Online Ambassadors Lead to Major Donor Fundraising

The bigger the purchase, the more our peers influence our decision.

2014 Word of Mouth Marketing Association study found that “higher consideration purchases” – like buying a home or a car – are influenced by peer recommendation more than “lower consideration purchases” such as clothing or food.

Would you agree that a major gift is more of a big or “higher consideration” purchase than a “lower consideration” purchase? Of course that’s true. Learn more about how this translates into major gifts fundraising in the video below:

Is your organization or institution uncovering new major gift prospects with online ambassadors? Are your digitally savvy major donors leading seven-figure online fundraising campaigns? If not, send us your contact info via the form below and we’ll get right back to you with some ideas on advancing peer-to-peer for major gifts at your organization.

Trust in Influencers

 

The for-profit world has been placing value in peer-to-peer influencers or “online ambassadors” for years. And the results show that trust in ambassadors is paying off for many companies.

In fact, “trust” has a lot to do with why ambassadors are so effective in modern marketing and communications.

CHECK OUT THIS LINK FOR SOME STUNNING ONLINE AMBASSADOR STATISTICS

People buy based on what their friends tell them, because of trust. When a relationship starts with trust, it tends to last longer. Consider these stats from the above link:

  • 92 percent of people trust recommendations from individuals (even if they don’t know them) over brands
  • 74 percent of consumers use social media to make purchase decisions
  • 37 percent better retention is reported for customers acquired through word-of-mouth advertising

What does that mean for donor acquisition? …and retention? The fact is, online ambassador communication works just as well – maybe better – in the nonprofit world.

In reviewing online ambassador activity that that took place on the ScaleFunder giving day platform in 2016, each ambassador would, on average, raise $125 during a giving day.

Perhaps even more staggering is this 2015 Blackbaud study that found 1 in 4 emails from online ambassadors led to a gift – a whopping 25 percent conversion rate. That’s compared to 1 in 1,250 emails from the organization that led to a gift – a paltry .08 percent conversion.

Again, for those keeping score, that’s a 25 percent conversion rate for ambassador-sent email versus a .08 conversion rate for emails sent by the organization.

It almost makes you wonder if you should ever send a solicitation email that is not from an online ambassador?

And it works for major donors, too. Check out the video below that details how the higher the price tag (a major gift, for example), the more peer influence impacts the decision.

Now here’s the catch – it’s not easy. Online ambassador programs are volunteer programs and they require careful and frequent management …but if you do it right, you have the potential to transform your development operation for the 21st century.

And guess what? Groundwork Digital has built dozens of online ambassador programs. Click here to send us a message and set up a time to talk about how we can help revolutionize your development operation with peer-to-peer fundraising.

 

Building a Smart, Comprehensive Content Marketing Strategy

READERS NOTE – This blog’s author, Justin Ware, has launched Groundwork Digital – a full service nonprofit fundraising consultancy with digital at the forefront. Check out Groundwork’s new blog by clicking here.

An eye-catching, donor-grabbing content strategy is about more than memes. (But don’t get us a wrong, memes with cute babies, Willy Wonka, and Ned Stark are all great)

GivingDayBabyConfident
Driven by those memes, along with video, social media engagement, targeted digital advertising, online ambassadors and more, content marketing has established itself as a mainstay tactic for organizations and companies from the for profit to nonprofit verticals.
As it should – content marketing drives real results at a fraction of the cost: while content marketing costs 62% less than outbound marketing, it generates more than three times as many leads.

Of course, like most things worth doing, effective content marketing requires time, resources, and talent. If you’re going to invest in content marketing, you should be sure you are dedicating those resources to a sophisticated, smart, and comprehensive content marketing strategy.

This should be a plan that goes beyond simply creating and sharing good content. It should also include data-backed parameters for the types and formats of content you’re sharing; digital advertising to ensure your content finds its mark; hiring the right talent to continuously produce both proactive and reactive content; and timing your posts so they hit home at just the right time.

For a few tips to help your organization or institution get started on effective content marketing, check out the following…

WHAT SHOULD WE POST?

With the mountains of available data about our constituents, this question is becoming less and less necessary. Every day, more than half your audience is actively engaging in content on Facebook alone. When they do that, they are displaying preferences for the themes of content that matter most to them. The same is true across almost countless other web properties. And many platforms, Facebook included, are tracking and organizing this information.

As an organization, you have a few options – use technology that quantifies and organizes this data for you (a must for large institutions and organizations) or track and quantify the data on your own. However you’re gathering and tracking this user behavior around content, the end goal is the same – using that data to know what your audience wants and producing more of that content to attract their interest on a regular basis. If you are effectively monitoring your audience’s wants and desires related to content, “what should we post?” should never again be a question you need to ask. Your audience is telling you what to post through their behavior. Tap into that behavior, analyze it, and allow it dictate your content marketing strategy. Then watch as engagement metrics skyrocket.

 

UCSBGiveDay_CoverPhoto2Similar is true of timing your posts. During the University of California Santa Barbara’s first giving day in April 2016, a day-of debate arose around exactly when an unexpected content opportunity should be siezed. It was a Friday and the thought was to post the content and distribute it as soon as possible. Afterall, by dinner time on Friday, the UCSB audience would be off line and on to weekend activities, correct? To confirm, we consulted UCSB’s Facebook page Insights. The data told us Friday evenings were actually highly active times online for UCSB’s fans and followers. The post was delayed until that evening. Not only did the post perform well, but some of the highest online fundraising activity during the 24-hour giving day event occurred during those Friday evening hours.

Dump your assumptions and follow the data – that’s rule #1 for smart content marketing.

CONNECTING CONTENT TO USERS WITH DIGITAL ADS

Nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions are just beginning to understand the power of digital advertising. And it appears nothing is more powerful than Facebook advertising. Banner blindness and ad blocking software all diminish standard online advertising. Facebook Ads, however, are quite a bit different. With Facebook Ads (depending upon the campaign parameters) it’s a matter of finding receptive Facebook users for your content and using the Facebook Ads platform to ensure that content appears in the Newsfeeds of those users. And that natural, more subtle, highly personal, and targeted approach is one reason why Facebook Ads can drive 6x the clicks of all other forms of digital advertising.

To get started with Facebook Ads, consider the following:

  • Who is your audience? The Facebook Ads platform allows you to create an audience of Facebook users based on demographics and interests or upload an email list of your donors. Both approaches have benefits and drawbacks while a combination of those tactics works well for many. The key is having an experienced Facebook Ads administrator running your campaign who knows how to build custom audiences that deliver your message to exactly the type of Facebook users you’re looking to attract (major donors with an affinity for your mission, for example).
  • Produce great content. To do this, study what your audience is telling you. In other words, produce Facebook content based on the findings in your data-driven content marketing strategy (see above).
  • Use online ambassadors. The more people like, share, or comment on a Facebook Ads promoted post, the more that post will be seen. (Facebook’s algorithm rewards engagement, even when you’re paying for a post to be seen) Deploying ambassadors to drive up a Facebook Ads post will further expand the impact of that post and increase the value of your ad spend.

BUILDING CONTENT PRODUCING CAPABILITY

Content marketing is a full-time endeavor. It’s unlikely you can shift responsibilities and build a comprehensive content marketing strategy with existing staff. Especially if you’re starting from scratch.

But here is the good news – given the return on a smart, comprehensive content marketing strategy, this is one investment you can feel confident in making.

Whether you hire new, full-time staff or work with an outside vendor, great content marketing will boost all key metrics including acquisition, retention, and major donor engagement. The key, as with many efforts, is not short-changing this tactic through inadequate staffing.

And as you consider staffing, don’t forget about your volunteers. Online ambassadors can do more than boost a giving day – applying ambassadors to your year ’round content marketing strategy can boost stewardship and retention across all channels. Ambassadors are a gateway to new, unknown segments of supporters, provide authenticity to your marketing efforts, and are proven to increase new donor acquisition. Work with them to realize the full potential of your content marketing strategy.

What do you think? Are you doing everything you could be to acquire, retain, and engage your donors through a smart, comprehensive content marketing strategy? Email me at justin@groundworkdigital.com to find out.

Giving Days Done Right with Major Donors – UCSB

When asked “which giving day do you think had the best planning and preparation?” the University of California Santa Barbara is always at the top of my short list of examples. From the theme, to messaging, to online ambassadors, to email, UC Santa Barbara does giving day as well as any institution.

give day logo
One of the most impressive aspects of UCSB’s first giving day was in the realm of major gifts – an area that is not traditionally associated with donor participation events like giving days …but then again, times are changing in philanthropy.

UCSB raised approximately $1.5 million before their April 8, 2016 #UCSBGiveDay event. This helped secure an enormous $3.72 million overall. Here is the breakdown:

  • $800,000+ was raised for a smart, balanced match and challenge plan. This allowed major donors to see themselves deeply connected to a grassroots campaign as sponsors of matches and challenges. The gamification provided by the matches and challenges also led to UCSB’s best single annual giving day in the school’s history as it was one of many drivers of donor activity throughout the day.
  • $600,000+ was raised for large “seed” gifts. These are simply large gifts donors preferred to give prior to the day offline as opposed to making an online gift during the event.
  • In addition to the money raised from major donors before the campaign, another donor gave a $1.6 million real estate gift during the event. Because of the large gift protocol UCSB had in place, they were able to use the giving day as additional leverage for locking down and promoting this large gift during the event.

Big giving from major donors during a giving day doesn’t happen by accident. UCSB had success with their large gift donors, because development department leadership made the giving day a priority. The enthusiasm that started at the top with Associate Vice Chancellor Beverly Colgate trickled down through the entire department and energized gift officers to use the giving day as another tactic for engaging and re-engaging their donors and prospects. The results speak for themselves: more money for giving day and major donors who were excited to be part of an exhilarating event.

Major donors were thrilled to be part of such the highly visible, successful #UCSBGiveDay fundraising event.

Major donors were thrilled to be part the highly visible, successful #UCSBGiveDay fundraising event.

Just as a reminder, here is why you want to get the major gifts program involved well before you launch your giving day.

  • Because major donors love digital and we want them to be happy:
    • 85 percent of all millionaires use social media, text messaging, and smart phone apps (Fidelity Investments)
    • 55 percent of affluent individuals use mobile pay. That’s compared to 40 percent of the general population and 52 percent for Millennials. (Accenture) That’s right – major donors as a group are more likely than Millennials to pay for a cup of coffee with their iPhone.
  • Giving days are a HUGE celebration of an institution and philanthropy. When major donors are at the center of such a vibrant event, they feel good. (That’s why we say giving days offer major donor stewardship opportunities)
  • Matches and challenges drive small gift giving. According to The Why Axis, by Uri Gneezy and John List, donors are 20 percent more likely to give when a match is in play.

Majors donors love online giving … big gifts drive small gift activity … digital campaigns offer another point of engagement, cultivation, and solicitation for major donors … the reasons for building major donors into your next giving day are many. Be sure you major gifts team is ready to seize this opportunity.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder – a Ruffalo Noel Levitz platform. Justin can be reached via email at justin.ware@scalefunder.com or on LinkedIn by clicking here.

Building a 4-stage Online Ambassador Program — Stage 3: Deployment

This is part 3 in a four-part series that details ScaleFunder’s four-stage online ambassador program building process process. Before continuing, be sure you’ve read part 1 by clicking here and part 2 by clicking here.

OK – the hard part is over. You’ve found potential ambassadors, engaged them and solidified their support of your peer-to-peer program – now it’s time work with them for marketing and fundraising purposes.

Deploying ambassadors for marketing and fundraising success

Software shows sophistication.

Budgets are tight, we understand, but as we explained in part 1 of this series, online ambassadors can bring about a significant return on investment. So, make a bigger investment for a bigger return, right? Moreover, your ambassadors are often important supporters, such as board members or celebrity alumni – it’s important you provide them with elegant tools that are enjoyable as opposed to maddenly frustrating when it comes to user experience. To that end, there are different platforms for different purposes and investing in at least one will greatly help your chances of success through online ambassadors.

If broader marketing (not necessarily fundraising) is your top objective, consider platforms like SocialToaster and ReadyPulse. Those are just two examples of software services that engage your ambassadors and deploy them through easy-to-use content distribution mechanisms across most social media platforms. Each platform is different, but generally speaking, tools like SocialToaster and ReadyPulse allow you to directly send and/or receive content from online ambassadors to be shared with their communities of faithful followers. Ordinarily, these tools require the ambassador to authorize through at least one social media network, which allows your organization to interface with the ambassador’s accounts and profiles and share content directly via those ambassador accounts. It’s a great way to expand your message to new communities in an authentic-feeling way, because the posts appear to come directly from the ambassador, as opposed to an institutional account.

If fundraising is your top concern, you will want a platform that tracks and quantifies this data. Surprisingly, such a feature set has been missing in the nonprofit space – that is until we at ScaleFunder launched our Giving Day module [link] earlier this month. Through the platform, we provide ambassadors with personal URLs that quantify the impact of an ambassador’s sharing activity by tracking the number of individual gifts and total dollars given through a specific share link. This is important, because it allows you to understand the true fundraising ROI of your ambassador program and make adjustments to enhance the program based on real fundraising returns.

Produce great content.

It might be tempting to get lazy with content, especially if you have online ambassadors who initially appear willing to share anything you send them. But resist this temptation. Spend time creating worthwhile videos, eye-caching graphics, and rich written content. Not only will your ambassadors more enthusiastically share this content, but their followers will more aggressively consume and act on good content.

Track and learn from your ambassador data.

Which online ambassadors raise the most? Which appear to have wealthy networks? Who are the most active online ambassadors? Just as is the case with offline volunteer programs, you’ll want to quantify the return on this activity for the following reasons:

  • Rewarding ambassadors – Gamification is a key driver of online activity and that behavior seems to be especially true among highly active ambassadors. Encourage your ambassadors to share frequently and sincerely by rewarding them for their sharing activity. More on this in Part 4 of this series.
  • Adjusting content strategy – Which posts led to the most sharing? What tone and format of content brought in the most donors and/or dollars? Data driven content strategy is easy – do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. The key is having software that clearly tells you what messaging is effective and what isn’t.
  • Adjusting your ambassador program to fit your most influential and effective online ambassadors – The most popular content might not necessarily be the best content. This is why it’s important to look at both marketing and fundraising metrics. In the end, most of us will ultimately be judged by the performance of our development program. So find your top performing ambassadors, determine what they want out of a program by reading the data surrounding their activity, and adjust the ambassador program based on the behavior or your top performing ambassadors.

To learn more about technology to support ambassador programs, contact me, ScaleFunder’s VP of Digital Fundraising Strategy, Justin Ware, at justin.ware@scalefunder.com.

Building a 4-stage Online Ambassador Program — Stage 2: Engagement

Before reading this post, be sure to check out Stage 1 in this four-part series on identifying potential ambassadors by clicking here.

All caught up? Great! Now let’s talk about engaging and on-boarding your potential online ambassadors.

At this point, you’ve developed a list of your online supporters who have a good degree of influence over online communities, be it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn) or email. Next up is the crucial step of inviting them into the program and having them accept their responsibilities as online ambassadors for your institution or organization.

Today’s topic – engaging potential online ambassadors

Pick up the phone!

Sometimes new-school tactics require old-school approaches. This is certainly true of engaging your soon-to-be online ambassadors. While email and web login are mandatory aspects of most ambassador programs, some of the best performing peer-to-peer programs are built around person-to-person invitations. Often this one-on-one engagement takes place over the phone.

One great example of going one-on-one over the phone to invite ambassadors comes from Wabash College in Indiana. Before Wabash’s first giving day in 2014, Wabash Associate Dean for College Advancment, Joe Klen picked up the phone more than 180 times to recruit 175 online ambassadors who were instrumental in the day’s success. Not only did more than 2,200 donors give nearly $500,000 to the tiny school, but the ambassadors were so active that “Wabash” was trending on Twitter along other slightly more well known names like “Netflix” and “Charles Barkley.” Not bad for a school with fewer than 20,000 emailable alumni. (To read more about and watch a video on Wabash’s ambassador effort, click here.)

Tweet them!

To engage ambassadors on social media, first warm up the relationship by conversing with the potential ambassadors on their social network(s) of choice.

To engage ambassadors on social media, first warm up the relationship by conversing with the potential ambassadors on their social network(s) of choice.

If someone is active and supporting your organization on a social network, then it makes sense that you would use that network to engage them. This is especially useful if you don’t have an email or phone number for this supporter.

But be careful – you don’t want to use social media to spam or uncomfortably surprise someone. Before asking your active social media supporter to be an ambassador, warm up the conversation by retweeting them, commenting on their blog posts, or sharing their Facebook photos. Get to know the potential ambassador before using social media to ask for their support as an ambassador.

Be clear!

It’s likely you want something specific from your ambassadors – perhaps it’s supporting a giving day, expanding awareness of your mission, driving an email campaign – whatever it might be, make it clear to your ambassadors what you’ll be asking of them in the near and long-term. Give them an idea of how many emails you’ll be sending them, make them aware of any software they’ll be using, and reinforce their importance by clearly stating how impactful online ambassador activity can be in accomplishing your mission.

Additionally, it’s wise to have some rules for the ambassador game. Do you require ambassadors to state they are digital advocates of your organization in their profiles? Better let them know. Is there a minimum amount of posting activity to remain in the program? If so, your ambassadors show know what that threshold is and what happens if they don’t maintain that level. Along with basic rules for decent online decorum, give your ambassador guidelines that will help both your organization and the ambassadors themselves.

Give them a job!

Once an ambassador has agreed to be part of your program, give them something to do as soon as possible. This will help cement the program in their mind as part of their normal, daily digital routine. If too much time lapses between engagement and deployment (more on deployment in a later post) ambassadors might forget their purpose and not perform the desired sharing activity.

To learn more about technology to support ambassador programs, contact me, ScaleFunder’s VP of Digital Fundraising Strategy, Justin Ware, at justin.ware@scalefunder.com.

Building a 4-stage Online Ambassador Program — Stage 1: Identification

A lot has been revealed in recent years about the power of friends asking friends to support their favorite nonprofits online. In higher education in particular, we at ScaleFunder have experienced massive online giving success when this peer-to-peer or “online ambassador” activity has been deployed in support of digital efforts such as giving days.

40 percent of donors who give during online giving days are new. Source: BWF.com

For example, did you know that according to a Bentz Whaley Flessner study, during online ambassador-led giving day efforts, 40 percent of the donors who gave were new? (New = either first time or long-lapsed donors to the institutions) Or how about the fact that for younger donors, a peer recommendation is one of the most important factors in making a gift? (Multiple studies) Or how, according to a 2013 Georgetown University/Waggener Edstrom study, the large majority of Internet users first learn of a new cause to support through their online friends’ activity?

So yeah, peer-to-peer or online ambassador activity is important. Fortunately, we at ScaleFunder have developed a four-stage process for building a robust online ambassador program. This blog is the first of four that highlights each of the steps.

Today’s topic — identification of potential ambassadors.

For those with a big enough budget, there is software that can be leveraged to scan your email database and return data on which of those emails are connected to social media accounts. And if you have the extra budget, this is a wise move. But new software is not absolutely necessary — especially in the early stages of building your ambassador program. At a minimum, ScaleFunder recommends you start your ambassador program with a list of about two dozen sure-fire heavy digital hitters. Think of this as your board of ambassadors. (But that doesn’t mean they need to be board members!)

To arrive at your list of top-line ambassadors, we suggest the following three-step approach:

Select those you assume might be ambassadors…

This group is made up of the young board member who is VP at their digital agency and is always online. Or the baby boomer who got hooked on Facebook to follow their grand kids, but then realized they could have a high school reunion every day on the platform. The personas are varied, but you can probably think of a few off the top of your head. And you know these potential ambassadors are always using social media, because you follow them on twitter and LinkedIn. (Because, of course, at least someone who engages with donors is heavily active in social media …right?)

Some of the easiest to engage early ambassadors are those who you can safely assume use digital media to engage about your cause or institution. In many cases, you might have had conversations with them about their digital support of your mission. This group should be instrumental in populating your first list of potential online ambassadors.

Select those you observe who appear to be ambassadors…

The person who likes AND comments on every. Single. Post. You know who these social media users are, because you can’t not know. Their constant following and engaging with your social media is unavoidable and out there for everyone to see. And this is a good thing, because by observing their digital behavior you have identified some potential online ambassadors. Add them to the list.

Finding ambassadors through ambassadors…

After you’ve engaged and onboarded the first group of ambassadors who you identified through assumption and observation, then work with this small, but growing group to expand the program. Online ambassadors often know others who would make good ambassadors. Ask them to recruit their connections to grow your program.

Using the above tactics, any organization of any size should be able to develop a strong core unit about about 15 to 25 online ambassadors. That is more than enough to get started and the only investment is your staff’s time.

Product update — ScaleFunder’s Giving Day module (Launching February 29, 2016 with Washington State University’s #CougsGive) includes an online ambassador toolset that tracks the real fundraising ROI of your ambassadors. For the first time, nonprofits now have access to a Giving Day platform that not only deploys ambassadors, but provides data on exactly how much each individual ambassador brings in during the event. To learn more, contact me, VP of Digital Fundraising Strategy, Justin Ware, at justin.ware@scalefunder.com.