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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!



How do I know which social networks to use?

The daunting question with the simple answer.

How do I know which social networks to use?

The real issue: technology is moving too fast. There are a lot of social networks out there, and they seem to rise and fall in popularity. You’re wondering whether it’s possible to move forward when all your work to build a Twitter following might fall apart in five years if Twitter loses popularity. Or maybe you’re just wondering where on earth to start.

First off, the easy answer: it depends on your mission. You definitely start with Facebook, which has over a billion users and is easily the largest. But after that, what you do dictates which other social networks you should start with, because each network has its own demographics and its own best kinds of media. Broadly speaking, a few of the heavy hitters as of October 2013:

  • Twitter is about conversation. It works well for any organization that deals a lot with news, or policy issues, or fast-paced developments. If your organization is more long-range and slow-paced, Twitter may not be the most efficient use of your time at first. That said, you’d be surprised: I have a client that runs a food bank, and didn’t use Twitter much…but when Colorado Springs caught fire and people were driven from their homes, they were quite glad to be looped in with local news sources on Twitter, because it enabled them to effortlessly spread the word about their services.
  • Pinterest is about images. It’s most effective when you can work with pictures, and its user base is heavily female. It’s increasingly a popular third network after Facebook and Twitter because it has a good track record of driving traffic to your website.
  • Google+ is Google’s version of Facebook. It lets you post pictures, links, videos, everything. Frankly, it’s a lot better than Facebook in most ways. But while hundreds of millions of people have Google+ accounts, most of them are really just Gmail accounts and their owners never get on Google+. For the moment, G+ is best if you’re in a technological or creative space, because those are the kinds of people who frequent it.
  • Instagram is just pictures. Whereas Pinterest allows you to post anything (for example, a wine shop could post its favorite wine country scenery, or pictures of products with links to their purchase pages on an e-commerce site), Instagram only works through your phone’s camera. So it’s good for photojournalism but not so good for more holistic engagement. Its user base is also much younger.

On a larger level, though, the more important question is what you do with people after they’ve followed you on a social network—having a strategy that is about engaging and developing donors and can be tweaked no matter what social networks go in and out of vogue. This is why I advocate a holistic approach that is more about building a traditional donor base with contact info, e-mails, and so on. “Social media marketing” is about, say, getting thousands of Facebook likes. Social fundraising says those likes are inadequate if there’s no mechanism to translate any of them to donations.

My advice is to think of it in these terms: you want to build relationships with these people. Social media is a key starting point to finding them and introducing yourself, but the relationships need to go deeper.