Email v. Social Media

Email v. Social Media – which deserves more of your time and resources when trying to grow your donor base?

*Quick caveat here: I don’t believe in a one versus the other approach as they’re both crucially important. But in a cash-strapped world where digital content is a must, where should you focus more of your time if you want to expand your reach into segments of new donors? Let’s discuss…

Email versus Social MediaWhen it comes to conversions, email brings in far more fundraising donors and dollars that social media. After all, social media is rarely used as a solicitation channel. Facebook’s “Donate” button has yet to gain significant traction, for example.

But, social media is an incredible awareness tool and the only set of channels where a cause can quickly go viral. That’s probably why, according to this 2013 Georgetown/Waggener Edstrom study, the vast majority of those surveyed said social media is the #1 way they learn of a new cause to support. In fact, social media outpaced email by a rate of about 2 to 1 across all cohorts in the study.

And really, this makes sense when you consider how a person typically interacts with email. It’s two things – either you respond to email, because you have to (for your job) or because you REALLY believe in something. Email is deliberate – the decision to support has already been made in many cases. And according to the aforementioned Georgetown study, it’s likely that decision-making process started as a result of something you viewed on social media.

So, if you’re interested in growing your base, consider beefing up your social media presence by doing the following:

Get active on several major social media networks.

The “must list” of social networks to be active on is somewhat fluid, but Facebook is mandatory. It has, by far, the most users and the most users in the key donor demos of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Plus, despite punditry to the contrary, Millennials are still very active on Facebook, too. You’ll also want to be active on LinkedIn for the prospecting value of the professionally focused social network if nothing else. Instagram is imperative if you want younger donors and students involved.

Train your staff – especially you major gift staff. (Or hire additional staff)

Did you know that 85 percent of all millionaires use social media, text messaging, AND smartphone apps? The more money you have, the more likely it is you’re online and using social media. Be sure you have multiple staff members in every area of focus who can contribute to content production and social media conversation management.

Produce good content on a regular basis.

This doesn’t have to be overly polished content. In fact, some of our crowdfunding data at ScaleFunder suggests a highly-produced piece can actually be detrimental to the success of a fund. (More research needs to be done, but still, interesting to note…) To be effective, content needs to be coherent and connect to the emotions of the audience. Or at a minimum, fulfill a need for the audience. Do that and do it often to provide your donors with a ever-open window into your organization that keeps your mission front and center in their minds, while at the same time, extending your mission to new audiences ready to support your cause.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy with ScaleFunder. In early 2016, Justin will be helping to launch ScaleFunder’s Giving Day module and consulting services to pair with ScaleFunder’s already highly successful Crowdfunding module.

Colgate Raises $5.1 Million in 24 Hours with Online (Radio)

Online fundraising and crowdfunding can do more for your major gift program than it can for your annual fund.

No, really. I’m serious. Here’s my evidence – Colgate University raised $5.1 million – the majority of the dollars coming from major donors – during a campaign that was broadcast via their radio station WRCU …which is streamed online. The bulk of the dollars came in via major donors who wanted to drive up participation during the campaign (The focus of this campaign was a more annual fund-centric, participation-centered goal …but several six and seven figure gifts were the end result, along with a lot of donors).

For the full story, check out the article on For a brief summary, here’s a few bullets:

  • An anonymous donor pledged a $1 million gift if the campaign could produce gifts from 1,300 donors (13 is a significant number in Colgate’s history)
  • WRCU rolled out a day of programming including prominent alumni such as music producer Bernie Reznick, long-time Boston Red Sox announcer Jim Castiglione, and Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy.
  • Word of the campaign grew (because it was online, the whole world had access – not just those within the 25-mile broadcast radius of the radio station) and soon, other prominent alumni we’re adding millions of dollars to up the participation challenge.
  • When all was said and done, $5.1 million was raised from 5,683 donors.
Colgate's WRCU radio station was the online hub for an impressive fundraising effort.

Colgate’s WRCU radio station was the online hub for an impressive fundraising effort.

OK …so what’s the takeaway and how does this relate to online fundraising and/or crowdfunding? There are multiple ways…

  • Online campaigns have massive reach (this would not have happened if WRCU was not broadcast over the Internet) and create an enormous amount of buzz when done right. This leads to high donor acquisition numbers, including major gift donors.
  • Because of all that buzz, getting involved in this campaign was a way for major gift donors to:
    • Receive instant recognition for their gifts which were announced in a very public manner as part of the campaign.
    • See the impact of their gifts by all the donors who gave to reach the new and increasing participation goals.
  • The best campaigns – online or off – are intimately connected to what makes your institution special. In this case, that’s a strong communications program with many prominent alumni who care about and still listen to Colgate’s radio station.

Crowdfunding is a social event that creates buzz. If you have a major gift donor who likes the spotlight, consider inviting them to participate by offering a similar challenge. It’s the naming rights concept translated to the digital space.

Of course, while we’re at it, why restrict this approach to just major gift donors? Corporate and foundation support is increasingly important in the philanthropic space. Given the exposure a solid crowdfunding or online fundraising campaign offers, corporate partners would likely be champing at the bit to get involved with an effort like this and all the related marketing appeal.

The potential for connecting your online and crowdfunding efforts to your major gift and corporate development programs are immense. So what are you waiting for? Multi-million dollar fundraising efforts that bring about impressive donor acquisition at all levels are there to be had for those who can build a smart strategy.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. On February 27, Justin will be in Washington, DC leading a full-day crowdfunding workshop. To register, click here

Building a Strategy for Crowdfunding [DC BOOT CAMP]

Build a crowdfunding strategy for your organization at the BWF boot camp in Washington, D.C.

Build a crowdfunding strategy for your organization at the BWF boot camp in Washington, D.C.

Crowdfunding is a great for small gifts and donor acquisition. It’s also a powerful tool for major donor prospecting and corporate foundation relations. Don’t believe us? Well then, you’ll just have to attend our Crowdfunding Boot Camp in Washington, D.C. on February 27th! We’ll share examples that prove those points. Then, we’ll help your organization develop a strategy to achieve those results through a successful online and social media strategy.

Having an advanced online fundraising and/or crowdfunding strategy is one of the best things your organization can do to raise money and (especially) acquire more new donors in 2014. We say this because…

So join us on the Georgetown campus on Thursday, February 27th from 9am to 4:30pm for this full-day event. Along with sharing lots of online fundraising success stories, we’ll show you how to set up a successful program for your nonprofit organization or institution.

Click here to sign up now and we’ll see you next month in the Nation’s Capital!

The BWF Crowdfunding Boot Camp will be led by BWF’s Director of Communication, Justin Ware. Feel free to send any questions Justin’s way by clicking here for his contact info or by connecting with Justin here on LinkedIn.

Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Crowdfunding?

A lot of smart institutions and organizations have come to BWF in recent months with the following question – “what do we need to do to be ready for a crowdfunding campaign?” That’s a smart question, because it indicates the leaders of that organization know there’s more to crowdfunding than having an online giving page on your website.

So what do you need to be ready for crowdfunding? Allow us to show you via the visually-pleasing approach of the infographic! Below is a flow chart that lays out the prerequisites to hosting a successful, peer-to-peer, online ambassador, or crowdfunding campaign:

Flow chart to help you know whether your nonprofit is ready for crowdfunding.

Flow chart to help you know whether your nonprofit is ready for crowdfunding.

BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware helps clients plan and execute online crowdfunding campaigns. To learn more about BWF’s services, click here.

HOW TO Run a Mini Online Ambassador Campaign

Online ambassadors help drive interest during crowdfunding campaigns.

Online ambassadors help drive interest during crowdfunding campaigns.

Robust online ambassador programs are built around multi-level strategies that include detailed steps for identifying and engaging new ambassadors, stewarding current and potential ambassadors, training and coaching ambassadors to help with fundraising activity, and more. From a strong content marketing strategy to ambassador recognition, a lot goes into successful peer-to-peer marketing programs.

But there are a few, relatively quick and easy things you can do with a small budget and very little staff time. Think of the idea laid out in the video below as a mini online ambassador campaign or, better yet, an online ambassador fundraising test.

Would you rather read than watch? Below are the steps for running a mini online ambassador test campaign:

  • Go to your org’s Facebook page, review the past month’s activity, and identify the people who frequently like, comment on, or (better yet) share your posts.
  • Take the names of those active on your Facebook page to your donor database and see if they’ve made a gift.
    • If they’re in your database, grab their email addresses and create a list for those users.
  • Next, head to your website and create a special page, with GOOD CONTENT (could be a photo gallery or a video) that links to your online giving website.
    • Make sure you have Google Analytics set up for that specific web page.
  • Then, using email, send that specially designed web page to the ambassadors you identified through Facebook.
    • In the email, ask those ambassadors to share that website via their social networks.
  • Using Google Analytics, track the page views, time spent on the page, and the referral source. This data will help you determine the effectiveness of your ambassador effort.

When done right, even a small effort like this could lead to several new donors and a nice boost to fundraising (not to mention the data you’d get to help you understand the potential of a larger ambassador program). Come to think of it, a mini ambassador test would be a GREAT idea for the upcoming year-end campaigns.

Of course, if you’d like to talk more about leveraging ambassadors for your organization’s end-of-calendar-year fundraising campaigns, you can find my contact information by clicking here. In the mean time, good luck with your online crowdfunding efforts!

Michigan State’s Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns


Michigan State leveraged the popularity of its mascot, Sparty, for one successful crowdfunding campaign.

A handful of small projects are the beginning of what Michigan State development staff hope will be a massive change in annual giving work at the University. That change involves a shift of focus toward more donor engagement via crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding allows donors – specifically new and smaller gift donors – to more clearly see the impact of their gifts, because they’re helping to fund a specific project or cause. This demonstration or proof of impact is something annual giving programs have been struggling with for some time. Crowdfunding, or online peer-to-peer giving, is one very effective way of addressing that desire of the donor to see the impact of their gift.

At the same time, crowdfunding is tremendously efficient at acquiring new donors, because …well, it’s all about the crowd! Peer-to-peer or online ambassador-fueled crowdfunding campaigns reach out to new donors by way of friends and family communicating online, specifically, via social networks. On average, 40 percent of the donors who give during ambassador-led online campaigns are new.

In the video below, Michigan State’s Director of Online Engagement, Paul Prewitt, uses MSU’s recent Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition campaign to show how crowdfunding is helping the University identify more new donors and communicate the impact of philanthropy to all donors, big and small.

Consider the following:

In other words, all those new donors the Sparty campaign brought in for MSU are not just college kids and recent grads – they’re middle age and older supporters of the school. Many of them have deeper pockets than you might imagine.

Knowing the above, it’s clear – serious resources should be dedicated to an online and social media strategy for development. And not just resources for crowdfunding in the annual giving department, but for your entire development operation. Millionaires are online disproportionately more than those of lesser means. It’s not just about the annual fund – if you want to have a major gift program ten years from now, you had better start engaging and stewarding those future big gift donors with a smart online and social media strategy today. And you can start by leveraging the crowd.

Justin Ware helps BWF’s clients build online and social media strategies that lead to six and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. For more on BWF’s social media service offerings, click here.