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5 Social Media Tips that will Help Increase Your Donations by 50%

Recently, I was delighted to be invited to contribute to Hootsuite's blog as part of an effort they're making to provide more nonprofit-specific tips and resources. Here's my first entry (the original can be found here).


Did you know 73% of first-time donors never give again? They don’t feel a part of the organization, they don’t feel appreciated—often they don’t even get a thank-you note—so they leave. That means the vast majority of what your fundraiser does will actually just be plugging holes, rather than growing your donor base.

But here’s another stat: if you get even a 10% higher donor retention rate, your donations go up by 50%. Immediately. Think about that for a minute. Your $1 million budget could become $1.5 million, if you just got a few dozen more of your donors to stick around. And social media can play a huge role in making that happen.

The first trick is building a thank-you culture that extends to your social media. Supporting a nonprofit is usually a social act. Mega-philanthropists put their names on art galleries so that other people will see it. 67% of people who like a nonprofit’s Facebook page say they do so because they want their friends to know they support the organization.

Here are 5 tips to help you build a Thank-You culture on social media:

1. Make sure your social media team and development team are well connected. You need to know what’s going on in the fundraising calendar so you can be of value to it, but it works the other way too—you’re going to be learning things about your donors and their trending interests that are gold for your development director. Get a CRM that helps with this, and preferably one that integrates easily with your social relationship platform.

2. Follow your donors and talk to them a lot. The easiest place to do this is Twitter, by creating lists and adding them to your dashboard. Monitor it daily and talk to your donors about what interests them. Let them know you’re listening. Consider doing this on both staff individual profiles and the corporate one. When a chat involves John from development, the organization, and the donor, suddenly you’re working as a community on a shared project. You can talk about your organization, but only a small percentage of the time, and only after you’ve figured out what elements of your work interest them most.

3. Connect the social to the real. For example, if you have events, use tools (EventBrite is one) that allow people to see which of their Facebook friends are going, and after they sign up, have a confirmation page that invites them to share the event with their friends. If you can, set up automated emails afterwards for people to share it, and thank them for helping. Take photos of the event, and post them on social media afterwards and tag your donors, thanking them for coming.

4. Tell your donors’ stories. There’s an art to telling your donors’ stories. (Learn more about how to do it here.) Why do they support your organization? Why do they care about this kind of work more broadly? What personal stories do they have that illustrate why it’s important to them, or how your organization’s work has touched them? Regularly write brief blog posts (with photos if possible) sharing their stories, tagging them, and telling the world how special your supporters are!

5. And… say thank you! The obvious one. When somebody donates, post on social media saying “thank you” and tag them. Link it to the donor’s story or a brief reference to something you know about them, or to what that amount of money allowed you to do. “Thanks to Joe Ross for his donation this week! We provided water for four more kids in Africa with your dollars!” or “Megan Carter, you are the best! Thanks for all the help licking envelopes (and talking Star Trek!).”

Not only do these public thank-yous make the donor feel appreciated; if these kinds of things happen regularly, they can create a culture of giving on your social profiles. Other people who don’t give see this stuff and start to imagine themselves being thanked like that; or at the least, think of giving to you as something that people like them do. If they see giving to you as a normal part of membership in that community, rather than as a big jump, you can help your donor acquisition as well as your donor retention!



Let Your Donors Go Public

American charity is changing from a private thing to a public one. Drive that trend.

Historically, Americans have treated donating to nonprofits as a pretty private thing. In the mid-19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that even being wealthy in America was something you were supposed to be subtle about—dressing like everybody else, doing your charity work behind the scenes. Even after the rise of mega-wealth in the late 19th century, when suddenly there were philanthropists able to shower multi-million dollar gifts on cities, those high-profile gifts are the exception rather than the rule. Unless you’re building Carnegie Hall or something, charitable financial support is supposed to be something you do under the radar. And if you did mention your support of an organization, you never, ever mentioned the amount.

That’s changing, and it needs to change more.

The reason is, and I know I sound like a broken record on this one, people are social. They do what their friends do, they value what their friends value, they get their cues about what’s important from social messaging both subliminal and obvious.

You might be worried about donor privacy, and you’re right to be—after all, plenty of people (for now) expect that their donations are private things, and certainly nobody wants you giving out their e-mail address. But I’m not suggesting a violation of privacy—I’m suggesting adding fundraising (and non-financial support) tactics that create opportunities for visibility for people who want it.

And in this area, the demand from potential donors is way ahead of the supply from nonprofits. Your donors (and your future donors) are asking for this.

We now have crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, where you’re supposed to actively promote the fact that you just gave, in order to help the campaign reach its goal (otherwise they get nothing). But even short of obvious examples like this, the way that people interact with nonprofits on social media demands that those nonprofits find ways to “make the private public” as marketing professionals like to say. Done tastefully, it’s good for the donor AND for the organization.

Skeptical? Think about these stats:

  • 67% of people who liked a nonprofit Facebook page said they did so because they wanted other people to know they supported the organization.
  • 47% of American learn about a nonprofit from social media (i.e., they hear about it from somebody else interacting with it publicly).
  • Nonprofits that involve Twitter in their fundraising (allowing their supporters to, for example, retweet donation requests) make 10 times as much in online donations as nonprofits that don’t
  • If a friend posts a charitable donation on a social media site, people tend to:
    • Take time to find out more about the charity (68%)
    • Ask the friend about the charity (58%)
    • Have more respect for the friend (i.e. the donor benefits socially, 51%)
    • Donate to the nonprofit themselves (39%)
    • Share the donation opportunity with even more people (34%)

And if you need one more reason to let your donors go public, consider this: this idea isn’t a social media idea. Marketers have taught this for ages. This is where Livestrong bracelets came from; it was a way of turning private support into a craze of support. But social media can empower you in this arena in unprecedented ways.

Let it.



Why should I put money into Facebook when it doesn’t get me any donations?

An answer you've probably never heard.

Why should I put money into Facebook when it doesn’t get me any donations?

The real issue: whether you hire a full-time social media guy, contract with a consultant, or just give your poor development director yet another task, social media is an investment. And you don’t know anyone in the nonprofit sector who has told you they’ve hit it big with Mark Zuckerberg’s creation. So why bother?

Answer: you shouldn’t.

I know I’m in the minority when I say that. A lot of “social media gurus” will, in answer to this question, emphasize that social media’s value goes far beyond donations. They’ll tell you it helps people keep in touch with your organization without you needing to put together loads of work-intensive newsletters and reports. They’ll tell you it lets people share you with their friends, bringing in new potential donors. They’ll tell you it makes you seem more human, which will pay off sooner or later. They’ll tell you that you will benefit from it even if you never get a dollar from it.

All that is true, if you use it properly. But if you never see a dollar from it, there’s definitely a serious drawback to spending money on it!

But the reason you don’t see money from your social media is that you’re not using it properly. Having a Facebook page doesn’t cut it. Nor does posting little organizational updates periodically. Nor even does responding to people’s comments.

Social media is a tool, like housefile letters, email newsletters, annual reports, phone calls, and everything else you use as part of your fundraising apparatus. If it’s the black sheep child in the corner, it’s of no value to anybody. If it’s part of the family, if you do social fundraising rather than just “post on Facebook,” it can do a great deal of good. For example:

  • Facebook research can identify and connect you with literally millions of people around the world (or thousands right in your city) who are passionate about your cause, and would be thrilled to learn that you exist
  • Intelligently linked with your website and a smart email marketing strategy, social media can add dozens or even hundreds of people to your email list every day

So in sum: don’t spend a dime on social media unless you’re willing to do it properly.

If you want to get a better sense of what that might look like, I recommend this series of posts I wrote on how social fundraising works.