Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
There are many good reasons to try fundraising with social media. And there’s one important reason not to: Most of the time, it doesn’t work. A Google search reveals that while there are more than 20 million stories about fundraising with social media, there are few reports of actual campaign success.
Raising Money on Social Media
Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) is itself a nonprofit with a mission to help other nonprofits use technology successfully. Its research of nonprofit organizations found that in 2012 only 2 percent of nonprofits raised $10,000 to $25,000 via social media. Only 1 percent raised $25,000 to $100,000. While the number of organizations raising $1 to $10,000 on social networks rose to 56 percent in 2012, the number of nonprofits raising $100,000 or more per year on social networks was still only 0.8 percent. NTEN concluded that “most nonprofits aren’t raising any money on social media.” Nonprofits spent an average of $3.50 to acquire a Facebook fan, and $2.05 per new Twitter follower.
npEngage, an online publication for nonprofits, reported a 40 percent increase in fundraising using social media in 2014. It was mostly peer-to-peer fundraising, not organizational fundraising, that got results. Twitter was by far the most successful peer-to-peer fundraising site. Peer-to-peer fundraising occurs when people make personal asks of their social media contacts to support a specific cause, such as funding them in a fun-run.
The ExactTarget blog reached a similar conclusion, stating that, “Social media platforms aren’t necessarily fundraising engines. It’s the people using them that are.” In other words, donors like to give to people they know, not organizations.
Your NPO may be in that 1 percent that can raise $100,000 or more on social media, especially if you have a focused cause and/or you are having events that lend themselves to peer-to-peer fundraising. In 2013, the Humane Society of the United States, for example, reported that 5 percent of its online fundraising was via social media.
Other Reasons for Nonprofits to Use Social Media
You don’t need to be on social media because it’s there, but because your audience is there. Social media has become an important communication channel, one that is not fully understood. At this time, there’s not much reason to expect to have fundraising success on social media, but there are still plenty of good reasons for your NPO to have a strong social media presence.
Some of the reasons include the following.
- Engage new, maybe younger, audiences. The demographic for each social media site is different. Facebook, once the popular site for teens, is now mostly adults and the mean age of users is growing older. Pinterest still remains predominantly female. As with any marketing effort, you need to pick your target audience and then find out where to reach it. The difference with social media is that the demographics change quickly. The sites are fairly transparent about reporting who their audiences are and it’s easy to select who will see your ads and promoted posts.
- Maintain dialogue. Whatever your goals, establishing and maintaining a dialogue with your audience is an important part of social media strategy. Think more one-to-one communications rather than mass communications. Encourage and respond to feedback whenever feasible.
- Educate. Many NPOs offer education about a cause or issue as part of their mission and social media provides prime a place to educate your followers. There’s also excellent opportunity to encourage your followers to share your message with their friends.
- Advocate. Closely related to education, social media sites are good places for advocacy. In fact, if your NPO engages in advocacy, it’s a great way to engage your followers in dialogue and encourage them to share your message.
- Build your house list. Through a social media site there is no way to directly acquire the names or email addresses of your followers, but they are your followers and they are receiving your messages. There are a few (not all reputable) vendors that will append the email address of your followers to your house list. You can, using contests, links to your website, and various other methods, encourage your followers to share their email addresses with you. Over time, you can use social media to build your house list.
What to Do
What should you be doing on social media for your nonprofit organization? Review your organizational goals. How can the social media communications channel help you reach those goals?
- Get started. If you’re new to social media, don’t jump in with both feet and start posting on behalf of your NPO. Social media is no longer for beginners. Hire a professional, a social media professional, who will accurately and reliably represent your brand online. Don’t assume that because someone is young they know about social media. They may know how to find a party on Saturday night but that does not mean they know about corporate communications or marketing. If you’re new to social media, you should begin by following and listening on major sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Wait awhile before posting. Study other profiles before completing your own.
- Say thank you. Thank your donors and volunteers often and sincerely. Letters and handwritten notes are important, but your social media sites are excellent places to give a shout-out to those who have helped your NPO. Immediacy is important, so try to post your social media thanks on the day the gift is received or the volunteers visit. That’s not always possible, but don’t wait more than a week. Recognitions that take longer may lack sincerity. You may find that your thank you posts get the most likes and shares. Be sure to include links within the post to any groups or organizations involved or let them know about the post so they can share it.
- Tell stories. Posts with pictures are viewed and shared much more frequently than posts without. You can let the photo tell most of the story or you can link to a much longer story on your website.
- Share links. When you find an article or post that’s related to your mission, cause, or area of expertise, be sure to share it. If people are following you, they are interested in your topic and will appreciate links to related content. If they have like-minded friends, they will share your links, too. This is how content goes viral and how you build your network.
- Use infographics. Nonprofit Tech for Good published an entire collection of infographics about social media and fundraising. There are subscription software services such as Piktochart.com and Easl.ly that provide infographic templates. Be warned, though, making a good infographic takes time and design skills and is only as good as the numbers behind it. Most of the general public is not good at interpreting charts and graphs, so you have to present just one or two simple facts that are self-explanatory. Unless your main audiences are scientists, keep your infographics as simple as possible. The Nonprofit Marketing Guide blog published a large infographic about communication trends in 2014 that provides good examples and ideas.
Find ways to use social media to meet your organizational goals. Using social media effectively isn’t free, but it can be very cost effective.