How to Think Strategically About Social Media for Fundraising

Gone are the days of simply opening a Facebook page and Twitter account without a clear plan. At least those days should be gone. When it comes to social media, we now know what we’re doing and what works, because we’re seeing a lot of smart campaigns delivering extraordinary results. In most cases, these tales of success are no accident. They’re the result of smart communicators learning from the best practices of other organizations, combining them with sound scientific statistics, and applying it all to their organizations. In other words, they’re thinking strategically about social media. But what exactly does that mean? The following are a few examples…

Gamifying Your Campaigns — Few things drive Internet participation more than competition. The UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital discovered this after their “Challenge for the Children” campaign during the 2010 holiday season brought in more than a $1 million. The campaign revolved around social media users  creating online teams with the winner determined by which team brought in the most donors. Despite the fact that some big names got involved (Ashton Kutcher managed a team), the winning team belonged to Zynga – the video game development company behind Facebook’s wildly popular and equally annoying “Farmville.” Why did Zynga win? They sold digital candy cane seeds that Farmville players could plant. The proceeds from the candy cane sales went to Benioff Children’s hospital. In a little over a week, more than 162,000 candy canes were sold raising upwards of $800,000.

How is it strategic? Online competition (a.k.a “gamification”) drives activity, especially in social media. If you can, try connecting with pop culture or whatever might be culturally revenant at the time (holidays are a great partners for online campaigns). With that in mind, selling digital candy canes during the holidays is absolutely strategic.

Build a Campaign That Begs to Be Shared — With the end of the fiscal year fast approaching, Carleton College was in need of shot in the annual giving arm in order to achieve 50 percent alumni participation. With only six weeks to go until the June 30th deadline, Carleton’s annual giving team turned to social media as a quick way to acquire new donors. Specifically, they built an online giving campaign called “Calling All Carls“. Via email and social networks like Facebook, Carleton sent out an image of the Carleton mascot projected on the night sky that bared a striking resemblance to what Commissioner Gordon uses to summon Batman.

The idea was simple, but it was loads of fun. A donor gives their gift, then receives a confirmation asking for their help in “Calling All Carls” to the giving process. Or, a supporter follows the Facebook page, sees they’re being summoned, makes a gift, and/or shares the news about “Calling All Carls” with their friends and followers. The campaign was a huge success, with the message about “Calling All Carls” shared more than 600 times on Facebook alone. And, Carleton easily surpassed their 50 percent participation goal.

How is it strategic? Carleton’s giving teams came up with a creative campaign that tied in to a pop culture event (The Dark Knight Rises was only a month away from release) to drive donor participation.

Using Your Online Ambassadors — Florida State’s annual giving team didn’t raise $186,000 in 36 hours online by accident. Leading up to the “Great Give” campaign, FSU’s fund raisers were in close connection with their “online ambassadors” – a group of influential Internet users who they knew could drive participation in the campaign. But FSU’s annual giving team didn’t just sit back and hope their ambassadors would drive interest in the campaign. Prior to the Great Give, the annual giving team connected with their ambassadors, verified the ambassadors’ email addresses, and let them know they would need their help during the campaign. Then, throughout the Great Give, FSU sent out pre-packaged social network updates that made things easy for the ambassadors – all they had to do was copy the prepackaged updates and paste them into their social networks. The end result was the viral spread of messages from FSU’s annual giving team that found their audience in a very natural way – from the social networks of friends and family members.

How is it strategic? Building strong relationships with influential Internet users is one of the best things your can do from an online communications standpoint. FSU did that AND found a way to leverage that support that led to fundraising success.

For more on how online and social media can be used strategically to impact fundraising, visit

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