How to Utilize Social Media to Actually Cultivate Donors (And Why You Need To Do It Right Now)

marketoonist community management

This article is part of a four-part series intended to help visitor-serving organizations understand and respond to emerging trends that will impact their financial and mission-related goals. Learn more about the series here. 

Conversations involving social media with many fundraisers often result in eye-rolling and a terse, “That’s not my job!” as those tasked with securing an organization’s contributed revenues deflect responsibility to the marketing/PR team. Here’s the thing though: Online engagement has evolved to the point where it is nearly impossible to optimize fundraising efforts and maximize donor retention without utilizing digital communications – and that includes social media.

All signs (consumer motivation data and social media behavioral trends) are pointing toward the need for organizations to look beyond “vanity metrics” like fan and follower count and focus on the quality and strength of varied relationships formed on social media platforms – particularly ones that drive the gate (if you’re a visitor-serving organization) or cultivate monetary support. Simply put: A fundamental shift is occurring in terms of how successful organizations view online fundraising and donor cultivation.

Here are three critical items for organizations to come to terms with that affect how your organization may optimize social media and online donor cultivation:

 

1) Once and for all: Realize that the quality of your fans and your ability to activate them in your interest is significantly more important than the quantity of your fans

Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook fans or 1,000 active donors and supporters? Chances are that your organization is hoping to utilize social media to get something done rather than utilizing social media for social media’s sake. It’s time that we call vanity metrics exactly what they are and break through the noise of social media metrics that misleadingly influences too many organizations. In many situations, it’s an organization’s very desire to utilize social media metrics and data that lead strategy execution astray. Let’s start actually thinking about what these metrics mean.

The problem with metrics like fan and follower count is that they actually mean very little for your organization – especially if the increased reach is falling on ambivalent ears. What matters is not how many people ‘like’ you online but who you are able to activate through engagement online.

The days of “one size fits all” outbound social media communications are officially over. Your organization’s fans and followers are not all of equal value to your nonprofit’s relevance and long-term solvency – and treating every “like” the same way means purposely sabotaging your ability to achieve organizational goals through social media. (1) Members/donors, (2) Influencers, and (3) Evangelists are three categories of fans that have particular payoff to your nonprofit. Intelligent, strategic organizations benefit by creating content that stimulates these particular stakeholders.

A mission-related post may get less general engagement, but your reputation increasingly has a direct correlation to the level of support your organization secures. Securing a content share from a member (thus allowing for personal promulgation of your brand from someone to whom your mission has meaning) is more important than a content share from somebody who just thinks you posted a pretty picture (but doesn’t feel a connection to your organization). The market is the arbiter of your organization’s success, and knowing what makes your high-value supporters and evangelists (not just your overall target market) tick is critical for building the most helpful community for your organization.

 

2) Make online personalization part of your engagement and donor cultivation strategy

Personalization is one of the biggest and most discussed (and arguably one of the smartest) conversations taking place for all organizations and businesses right now. Case-in-point: I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at MuseumNext, Europe’s conference on innovation in museums, in June of this year and personalization is so increasingly critical to organizational success that it is identified as one of the four, key themes of the whole conference. I think they hit the nail on the head: “Our audiences increasingly expect experiences which are tailored to them. How are museums moving beyond one size fits all to accommodate the different needs of individuals?”

Opportunities for personalization (which increases relevance, garnering attention and aiding in building affinity for brands) are being explored for onsite experiences – but this mindset also must be applied to online engagement. Specifically, potential donors/members, influencers, and evangelists increasingly require personalized communications in order to optimize chances for activation (i.e. behaving in your organization’s interest).

How can you utilize personalization to cultivate donors online? A key to online personalization is actively engaging select audience members instead of being passive – or just waiting for them to tweet you or write on your wall. For starters, know who your stakeholders actually are and how they behave online (this often starts with compiling a list of key stakeholders and their social media platforms). This isn’t rocket science: Make a private Twitter list and pay special attention to your key influencers’ tweets, be active, and wish them a happy birthday (for example)! Other ways to create these individual touch-points is through diligent social care, or “social CRM” (responding to individual comments and questions on social media platforms in a timely and thoughtful fashion) – a community management necessity that is too often overlooked.

“Yikes!” you’re thinking if you’re a leader in your organization, “this is going to require a lot more manpower!” Yes. Yes, it is…but the importance of digital touch-points will not disappear any time soon.

 

3) Most importantly: Stop treating online donor cultivation as a separate beast and understand that it is a cornerstone of a broader cultivation and retention strategy

I often get the feeling that executive leaders somehow believe that supporters who give or may be cultivated online must be aliens who exist only online …or that online donor cultivation may be somehow different than offline donor cultivation. Here’s news that should be refreshing and empowering to organizations that are a bit intimidated by digital platforms: It’s not.

As a reminder: A donor online is still a donor “in real life.” Their money is still money, and their support is still support. They have the same motivations as offline donors, expect the same treatment, and expect the same personalization and attention as those who choose to give via a different method. Simply put, they are human.

Cultivation should happen for individual donors both online and offline. Instead of conceptually carrying out varying initiatives online for “online donors” and offline for “offline donors,” organizations should realize that online donor cultivation is not separate but, instead, an integral aspect of a broader cultivation strategy.

In sum, instead of viewing “online giving” and cultivation as a donation conveyance channel, smart organizations are realizing that it is an increasingly important (and expected) component of a broader donor cultivation and retention strategy, and that it – like all other fundraising communication methods – is more about the people than the platform or giving method.

At the end of the day, fundraising and donor engagement initiatives will continue to evolve in the online space – just as more traditional engagement methods evolve. This evolution will necessitate more informed, personalized donor cultivation leveraging real-time platforms.

 

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Posted on by colleendilen in Community Engagement, Management, Marketing, Museums, Nonprofit Marketing, Nonprofits, Public Management, Social Media, The Future, Words of Wisdom 3 Comments

About the author

colleendilen

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

3 Responses to How to Utilize Social Media to Actually Cultivate Donors (And Why You Need To Do It Right Now)

  1. Andrea Michelbach

    Looking forward to this series of posts, Colleen. How would you recommend sharing social responsibilities in an institution that has someone who manages social media? I’m interested in unpacking your opening comment in this post. Do you recommend development share a social media channel with the communications team that currently manages social channels? How do you see this best working on the ground? Seems there’s always that pull between centralizing and decentralizing.

     
    • colleendilen

      Thanks for bringing this up, Andrea. At this point in time, social media/PR/folks who run real-time communications and are responsible for content creation and promulgation for the nonprofit have a unique position within most organizations and, in order to function optimally in my experience with clients, need to be a tad like “department social butterflies.” Social media is an “every department job,” meaning that it seems to work best when it is 1) carried out by folks in the organization who are very connected to real-time happenings in the organization and other departments, and 2) embraced by the organization as a whole and each department individually. In essence (and ideally), there shouldn’t be a person who could be approached by one of the organization’s content creators or community managers that would think communicating with that person or collaborating for the purposes of social media is “not my job.”

      In terms of how development departments and PR/social media departments collaborate to optimize social strategy to cultivate donors, how you approach this may have a good amount to do with how your organization is structured. However, the most successful examples I’ve seen have done things like have a development person “manage” the bridge with social media strategists, with ongoing communication to help identify current and potential members/donors (As small as, “Hey, today is memberX’s birthday. Let’s send a Direct Message on Twitter,” for example, and as big as identifying folks to target in informing how that may best be done). In short, the development and execution of these strategies work best (i.e. have the most success in moving supporters down an “engagement funnel” to next-level support) when it is a clearly collaborative effort with joint responsibility.

       
  2. Andrea Michelbach

    I think the “bridges” concept is a helpful way to think about it. It’s also a good capacity issue to plan for. (Being a social butterfly takes time, and further underscores your point that social media is not free.) Thanks!

     

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