It’s done…but does it work?

It’s a relief to complete a task that’s been sitting on the to-do list for a long time. But that sense of accomplishment can often be short-lived. The job is done, but now the question is, will it work? Creating and resourcing a social media presence is one of those items on fundraisers’ long to-do list, so it’s a relief when you can check off that item. But for not-for-profits that get this far, it seems they can’t rely on “build it and they will come”.

Among several intriguing findings from our just-published 2011 Cygnus Donor Survey, we discovered that 69% of respondents have at least one social media account, but the majority does not follow any charitable organizations – even though every participant in our survey is an active donor.

Having a social media presence is not the objective; it is a means to the end and the end is, of course, raising money. Facebook and other social media can help you achieve that goal, but only if you actively market your social media presence. The first step is to make sure that almost everything that touches your donors, whether solicitations or communications, includes links to your site(s) and a concise but compelling reason to go there. The exception, by the way, is a thank you letter. Regardless of how long your donors have been contributing or the value of the gifts that you are acknowledging, the power of donor-centered thank you letters is in their simplicity. Never compromise the future fundraising potential of thank you letters by including a request to donors to do something else. Say thank you – beautifully — then stop.

Once you drive donors to your site(s), you will find yourselves back in familiar territory. Because, while the medium is different, it’s your content that inspires your followers to keep coming back and to give. 65% of donors who follow one or more not-for-profits say they do so because the organizations are expert in their fields. It’s not good enough to simply claim you are expert, though, even though this is quite common in the not-for-profit sector. Such claims must be backed by evidence or they will have no influence on donors. And the evidence that proves you are expert is the measurable results your organization has recently achieved with contributions from your supporters. 53% of our survey respondents said that this is the defining characteristic of the not-for-profit that they have supported for the longest period of time.

I say this is familiar territory because this is what donors were asking for fifteen years ago when I first started doing research on the motivators of donor loyalty and generous giving. Back when social media didn’t exist, when e-communication was barely on the radar, and when most not-for-profit communication happened through printed newsletters, donors were pleading for “measurable results on their gifts at work”. While communications technology has evolved substantially since then, according to donors, content has not.

The Cygnus Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy Is Headed in 2011 is a 78-page downloadable research study covering how and how much donors plan to give this year, their changing views and preferences, and what they need from the charities they support. 22,000 donors contributed to this study which also includes a section on the views of over 5,000 Board members concerning their responsibilities in fundraising. The full study and the free Executive Summary are available here


Showing 3 comments
  • Graham

    Penelope….good advice and guidelines about the purpose of driving donors to a charity web site. However, I would add that the content *must be up-to-date, accurate and free of typos, wordos etc*. Hard copy newsletters, as a result of their production cycle, are almost always out of date as soon as printed. Social media offer a good solution if used well; ‘latest news’ and ‘breaking stories’ keep donors excited and in-the-know.

  • Barbara

    I think you really need all the tools in your toolkit…unless I misunderstand you, the goal is to get people interested, inform them, get the giving, cement their interest, pull them into the fold. We regularly use Facebook and Twitter to build audience, build loyalty…give folks information and funny asides, photos of our DJs, etc. during our pledge drives. Use all the tools, and use them well.

  • Barbara

    …I also think this doesn’t need to be complicated…we really DON’T need “to source a social media presence”. Like Nike says, “Just do it” and stop thinking about it. That’s the joy of social media, it’s not academic, it’s quick tidbits, get them out there and see the response! Yes, you can make it fun, not part of a long to-do list. No tedium required!

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