If I asked a group of major-gifts fundraisers to tell me the first “opposite” words that come to mind when I say “major gifts,” chances are many of their responses would be some variation of “social networks.”
The fast pace and apparent shallowness of sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, as well as blogs and other online communities, seem to be the antithesis of what major-donor fundraising is all about.
Not so, according to fundraising consultant Carolyn Appleton, who presented her case at the Nonprofit Technology Conference held in Atlanta earlier this month. In her session, "Major Gift Fundraising and Social Media," Appleton tackled the old-school perceptions of social media applications, mainly that they:
- Provide opportunities only for brief communications.
- Do not provide for in-depth discussions.
- Focus only on young users.
- Generate small, quick donations rather than significant, five-figure-plus commitments.
First off, Appleton debunked the myth of social networks being just for young people, explaining that Facebook’s largest user group is ages 35 to 54 and that the site’s 55-plus population is growing at lightning speed. These still aren’t exactly your major-donor prospects, but they're getting close.
She also reminded that many major gifts come from corporations and foundations, whose representatives encompass a wide age range.
Appleton advised using social media to engage supporters, introduce them to your mission, solicit smaller gifts and get them involved with your organization. But it's also a good place to start the more in-depth engagement vital to major-gift solicitations, which traditionally have been built on long-term, carefully cultivated relationships with donors.
“Start the major-gift process by securing a small donation via social media; then use social media to research, educate and cultivate prospective contributors over time, leading to a significant ask,” she said.
For example, organizations can post detailed documents and slide presentations that enhance donor understanding of mission and need to sites such as drop.io, Google Docs, Scribd, SlideShare and others.
A well-planned and –coordinated social-media e-campaign can set the stage for major gifts by identifying prospects with the affinity and ability to give larger gifts, and allows you to cultivate and educate them via the medium that brought them to your organization in the first place.
Then, Appleton said, “reel them in.”
“Once you have their attention,” she explained, “approach prospective donors in traditional ways — private meetings, case statements, grant proposals, etc. — and secure major gifts."
Finally, Appleton advised, “think smart.”
Fundraising is evolving and becoming increasingly multichannel, she said, and social media must be a part of every fundraiser’s toolbox. But as with every “next big thing” that comes down the pike, fundraisers have to incorporate it into their overall strategy, not pin all their hopes on it to the point of ignoring the basics of what makes fundraising work.
“Don’t forget,” she concluded, “that effective major-gift fundraising involves in-depth discussion and in-person relationship building.”