Making Event Participants More Successful With Social-Media Tools
The popularity of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube has given rise to promising new ways for event participants to raise money online for nonprofits. While some industry observers doubt the fundraising potential of these platforms, participants in special events continue to be an exception and have shown strong success by tapping in to the power of social networking.
Research conducted by Charity Dynamics and Blackbaud further confirms this trend. We investigated data from more than 1,750 events that implemented social-media tools for participants in 2009. The insight gained by this new data should be kept in mind by all nonprofit organizations as they gear up for their future events and consider the use of social media tools to support their fundraising efforts.
Twitter and Facebook as solicitation tools
According to Nielsen Online’s Global Index, December 2007-December 2008, people now spend more time on social-networking sites than on e-mail. As such, utilizing these sites for event fundraising may become just as important as personal e-mail solicitations. Facebook and Twitter have seen tremendous adoption over the past two years and now boast more than 344 million combined users. To more closely analyze their impact, the research compared returning event participants who did not have the advantage of integrated social-media tools in 2008 but did have access to them in 2009.
In all cases, our research demonstrated that participants using social-media tools set higher fundraising goals, reach more donors and raise more money.
Twitter users increased their personal fundraising goals at least three times more and raised nearly 10 times more online than their peers who did not use the microblogging service. Additionally, participants who sent multiple tweets achieved stronger fundraising results than those who sent only one tweet. These results align with those of e-mail solicitations, an area in which participants are encouraged to send multiple personalized messages.
The evolution of Facebook as a tool for special-event fundraising can be broken down into three phases. Prior to 2009, participants tapped in to their social networks by manually posting their own status updates or sharing links on Facebook and other sites. These individuals were early innovators in terms of their use of social media to assist their fundraising efforts. In early 2009, event organizers began recognizing the growing impact of social networks on fundraising and became more proactive in prompting participants to tap in to their social networks to support their efforts. Following the release of integrated Facebook and event fundraising tools in 2009, the marketplace then experienced an accelerated use of social media by participants to help strengthen their fundraising. Organizations increasingly began using more sophisticated Facebook applications that automated status updates by prompting participants throughout event campaigns.
Our research showed that event participants using Facebook tend to set higher goals for themselves and commit to stronger support for an organization. Importantly, they raise significantly more than participants who do not use Facebook. There’s an even stronger impact when a more robust application such as Boundless Fundraising, which automates and integrates participants’ ability to access their Facebook friends, is used. Overall, event participants that used such an application with Facebook increased their fundraising by as much as 40 percent compared to their peers who weren’t using the available online tools.
YouTube vs. a picture
While the benefit of Facebook and Twitter comes largely from their ability to enable event participants to increase awareness and reach more prospective donors, YouTube is useful because it allows individuals to deliver more powerful messages and fundraising appeal. Allowing participants to upgrade their fundraising appeals from static text and a picture to a video provides a creative, more effective way for them to:
- Make an emotion-felt, personal ask;
- Better describe the impact and mission of the organization they are supporting;
- Clearly convey why a cause is important to them; and
- Do something “catchy” to increase the viral effect of their fundraising appeals.
From our research, we learned that YouTube users are more likely to balance their use of online and offline channels to conduct fundraising activities. Also, compared to participants utilizing other social-media platforms, YouTube users performed the strongest offline.
Comparing e-mail fundraising with social-media fundraising
The potential for Facebook and Twitter relies on the number of updates participants make, as well as the number of friends actually viewing those updates. So, while these two platforms enable participants to share updates with many friends at one time, it’s essential that their followers regularly access the social-networking sites and view their communications and fundraising appeals. E-mail, on the other hand, is a one-to-one communication that goes directly to a potential donor and therefore has a more captive audience. This is similar to making a phone call to one of your friends and asking for support versus walking into a crowded party and announcing that you’re fundraising. The phone call typically is either answered or listened to as a message. The announcement at a party relies not only on your friends actually being at the party, but also that they’re listening.
Our research showed that tapping an event participant’s social network yields a lower conversion rate than personal e-mail. While personal e-mail historically has converted approximately 25 percent of recipients, Twitter and Facebook feeds convert closer to 0.25 percent of impressions. It’s important to note, however, that while conversion rates for Facebook and Twitter are significantly lower than those for e-mail, they actually are in line with rates for nonprofits’ delivered e-mail campaigns, according to the 2008 NTEN and M&R Strategies eNonprofit Benchmarks Study.
When considering an individual’s more loosely defined list of social-networking “friends” versus a handpicked list of personal e-mail contacts, it’s not surprising that conversion rates on Facebook and Twitter more closely align with a general online fundraising solicitation.
Another concern shared by nonprofits is whether social media might replace e-mail as a fundraising solicitation tool and/or cannibalize fundraising that’s already taking place online. In fact, our research indicates just the opposite. Most participants tapping in to their social networks for fundraising actually sent more e-mails than their peers who were not using social networks. This observation demonstrates that participants were using social media effectively along with e-mail.
Participant and donor profiles using social media
By analyzing event data and providing profiles of which participants make the best use of social media, event organizers can better plan how to be more successful in the future when implementing these online tools. Our research identified the following trends:
- Event participants who take the most advantage of social-media tools are consistently among the top fundraisers.
- Individuals who are most involved with an organization are most likely to use social-media tools for fundraising.
- When more preparation is required for an event, participants are more likely to use social-media fundraising tools.
- On average, 75 percent of donors attracted through social media are new to an organization, versus about 50 percent of all donors in support of participants.
The research conducted by Charity Dynamics and Blackbaud provides the latest evidence that social media is, indeed, making a difference in the overall success of nonprofits’ special-events fundraising. Because of the growing popularity of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, more people are learning about special events, new donors are participating and a larger number of supporters are getting involved in online fundraising. Nonprofits that continue to assess how to best incorporate social media into their event strategies stand to benefit the most and generate new levels of success to support their causes.
Donna Wilkins is president of Charity Dynamics. Mark Davis is director of technical solutions at Blackbaud. Download the full research paper, “Making Event Participants More Successful With Social Media Tools,” here.