Jesse Stremcha, an e-Philanthropy Strategist with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota (@ChildrensMN), has been leading a comprehensive social-media-for-fundraising strategy for more than three years. Which means, he has a lot of tips, data and best practices to share. The following is a Q and A I sent to Jesse and the answers he returned…
Q1: What role does social media play in Children’s annual giving campaigns?
I think in general, we use online tools and social media in ways that closely mirror the relationship building that happens in major gift work. And, we’re able to do it in many-to-many ways. That is, we can share information in a way that raises awareness, cultivates engagement and drives action in a way that impacts not only our audience directly, but also asks them to participate in sharing our message with their audiences.
To draw a direct comparison, its looks like this:
If you take a look at Children’s Facebook page, you’ll see these three things happening all the time. There’s a continual flow of short bits of information aimed at raising awareness of what happens at Children’s and engaging people in it. There’s good evidence of engagement in ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ we get. And, we’re sprinkling in calls to action (solicitation), too. Those can be event invitations, calls to participate in legislative action and invitations to give.
The analogy also holds in terms of ratios of people at various stages. You do a lot of discovery to get a few people engaged and it’s a subset of those that will ultimate make gifts.
Q2: How important is conversation (via social and new media) to cultivating relationships with donors?
It’s a hard thing to quantify. To lean on my analogy again, how important is cultivation and stewardship to successful major gift work?
I think there’s two pieces of data I’ve seen that support the idea that social media and online tools make a difference:
- Major donors research charities online
- Consumers who connect with brand via social media increase loyalty
I think it’s a short leap to conclude that if major donors are making gift choices based on online research – and ‘consumers’ are developing greater brand loyalty because of the connections they make with those brands via social media – that donors are building charitable affinity through an on-going relationship and conversation with charities via social media.
Q3: How do you measure the effectiveness of you social media strategy?
It’s a mix of art and science. For all the metrics available online and about social media use, it’s pretty hard to know how likely a Facebook fan is to donate, or even if a Facebook fan has donated.
On the social media side, we look at all of the metrics available to us. From those, we know our fan base on Facebook and following on Twitter continue to grow with consistently high indications of engagement (comments, retweets, likes, comments, etc.). We also know the quality of comments we get, particularly on Facebook, is very high.
We also know that the quality of traffic that gets referred from social media sites is very high. That is, visitors coming from our social properties view more pages and spend more time browsing on our site than the average visitor.
And, we know that as we’ve continued to move communication online and make good use of social media channels we’ve seen more event registrations, peer-to-peer fundraising, advocacy and donation online.
I recently read this piece from the Business Insider suggesting a Facebook fan is worth 20 clicks to your website per year. If we’ve got 4500+ Facebook fans, a fan=20 visits/year, and we use $1/referral (based on a modest cost-per-click of online advertising), Facebook generates $90,000 in advertising value alone:
4500 fans x 20 visits x $1/visit = $90,000
I think you could fairly argue our fans are considerably more engaged than those of a ‘top 100 retailer’ and value the CPC higher to increase the dollar value of our Facebook participation. That could pretty easily double the figure. So, that’s an interesting statistic and a way to put a dollar value on it.
…or intuition? Leap of faith? We know all about people’s use of social media and that they are engaged people from the data. We also know that we’re bringing in more money and having more action online. We can’t conclusively draw a straight line, though, to say that an individual action by us on social media will drive a specific dollar amount of response.
To use my earlier analogy, this same ambiguity exists in other fundraising. While we have a pretty good idea more discovery calls will generate more cultivation prospects and ultimately gifts, there’s no formula that works every time.
I firmly believe we’re doing the right stuff to raise awareness, engage our social media audience and ultimately drive people to advocacy, event attendance and making gifts.
Q4: Have you noticed any results in fundraising you think are linked to Children’s social media efforts?
We’ve continued to make better websites, use social media to engage our audience and ask people to make gifts or attend events. As we’ve done that, we continued to see great results in online revenue. In 2009, we increased giving online by over 100%. We saw a 34% increase from 2009 to 2010. And, we’re on pace to increase over 30% again in 2011. All of that is happening in an environment where overall fundraising is falling or basically flat.
Q5: When it comes to identifying the value of social media in fundraising, what do you think is the biggest challenge?
I’ll give two:
We’ve got to invent the future. There isn’t much of a roadmap. Most days, that’s exciting for me. It means I get to try new things, experiment, learn and get better over time. Still, sometimes it would be nice to say: do x, y, and z just like so-and-so and we can expect xx% of donors to give with an average gift between $xxx-xxxx. That ain’t gonna happen. So, I have a post-it note on my desk that asks “What is the next thing?” It’s a fun challenge, but it’s a challenge nonetheless.
The other is related to better measurement. I’m fortunate because our results have been pretty good, and there’s a strong commitment from our leadership and organization to being excellent online. Still, I can’t firmly say 15% of our Facebook fans give with an average gift of $225. We measure what we can and make a good case for what we’re doing online. Nonetheless, more data is better. So, I’m continually trying to solve the measurement challenge to refine and improve how we demonstrate the effectiveness of social media.
Q6: What kind of effort does it take to be successful fundraising online?
It takes long-term, sustained effort to maintain a good social media program. You can’t do it overnight and you can’t do it do it in fits and starts. You have to produce good, engaging content every day over the long-term. You’ve got to think about each channel and customize. That’s hard.
I’m not saying that every non-profit needs one or more full-time people managing their online effort. I do think it means that as more and more people conduct more and more of their lives online, all nonprofits need to think about what resources they can commit and focus some sustained effort to improving their online properties.
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