Originally published in Direct Marketing Magazine, May 2011 – “Busting Social Media Myths: New Channels Present Unlikely Opportunities for Nonprofits”
The rise of social media is so relatively recent, is it any wonder that we’re still wrapping our heads around it? For nonprofit professionals familiar with traditional giving programs, it’s not always easy to understand how tools like Facebook and Twitter can fit into a successful fundraising campaign.
Newspapers, television programs and blogs frequently report on flashy, celebrity-driven feel-good stories, contributing to the perception that social media is the “must have” item in a fundraiser’s toolkit.
While there are many excellent examples of charities using social media to inspire volunteerism, tell stories and generate meaningful conversations, when “ROI” is measured by dollars raised, expectations may not reflect reality.
Let’s take a closer look at the state of digital giving and deflate a few myths about social media and fundraising.
Myth #1: Nonprofits are raising a lot of money from social media
If you have wondered why your charitable organization hasn’t raised a million dollars from activities on Facebook, you are not alone. The 2011 Nonprofit Social Network Survey revealed data supporting what many professional fundraisers have begun to acknowledge … Social media is not a top performing channel for donations. Far from it!
Only 0.4% of the organizations surveyed were raising more than $100,000 on Facebook. Mirroring trends in industry, Facebook was the most popular social network in the voluntary sector by a large margin, with the majority of nonprofits reporting a presence on the web site.
Despite finding value from initiatives in advocacy, marketing and program delivery, most organizations were either NOT fundraising at all, or raising less than $1,000 on Facebook.
The picture is even bleaker on less popular networks, where over 80% of nonprofits failed to raise a cent from Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or Flickr. It’s not difficult to see why fundraising departments often report frustration with these new channels.
If your team has struggled to put a dollar figure on your results from social media, it’s important to relax your expectations. Online giving for an average North American charity is typically below 10% of all fundraising, so it can be no surprise that the numbers are small for this newest digital channel.
It’s there hope on the horizon? Absolutely!
Projections show that online giving is one of the fastest growing fundraising channels. Online donations are currently the highest average gift amount across all methods; earning higher averages than donations made in person, by mail or phone. Canadians are already comfortable shopping online, with the majority of donors reporting having donated at least once by web in 2010.
If unrealistic expectations about social media are haunting your program meetings, consider educating your staff, volunteers and leadership about digital giving’s strengths and limitations. Putting your overall online fundraising in perspective will show there’s plenty of opportunity to grow this year.
Myth #2: Social media tools alone drive fundraising
Some of the most successful campaigns credited by observers as “social media fundraisers” include elements that are essentially “Fundraising 101″ to experienced development professionals.
If a celebrity spokesperson was involved with a project, rallying his or her supporters behind a great cause on Twitter, can we truly say that the crucial element to the project was Twitter?
Many charities attempt to replicate the viral affect of campaigns they’ve seen written about on popular technology sites without the important influencer or message that was key to the strategy behind the project.
Consider social media campaigns that are actually community fundraisers leveraging the tools of the real-time web to reach out to participants. Twestival is a famous global initiative for social good, but it’s vital to note that the event itself is a ticketed party held at local venues in cities around the world. The event’s marketing promotion happens on Twitter, but there are crucial offline components.
Corporate relationships are as important to leverage as social media tools themselves. For instance, four of the five “Facebook Giving Campaign Success Stories” profiled by Mashable.com were actually corporate-sponsor driven campaigns. In those cases, a corporate partner helped build or sponsor the campaign, increasing the likelihood of a successful result.
In December of 2010, SickKids Foundation partnered with WagJag.com (a Canadian group-buying web site in the same model as Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com) for a special nine-day holiday campaign. For every individual donor pledging to SickKids through the site, WagJag.com would match gifts of $100 and under.
The campaign was supported on traditional channels in addition to Facebook and Twitter. Promotional emails were sent to members, the opportunity was featured as the main deal for nearby cities, and a print ad was run in The Toronto Star (WagJag.com’s parent company).
By December 31st, SickKids Foundation had raised $30,000 – the majority from new donors – ultimately totaling $60,000 with the matching gift. To replicate this success on a similar site, charities would need to think about cultivating valuable sponsor partnerships and utilizing existing marketing resources in addition to using the social-buying tool itself.
“Integration” has become its own buzz word in the charitable sector for good reason; cross-channel initiatives are crucial. Before attempting to copy a case-study involving social media, take a moment to examine which pieces of the strategy were responsible for its success.
Myth #3: Social networking outperforms email communications
Have you heard futurists declare “email is dead”? Think again. Email continues to be a powerful tool for charities to reach out to donors and supporters.
Industry trends show that email is certainly in no danger of being abandoned by commercial retailers. The ForeSee Results Report on Social Media Marketing 2011 surveyed 12,000 shoppers over the holidays to see what influenced their purchases on commercial web sites.
Of those customers, 19% were influenced by promotional emails, but only 5% were influenced by social media. When asked how they prefer to be contacted, 64% of customers wanted to hear from retailers by email, while only 8% requested to be contacted through social media sites.
Considering the low cost of creating and testing emails, marketers have long recommended that brands put resources into understanding how to make their e-communications more effective. These are great takeaway lessons for digital communication teams at charities and nonprofits too.
In their recently released 2011 eNonprofit Benchmarks report, M+R Strategic Services noted that the average charity already has 1000 email addresses for every 110 Facebook fans… A gold-mine of potential for your development department if you’ve been maintaining clean and well-organized lists.
Email communications can complement social media-based projects in many different ways. When Children’s Miracle Network earned 100,000 “likes” on their Facebook fan page, they used colourful celebratory emails to ask their fanbase to head into Facebook to contribute to a photography project in support of the cause.
The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) sent a well-timed email announcement to their members to drive participation in a one-hour Twitter and Facebook “party” to win tickets to their signature fundraising gala: AGO Massive. The email included instructions explaining how to get involved in either or both of the popular networks.
Still worried that your younger supporters have abandoned email for sites like Facebook? That’s not necessarily the case. The Convio Next Generation of Canadian Giving report proved that over half of Gen Y, Gen X & Boomer generations agreed it was appropriate to receive an email appeal from a charitable cause they care about. Only a small minority found mobile & social media marketing appropriate.
There are other benefits to email, particularly in segmentation. Email communications can be tailored to speak to your supporters based on previous giving amount, location, fund interest, age & gender. These constituent details are more challenging to identify & respond to on social media channels.
Myths about social media and fundraising may get you down, but take heart from research suggesting that those who are active online for a cause are more likely to donate – potentially, seven times more likely to donate!
You may not have the perfect or most effective social media fundraising strategy in place today, but now is the time to plan for your future programs by gathering as much useful constituent data as possible. Do you collect mobile numbers, or social media handles with your donor information? Do you ask the question: “How do you want us to communicate with you?”
The next step for Canadian charities will be to explore how marketing and development teams can work together to convert the goodwill generated from social media support into measurable results for the organization’s mission. Charities and nonprofits can set the stage for more meaningful outcomes later, when remembering to go easy on themselves now. After all, we are all learning in this space together.