Proven vs. unproven techniques and a tricky transition.

How do I navigate the shift from prospecting letters to social media prospecting?

The real issue: mass mail letters have a proven rate of return; social media doesn’t. Much like making a switch from snail mail newsletters to e-mail newsletters, transitioning from one to the other creates risks of losing people along the way who aren’t on top of the technology. How do you handle the transition?

The answer: gingerly.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, for now, snail mail prospecting still has a decent rate of return—you might not make our money back on the first round, but even that 5% of the recipients who end up donating will more than reward your effort over the next few years.

But you’re aware that it’s unlikely you’ll see the same kind of results from younger generations, even as they age. Gen X and Gen Y do not process information the same way—the want their information in smaller doses, more frequently. Their brains are being trained by TV, YouTube, Twitter, and other similar things. In addition, they’ve been marketed to their whole lives, are skeptical of scams, and prefer to support fewer organizations but know them more intimately. (That last bit is increasingly true of a suspicious older generation as well.) Seven-page letters from complete strangers asking for money go straight into the trash can, and I don’t think that will change in 20 years (in fact, I think it’s likely the trend will go the opposite way).

So since you have potential donors who you know won’t respond to snail mail letters for 20 or 40 years (if at all), you know it’s worth investing in prospecting techniques that will work now.

Some thoughts:

  • Social media prospecting is painless to ease into.  Smart social ads, strategically targeted, can help you find precisely the kind of donors you’re looking for and connect with them for as little as $0.13 per new like or follower. Even $5 a week, let alone $5 a day, can pay off.
  • Let your desired donor base and social success guide your snail mail prospecting. Is it a goal to have a younger donor base? Then don’t bother sending letters. Are you seeing at least as good results from social prospecting? Ditto.
  • Don’t ditch your donors. Be aware of who your existing donors are—their ages, situations, technological preferences. If you don’t stay on top of this information in the normal course of operations (as many nonprofits don’t), you may want to send out a survey asking people about how they prefer to hear from you—or even a quick checkbox survey directly in an e-mail. You won’t get everyone, but you’ll be able to start phasing out forms of communication you don’t think have a future.