask them to keep tabs on these folks using Twitter’s private lists. This way, followers cannot see your donors, but the person running social media has a quick and easy way to remember who to keep an eye on and engage.


3) Take note of donor’s interests through social media to hone your story and find your connection.

Social media profiles and activities can provide a lot of personal information about donors. Marketeers use this information to help trace their demographic, but fundraisers should be using social media to fill in gaps about donors’ interests so that they can be more efficiently ‘courted’ at events and on-site. Checking up on social media activities doesn’t just help by uncovering that, say, a donor is running a half marathon next week (which may or may not be useful to you). By utilizing your museum’s social media channels, fundraisers can learn a lot about what it is about the institution that engages the donor. If someone tends to ‘like’ statuses about specific events or artists, that gives you a peek into their interests– And even better than that; it gives you a peek into your shared interests.


Some fundraisers make it personal by being the face of their cultural center’s fundraising efforts for certain donors. When using social media, transparency is critical and this method banks on that fact, in a way.

Generation Y has incredible giving potential, if you can tap into it– and they are on social media. In fact, many of us were raised with virtual connections and it’s an easy way for us to communicate. Fundraisers who can figure out how to use this medium by keeping tabs on and engaging with donors virtually may have a big advantage in the long run.

*Photo credits to Tushneem’s Ramble

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Digital Connectivity, Fundraising, Nonprofit Marketing, Trends 1 Comment

About the author

Colleen Dilenschneider

MPA. Chief Market Engagement Officer at IMPACTS Research & Development. Nonprofit marketer, Generation Y museum, zoo & aquarium writer/speaker, web engagement geek, data nerd, marathoner, nomad, herbivore

One Response to Social Media and Museum Fundraising: 3 Easy Ways to Jump-Start a Relationship

  1. Caroline Hendrix

    I would argue for the opposite of your point, though not because I disagree with what you’re saying. I think social media does belong to the marketing/PR department, but doesn’t belong only to them. As you stated, a lot of the most interesting/engaging content comes out of education staffers, community liaisons, front of house staff, etc, because they interact most often with patrons and have a lot of the inside knowledge that audience members find interesting. However, the expertise of the marketing and PR departments is to ensure institutional messaging is consistent, clear, on-brand, and diverse (highlighting different areas of the organization while avoiding saying the same things over and over), so I think it’s an effective strategy to have them oversee social media outlets. This is the tactic my organization has taken, and the balance of extensive input from every department with the guiding hand of communications staff members to make sure it’s all playing into an overall strategy seems to be a very effective strategy.

    Also, I find it very interesting that your experience has been that development has been absent from the social media conversation. In the past 3 years that I’ve attended the Tessitura conference (an arts CRM database), I feel like the question ad nauseum has been about how to raise money/cultivate donors online, with development asking many of the questions and sharing lots of experiences. Many organizations have been trying to “crack the code” of online fundraising, though I do think that this conversation has decreased in the past year or so. Speaking from personal experience, I think this abatement is due to the fact that enough time has passed for the idea of social media as the solution to the recession/decreased fundraising to be disproven.

    Not to say that it’s not important for development to keep tabs on their organization’s social media outlets, encourage donors to interact online or develop an omnipresent online fundraising campaign. Those things are all important. But I think unless you are a large national nonprofit with a very heavy PR presence, or a nonprofit that responds directly to natural disasters, then social media outlets and mobile giving campaigns aren’t likely to bring in a large sum of money, and hence just aren’t where development presence is put to best use. Especially in organizations where there is limited staff time, it’s imperative that development staff puts the most energy into fundraising activities that have a greater bang for the buck: cultivating large individual donors (who, when thousands or millions of dollars are at stake, are much more likely to give via check or stock than online), forging relationships with foundation and corporate donors, and planning special events that can provide both positive PR and large sums of money through tickets and tables.

    Again, I think it’s very important that the nonprofit fundraising message is clear, consistent and omnipresent in all communication outlets. I just think that right now, the “point” of it all isn’t to make money, and hence the majority of the responsibility for social media should fall to marketing and PR, whose primary responsibility is to attract people to the organization.


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