Tips for Using Social Media to Build Awareness and Enable Participant Fundraising
The old way individuals thought about community — who they are and how they connect to likeminded people — was geographic. The neighborhood was the community, and people built community to physically be together, whether in their workplaces or churches. But today, people are centered more around electronic communities of interest. Things like online book clubs, professional networks like LinkedIn, and social networks are new ways to get a sense of self and community.
In his session "Making Social Media Work for Fundraising" at the first International Fundraising eConference in May, Michael Johnston, president of nonprofit technology consultancy HJC, analyzed how trends point to social-network fundraising now and in the future, recommended steps to empowering participant fundraisers, and shared tips for social-media success.
"Traditionally, to get an idea of who was like you, you would look down the church pews or in your community and see them," Johnston said. "Now we look to social media — a way for people to find like-minded individuals, to find people with a shared sense of values and purpose and community online."
Johnston said it's essential for organizations to find the right mission-related activity that stimulates people to use personal pages and other technology to reach out and raise money. Social-network fundraising works around the world.
"The trend is for donors to use online tools to do their own fundraising for a brand they believe in — in any country," Johnston said.
How do you find out if a social-network campaign will work for you? Johnston recommended research. Poll people online, in the mail and on the phone. Ask them what they would do with social-network tools to raise money. Give them a few ideas, e.g., walk-a-thon, skate-a-thon, football-a-thon, etc. Ask donors and citizens, "Would you do this" and, "What would you do?"
Before getting started, he advised knowing your demographic, e.g., who is participating in your activity. Get to know who's doing your current events and know who you're trying to reach. Do you want a particular gender group doing it, a particular age demographic? Are you trying to replace older donors?
Johnston said there are some pretty tried-and-true assumptions organizations can make about the Google-age participant, some of which are the same for older donors, but some that are different. They include:
- they have family and friends;
- they have a workplace and colleagues;
- they are consumers;
- they are busy;
- they have an electronic sense of self and community;
- they give impulsively;
- they will use multiple mediums to make a gift; and
- they like to be challenged (stretched).
The present and future fundraising participant is interested in hyper-adventure giving, doing things where they feel young and are having fun while giving. For the 78 million baby boomers poised to retire, giving must be fun and it must be done on their terms, as their giving is a symbol of their own brand.
He recommended the following six steps to creating breakthrough social-network fundraising:
1. Get people online.
Johnston said event participants using online social networks raise about 150 percent to 160 percent more than those just raising money offline.
The average online gift also is larger than the average offline gift, partly because when you ask someone for money in person he has to reach in his pocket and pull out what he has. But if you ask him online, he can use his credit card.
Some ways Johnston suggested to get participants online are:
- make it easy, user-friendly
- hold how-to technology/sign-up sessions
- let them know online fundraising saves the charity money
- make the best of what you have — strong default content, and offer the name and phone number of a person they can call if they need help.
2. Use mail too.
Using mail and e-mail to stimulate people with their social-network fundraising is important. He recommended testing inexpensive personal touches, e.g., handwritten notes, brochures, handouts.
3. Use the telephone to motivate your participants.
Johnston said research by his firm has found that participants who are called on the phone during their fundraising raise a greater percentage of their target goal than those who don't receive a call.
Calling adds what Johnston calls "the human moment — that biological reaction of being in someone's presence and hearing someone's voice," he said.
Call participants to thank them for registering to fundraise for the event; to see if they need help; to tell them they're doing a great job and offer them encouragement and support during the campaign; to find out if the technology is working alright for them or if they have any questions; a week before the event, as a final, encouraging push for them to reach their goal; and when they reach their goal, to see if they'd like to raise their goal to raise more for the organization.
4. Show the network.
Create a public place for participants to see themselves and each other.
"Show other people who are doing the same thing," Johnston said. "Give them that sense of being in a church and looking down and seeing rows of other people who have shared values."
This helps stimulate activity. Entice participants to come back and check the network to see where they are on the scoreboard and if the team goal will be reached.
5. Use video.
It's cheap, effective and helps participants see and hear others in the network.
6. Cross-channel integration.
Put it all together in an innovative way to supercharge your participants.
Johnston said nonprofits need to think about how they can become a part of the conversation without interrupting it. Social media Web 2.0 is all about hands-on/interactive, blogging, wikis, tagging, syndication of valuable content, Twitter and community-planned "unconferences." It's about building a community, starting a conversation, increasing trust and evoking feeling. Instead, more often than not, nonprofits interrupt this experience.
Donors control what they believe and what they'll tell people about. The key is to get them to believe in you and talk about your organization. Social-media tools allow you to stay top of mind and close by so you’re there when people want to give or take action.
"Using social communities online will allow your donors to communicate," Johnston said. "The testament to your brand, from your donors, will work for free to convert leads."
Johnston also recommended organizations blog, as it helps create conversation, influence and strategy, it's creative, and it's a good way to publicize your organization's work.
Some blog benchmarks to pay attention to include:
- Technorati rating
Social-media success, he said, relies on the following six points:
- Honesty (get permission)
- An awareness of who your audience is
- Frequent updates
- Letting the audience be the heroes — not your brand
When determining which social networking/user-generated content sites your organization will use, Johnston said to consider which sites are popular to the demographic you're trying to reach. Be empirical; be able to track and understand the investment in social media. Calculate exactly how much money you're spending, making, etc.
He recommended the following 10 steps to social media success:
1. Listen first and then participate.
Use tools like Twitter, Technorati and Google Alerts to jump into the conversation.
2. Contribute to the conversation by starting a blog.
- Know the type of blog you want to start — CEO, customer support, thought leadership, etc.
- Connect with other bloggers in your space to link content and promote each other's stories — read and comment on other people's blogs.
- Building an audience takes time.
- Make it easy to share your posts (send by e-mail, submit to sharing services, etc.)
- Offer a variety of ways to read the blog (RSS, e-mail, etc.)
- Be interesting and unique.
- Use Google Analytics to track where your traffic is coming from (collaborate with the traffic source and build partnerships).
3. Build authority.
- Contribute to forums and community boards.
- Participate in online chats.
- Answer questions on LinkedIn and Yahoo Answers.
4. Leverage Facebook.
- Create an updated professional profile.
- Edit for risky content.
- Connect with as many business people as you can.
- Join groups related to your niche, participate and befriend people with similar interests.
- Add links to your profile.
- Post on the network.
- Post to other people's walls.
5. Leverage LinkedIn.
- Create an updated professional profile.
- Import your address book to start building your network.
- Answer questions to build reputation and authority.
- Join groups and participate in them.
7. Use social-news aggregators.
These tools help promote your content, but it depends on the power of the crowd to vote it up or down. If you write a popular article, it can result in massive amounts of traffic. Try Digg.com, Mashable.com, Mixx.com and Reddit.com. Johnston also recommended submitting content simultaneously with sites like AddThis.com, SocialPoster.com and SocialMarker.com.
9. Always be aware of new tools and new channels.
Revisit the first nine steps and be aware of new tools that come out.
10. Listen again.
Always be reacting to what you hear — be a part of the ongoing conversation so you stay up-to-date and relevant.
The most important thing to takeaway from the session, Johnston stressed, is the strong need to test, build benchmarks and learn from the process.
He recommended using a social media checklist that asks:
- the purpose of the campaign (e.g., build brand, drive donations, build warm file, advocacy/campaigning);
- what the social-media goal in support of the purpose is (X number of e-mails, X number of donors, X ROI);
- what social-media actions you need in support of the campaign (leave e-mail address, tell others, user-generated content, donation);
- what social-media tools you need to use, given the purpose, goal and actions (e.g., video, blogging, multiple-site publishing, personal page, applications/widgets); and
- have you put tracking in place to prove the value of social media for donations or other actions; put marketing support (online and offline) in place; and lay out a beginning/middle/end structure to the social-media campaign to create momentum.