5 Social Fundraising Lessons That Can Influence Your Overall Development Strategy
If major gift fundraising is Morton’s, social fundraising is McDonald’s.
We’re not talking about the food; we’re talking about scale. We’re gaining insight from the millions of people — both staff and volunteers — who do social fundraising. The great thing about the scale of social fundraising is that you get a lot of data: Some is in numbers, some is in experiences and some is non-quantifiable (at least, not yet). So, here’s what the fast food of fundraising has to offer other income channels.
1. It’s the Constituent’s Party, Not Yours
You’re thinking, “But I’m the one who got the permit and issued the insurance and this and that.” None of that matters.
It’s your job to make them believe they created this beautiful beast. It’s their idea. It’s their story. If you accomplish that, the fundraising (or donating for other channels) just happens, naturally.
In social fundraising, active and engaged volunteers simply spread joy through their fundraising and recruiting. Well-managed major donors simply move money from one of their bank accounts to another of their bank accounts, managed by the nonprofit. That’s the way it feels to them.
2. Engagement With a Constituent Exists on a Spectrum
Pay attention to the range. Know where you are. We’ve all been victimized by a person or business going too fast, too soon. Don’t be that person.
You have a relationship with every constituent. Understand where that constituent is and engage or respond appropriately. The moment you push, they lean back. Let them push. Open the door, hold it open and invite them in.
In social fundraising, an invitation to the next level may mean an invitation to become a team captain, lead a committee or lead at the event. In other revenue channels, it could be telling the mission’s story to others instead of just listening to the story. That other kind of invitation, and the acceptance of it, almost always precedes successful invitations to donate.
3. The Constituents Must Like You
They just have to like you. An unfortunate aspect of humanity is that we have evolved to want to genuinely like those with whom we engage, even when “liking” doesn’t result in success. Here’s how to be likable:
- Like them first. The best way to be likable is to like them first. Tell yourself that you do and define in your mind why you like them.
- Listen and ask them questions instead of pushing your ideas.
- Make eye contact, listen and affirm with your body language. If you’re meeting on video, move their video window as close to the camera as possible to simulate making eye contact. Reduce the size of the window so you can get it closer to your camera. Ignore your own image — put a sticky note over your own irresistible image if you need to (yes, you are looking good).
- Follow the rules of etiquette for the environment you are in and for the person with whom you are speaking.
- Take your time. They will feel your internal timer.
4. It’s Not About the Mission; It’s About the Constituent
No one who ever walked a walk, ran a 5K or climbed the stairs to the top of a skyscraper did it for the mission. They did it for themselves.
“For themselves” may mean that they lost someone to a disease, have conquered a situation or are simply sufficiently sensitized to a situation to respond. But it is that person who is the lever for participating, fundraising or making a major gift. So, what matters to them is what is most important. Hopefully, what matters to them overlaps with your mission, but don’t be confused in thinking it’s all about you or your mission. It’s about the constituent.
5. Retention (aka All of the Above)
Retention is more complex than acquisition. We like to focus on acquisition because it is easier. Online dating taught us that getting a first date is pretty easy. Focus your effort on your second date. Show up authentically — flawed, but with good intentions. Ask them for help to be better.
Why is retaining supporters hard? First, retention requires understanding the journey of the person with whom you are engaging. What’s their level of engagement? How do they feel? What have they done? What do they want to do? What have they done for others? What do they want to do for others? What do they need?
Retention requires understanding their needs and how the mission can be a vehicle to meet them. Retention is ultimately more productive than acquisition. Not only do you get the donor’s money, but you also get their story, network, ideas and relationships.
So, whether your fundraising strategy is McDonald’s or Morton’s, retention is the key to success. Understand your constituents and their needs. Be authentic. And most importantly — like them.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Related story: Why Your Nonprofit Needs to Build a Community: 3 Ways to Do It Right
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.