Obama’s Online Ambassadors – How It Can Work for Your Nonprofit

As someone who works in online and social media fundraising, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion “how did Obama do it?” The easy answer is to respond by explaining how different a presidential campaign is from most of the fundraising operations we work with …but that would be ignoring some very obvious and useful strategies that can easily be transitioned from Team Obama to your organization.

First, I would suggest you read two excellent pieces from Time‘s Swampland blog. The first, Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win by Michael Scherer and the second, Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected with Young Voters also by Michael Scherer, tell the story of Obama’s data-driven network of online ambassadors and how they helped him win re-election. Below, I’ll take a look at the highlights from those two articles and offer suggestions for how the principles behind Obama’s strategy can work for your organization.

Identifying and Organizing Your Online Ambassadors

It’s important knowing who your online ambassadors are. (Remember, ambassadors are influential Internet users who are or likely would be vocal online supporters of your organization). Equally as important is knowing what your ambassadors like or, more specifically, what they like to do when they’re online. The following is an excerpt from Scherer on how Obama’s “megafile” of donors was divided into sub files based on what messages resonated with the people in those groups:

The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn’t just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign’s most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data about voters helped round out the picture. “We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,” said one of the senior advisers about the predictive profiles built by the data. “In the end, modeling became something way bigger for us in ’12 than in ’08 because it made our time more efficient.”

After you’ve identified your first group(s) of online ambassadors, study their online behavior. What type of content do they retweet? Which posts from your organization’s accounts do they share? What gets those ambassadors talking with their online connections? Create ambassador profiles that stores and saves this information about their online behavior. It will help you hone a more effective content strategy and help strengthen your relationships with the ambassadors, because you’ll better be able to deliver what they want. All of this leads to your organization’s ability to better leverage those ambassadors when you need them, like during an online fundraising campaign.

Online Giving Must Be Easy

Especially when it comes to mobile giving, the process must be almost effortless. As in one click and you’re done. Literally. Why? Scherer explains:

Chicago discovered that people who signed up for the campaign’s Quick Donate program, which allowed repeat giving online or via text message without having to re-enter credit-card information, gave about four times as much as other donors.

“Buyer’s remorse” is a real problem that affects an unknown, but certainly significant number of nonprofits. It occurs when a donor intends to make a gift, but gives up halfway through the process. It can happen for a number of reasons, but one sure way to reduce buyer’s remorse is by shortening the online giving process so the donor has less opportunity to give up. Remove as many obstacles as possible at every juncture during the online giving process. Whether it’s your org’s online giving website or the mobile version, you’re sure to see more money come in online as a result.

Build Infrastructure to Enable the Support of Ambassadors

From Scherer’s piece…

Online, the get-out-the-vote effort continued with a first-ever attempt at using Facebook on a mass scale to replicate the door-knocking efforts of field organizers. In the final weeks of the campaign, people who had downloaded an app were sent messages with pictures of their friends in swing states. They were told to click a button to automatically urge those targeted voters to take certain actions, such as registering to vote, voting early or getting to the polls. The campaign found that roughly 1 in 5 people contacted by a Facebook pal acted on the request, in large part because the message came from someone they knew.

I am constantly suggesting to clients that they make investments in improved infrastructure to boost fundraising. Sure, Facebook and Twitter are free, but the possibilities are endless with, for example, custom-built Facebook applications. Determine what it is you need your Facebook page to do, then pay someone to build an app that does exactly that for your organization. It could be the quickest and surest way to measurable fundraising ROI using social media.

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.

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