Fundraising is hard work. From the annual fund to major gift solicitation, there is heavy lifting to do at every step of the process and any help you can get – especially in volunteer form – ultimately makes your efforts more fruitful. The good news – at least for the more technologically savvy organizations – is creating vocal volunteers to advance your communication goals is easier than ever, thanks to the free tools available online. The following examples illustrate some best practices in online communication and how integrating those practices into your operations can lead to the development of online ambassadors who will help spread your message on the Internet and beyond.
Awareness and Providing Value Lead to Online Ambassadors
For every cause, there is an audience of enthusiastic supporters online, waiting to lend a hand in sharing that cause’s message. This is your group of potential online ambassadors. All that they need to move from potential to actual is 1) they need to know your organization exists and 2) they need content about your organization to share with the world and let everyone know how great your organization is. A smart online strategy is the way to deliver both.
To point #1: attractive websites, strategically managed and consistently monitored social media networks, and emails worth reading help get you noticed by those online ambassadors in waiting. And few organizations play this awareness game better than the Humane Society of the United States. For several years now, the HSUS has been implementing and managing a comprehensive online strategy that includes a main Facebook page with more than 1 million followers, plus several other pages that fit niche demographics such as their Farm Animal Protection campaign. The HSUS takes the same approach with Twitter, where they nurture relationships with supporters, and YouTube, where they provide quality content about their mission and activity.
Which leads me to point #2 – online super users are always looking for content to share with their followers. So make life easy on them by providing a study stream of content about your org that they can easily share. Check out what The University of Minnesota has done with its YouTube channel. If you’re an alumnus or general supporter, no matter what it is you like about the U of MN, you can probably find it on their YouTube channel and share it with your friends. This approach of appealing to multiple audiences with a wide array of content has translated into nearly 6 million views of videos on The University of Minnesota’s channel, including one video – The Science of Watchmen – that has won an Emmy.
Finally, once you have the attention of your new online ambassadors, cultivate their sense of connectivity to your organization by keeping them apprised of how their support is making the world a better place. One of my favorite examples of this new online form of stewardship comes from A Child’s Right and their blog “Proving It.” With a focus on providing clean water to children around the world, A Child’s Right goes to great lengths keeping their donors and supporters informed about each project they take on. The good, the bad, and the ugly – nothing is concealed. It’s transparency at its finest and it helps donors – most of whom are thousands of miles away from the people impacted – feel more connected to the cause.
Now that you’ve created an army of online ambassadors, how should you put them to work?
Florida State University’s Great Give – While it might not be the most sexy of online tools, email might still be the most powerful. (And the rise of mobile could lead to an even more prominent role for email.) The Florida State University’s annual giving team discovered this during their 36-hour, online-only campaign in January 2012. The FSU annual giving team easily surpassed their goal raising $186,000, entirely online, in just a day and a half. What might have been even more impressive, was of the 1,100 who gave, 380 were first time donors to FSU.
So where did all these donors come from? Annual giving team members were busy throughout the campaign using social media to promote the event. But they didn’t just send messages out themselves, from FSU accounts. Instead, they connected with their biggest Internet cheerleaders –their online ambassadors – and sent them pre-packaged tweets and Facebook updates.
All the supporters had to do was copy and paste the message into their social networks and hit send. In an instant, dozens of supporters were sharing messages hand-picked by the annual giving team with all their friends and followers in a manner that looked and felt organic to everyone involved. Just one of the many ways email can be used to boost giving, especially in the online realm, when you have an army of online ambassadors ready to lead the fundraising charge.
Justin Ware is the director of social media at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients develop online strategies for engaging donors and increasing fundraising. Read Justin's complete bio.
So you have the perfect idea for the next digital tool you want to create for your organization. Maybe it's a social network for your members. Or maybe it's a mobile app.
You have a goal, an audience, and a thorough understanding of what the tool does. Heck, you're no designer, but you love this thing so much you even took a crack at a mockup. You've got buy-in from your Executive Director, which means money and prioritization.
What more could you need? You know what you want to build and how it's going to work, and you've got the resources to make it happen.
Well, there’s one very important thing to keep in mind: launching a new digital product isn’t the end of a project; it’s the beginning. You’re not buying a sofa. You’re adopting a puppy.
If you're goal is to get a great couch, all the work has to happen up front. You need to know how much they cost and where you get the most comfortable one.
In organizational terms, the equivalent is any project that has a fixed end; writing up the annual report, running an end-of-year fundraising drive, promoting an event. You come up with the idea, plan it out, figure out what it'll cost, and do it. You know you're successful when you've got a comfortable place to sit.
Once you've got the puppy, on the other hand, you're just getting started. And by puppy, I mean any technology product that you're building for users - either internal or external.
You saved up for the puppy and all his shots. But what do you do when it turns out he has a behavioral problem? Or that he has allergies? Or that he's a finicky eater who only likes the most expensive meals?
When we’re first thinking about buying a new pet, our temptation can be to downplay the time and attention it’s going to require to address all of these questions. The same is true with technology.
What do you do when you realize the registration process for your new site is confusing for visitors? Or that your new tool doesn’t integrate well with your CRM? Or that users absolutely love one of the features you've included, but could take or leave the rest? Do you have a product-minded person on staff who can lead the process of adjusting the product to match that, or are you tied to a firm? Do you have the money allocated to dive back in and put that one killer feature more firmly at the center of your product?
Maybe you nail it on the first try, and build exactly what people want. That happens. But more likely you build based on what you know, and then you learn from watching what people actually do.
A product mindset based on learning and iteration is more expensive. And it's scarier to leadership: you essentially have to admit that you don't know exactly where the project is going to end or exactly how much it's going to cost. But if you're looking to create something that people actually use, it's essential.
By Daniel Atwood
Daniel works with organizations in the social sector to craft meaningful experiences for customers and constituents, and to find innovative product, campaign and messaging ideas in unexpected places. He lives, work, bikes and contemplates in Brooklyn, New York, and can be found at danielatwood.com.
Editor's Note: Investing time in learning and adjusting technology to get it just the way you want it is both normal and important. What tips can you offer for successfully launching new technology?
People engaging in social media are interested in being social, which means they want to establish relationships with the organizations & individuals that they follow. Effective social media campaigns help foster these relationships by engaging followers in two-way communication.
Many organizations mistakenly limit their social media activity to broadcasting information about their events or their organization, thereby cutting the “social” out of “social media.” This critical mistake limits the overall effectiveness of your social media campaigns by removing the opportunities for your followers to build a relationship with your organization. You should think of social media functioning more like a telephone and less like a megaphone.
When social media is done right it builds trust and affinity towards your organization. Your followers will become more invested in your mission, which will lead them to have a sense of ownership over the success of your organization and its fundraising events.
5 Tips to Keep the “Social” in “Social Media”
In the upcoming months, we'll be talking more about how to develop and manage effective social media campaigns in support of your event fundraising. What topics would you be interested in learning more about? Are there areas where your fundraising events are struggling to find thier social footing? Leave me a comment below. I'd love to learn more about your needs!
Learn more about how your fundraising event can use social media by downloading our Quick Start Guide for Socially Savvy P2P Events.
The sixth annual Convio Online Marketing Benchmark Index Study is now officially released. At a macro-level, we continue to see online engagement growing at a healthy rate. In fact, over the past five or six years, online fundraising has grown at a similar rate to retail e-commerce, good news for nonprofits.
I’m particularly encouraged by a new metric we added this year: growth in monthly giving. As monthly giving typically increases a donor’s lifetime value, this positive trend is very good news for the nonprofit sector and the causes being served.
For a summary of trends seen in the benchmark, watch my video here. For all the trends, including information by vertical, download the full Online Marketing Benchmark.
All roads are heading north! Here at AFP International in the spectacular northwest city of Vancouver, BC, it’s evident from the conference sessions I’ve attended so far that with the economy seemingly back on an upward trajectory, fundraising is also heading in that direction.
Today, the NRC, Nonprofit Research Collaborative, of which Convio is a member, announced the results of our spring survey. In 2011, over half of all the nonprofit organizations surveyed in both the U.S. and Canada saw increases in contributions. In fact, the results indicate that this is the first increase seen in the U.S. in four years. That is indeed great news!
Even better news, more than 70 percent of the organizations surveyed anticipate increases in charitable contributions received in 2012. Still, a third said the economy is the greatest challenge and a looming determinant in what lies ahead.
The sentiment at AFP? I’d say it’s largely optimistic. Yes, nonprofits realize that many of the factors Convio highlights in our 2012 predictions cannot be ignored, but rather embraced: online; mobile; peer-to-peer; and integrated marketing. Scott Harrison from charity: water reinforced that himself in his opening day keynote when he emphasized the need to tell stories and give donors a reason to care about the “why.” Essentially, if you have a compelling story, the money will follow.
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