End of Year Fundraising with Online Ambassadors

Emails sent from online ambassadors perform 312 times better than the exact same email that is sent with the institution as the sender.

Seriously, this 2015 Blackbaud study found ambassador-sent emails convert 25 percent of the time, while the same email sent from the institution converts .08 percent of the time. It almost makes you wonder if we should bother sending e-solicitations from anyone but online ambassadors?

With that in mind, below are three tips for incorporating ambassadors, influencers, and advocates to close out the 2017 calendar year

Set up ambassadors with personal online campaigns

First things first, you need to identify and engage a strong group of online ambassadors. (Online ambassadors are your digitally-focused, social media-active volunteer advocates). Use technology to do this. The cost is almost always $10,000 or less (donor list size dependent) and the return is typically many factors of X above the investment. Our clients are finding Attentive.ly is an effective platform for this work.

You also need an engagement plan for getting the ambassadors on board and energized.

Use video, email, webinars, and live boot camps to fire up this core base of online supporters. Then, connect them to targeted online fundraising campaigns and task them with raising awareness. Either do this en masse or individually, depending on the ambassador (specifics coming up in the next section)

Make it easy to donate a holiday gift list

BirthdayFundraiserCrop2

Donating a person’s birthday is quickly catching on as a hot trend in online fundraising. And Facebook is one of those platforms leading the charge.

The concept is worth considering near the holiday season. “For this Christmas season, please donate to my favorite charity in lieu of gifts…” or “With the new year approaching, I want to be sure this important cause has the funds to advance our goals in 2018, so I’m giving my gift before December 31st.”

Just like with any fundraising walk or run, be sure you have good technology that allows each donor to easily create their own personal, donation-driving giving pages.

And be sure you include major donors in this strategy. Finding online ambassadors with major gift potential can lead to campaigns like this one from Marquette: (click here for the story) This is a highly individualized approach to online ambassador fundraising and will be your most lucrative peer-to-peer campaigns when done right.

Overlay social listening on your donor database to learn more about what drives you most capable donors online. Then build a cultivation and solicitation strategy with this new, digitally-acquired information at the forefront. For those major donor prospects whose online behavior profiles suggest a December campaign might be of extra significance to them, consider working with them to offer up a match or challenge that will lead to big gifts at every level to close out the year.

Thanksgiving hashtag drives

#Tweetsgiving still reigns as one of the best examples of a hashtag-based fundraising campaign. In 2008, Epic Change got its start as an organization through a brilliant hashtag campaign. With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, the nascent Epic Change team asked supporters to post tweets stating why the Twitter user is thankful, using the hashtag “#Tweetsgiving.”

TweetsgivingHashtagThe campaign went viral with many thousands of Twitter users jumping in on the action. Periodically, a group of ambassadors and Epic Change members would insert tweets with a link to their fundraising page to build a school in Tanzania. Within a few short days, the group raised more than $10,000, had enough to build the school, and laid the groundwork for the Epic Change organization.

As this holiday season approaches, consider creating a hashtag to unite your followers in conversation. Or, “hijack” an existing hashtag related to your mission. Using the #GivingTuesday tag, is a widely-known example, although finding something more directly related to your cause, such as “#CleanEnergy,” “#EndGunViolence,” or “#AdoptaPet” can add thousands of new viewers to your message and donors to your database.

Would you like to learn more about building online ambassador programs to boost fundraising? Send us your name and email below and we’ll get back to you shortly. Thanks!

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 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.

HOW TO Build a Digital Major Gifts Program

I love it when anecdotes plus statistics lead to predictions, which then become real life case studies and finally evidential proof.

In 2012, we first witnessed major donors taking notice of online campaigns when a dozen major gift prospects made their first gifts ever to Florida State University during the school’s inaugural “Great Give.” These were prospects who had never made a gift of any size or type, but felt compelled to do so for the first time during the online giving day micro campaign. (Most gifts were made online in the $500 to $5,000 range with one coming in offline as a $100,000 pledge)

Major gift donors and prospects often give four- and five-figure gifts through ScaleFunder's crowdfunding and giving day modules without being specifically solicited.

Major gift donors and prospects often give four- and five-figure gifts through ScaleFunder’s crowdfunding and giving day modules without being specifically solicited.

Flash forward to the nearly 900 crowdfunding projects and online giving days ScaleFunder’s team has helped to launch and the refrain is similar in many cases – big gifts come from major donors and prospects, often unsolicited.

But those big gift donors should have been solicited, because we know:

  • 85 percent of millionaires use social media, text messaging, AND smartphone applications. (Fidelity Investments study of millionaire investors)
  • Online donors have higher household incomes than those who only give offline. (2012 Convio study)
  • Online-acquired donors give twice the average size of gift compared with donors acquired via mail. (2012 Blackbaud study)

The statistics tell us the more money a person has, the more likely it is they are engaged online and via social media. Past experience tells us big donors are excited by innovative online giving efforts. For these reasons, digital is quickly becoming a staple of the best major gift programs. With that in mind, here are a few tips for injecting digital energy into your traditional major gifts program:

Train gift officers to be active in the digital space

This is not a mandate that every single gift officer opens and maintains Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts for engaging donors. Instead, find those gift officers who are already active online as well as those who have an interest in increasing their digital footprint for fundraising. Build a training program for the willing gift officers that helps the novices get started and the pros polish their online appearance.

The same goes for your institution’s leadership. For the right donor, having a president or chancellor comment on that donor’s Facebook photo of their granddaughter’s graduation could be monumentally effective at strengthening that donor’s affinity for the institution. Again – provide training for your administration so those opportunities can be identified and leveraged.

Provide digital opportunities for major gift donors

From offering innovative matching and challenge opportunities to branding a giving day theme in the name of a specific donor’s family, online giving campaigns can serve as virtual naming rights for your digitally active major donors and prospects. Whether it’s a giving day theme or a crowdfunding perk, think about how you might build your biggest donors into your online campaigns in visible and meaningful ways.

Create a subgroup of major donor online ambassadors

We’ve seen major donors set up crowdfunding campaigns that have brought in $60,000 in a matter of days. More importantly, those major-donor-led crowdfunding campaigns have identified new major donor prospects through the networks of the major donor ambassadors who launched the campaigns. Which makes perfect sense – major donors often have major donor prospects in their networks (online and offline). Leveraging a major donor’s support as both a donor and recruiter can more than double their impact.

Major donors are proving to us they want to be involved during online campaigns through their actions during those campaigns. On Wednesday January 20, RNL/ScaleFunder’s Vice President of Digital Fundraising Strategy, Justin Ware (that’s me), led a webinar with tips and tactics for building digital into your major gifts program. Click here for the recording, slides, and infographic of that webinar.

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.

The ROI of Investing in Digital for Fundraising

Why should you invest in digital media for fundraising? In short, because you like seeing lots of new donors, high retention, and engaged major gift donors for your organization. But we did say “invest in digital media.” So what is the cost of achieving those attributes of online and social media fundraising? Read on to see the cost and ROI breakdowns on investments in digital media for fundraising work…

New donor acquisition happens when you have inspiring, infectious online events.

For higher ed, the infectious event is a giving day. For most other nonprofits – especially smaller nonprofits – it might be a regional or national event like #GivingTuesday. And what do these events cost?

  • Great content, especially creative video, is almost always worth the investment for fundraising.

    Great content, especially creative video, is almost always worth the investment for fundraising.

    For small nonprofits who are just looking to make a splash (less than 100 gifts or $10,000 raised), the cost can be next to nothing (excluding staff time, of course). Schedule three to five emails, coordinate those emails with your social media efforts, consider a mail piece to your most engaged donors, connect with your online ambassadors (or start a small online ambassador program) to spread the asks and content online …all of this can be done in the $0 to $5,000 range for nonprofits.

  • For the mid range nonprofits – think regional NPOs, small healthcare organizations, and smaller colleges who are hoping to reach close to 1,000 donors and at least $100,000 during an event – you’re going to want to do most of the same things the small nonprofits do, but on a larger scale. To grab the bigger donor and dollar numbers, you’ll need a more thought out strategy, more well-produced content to share on social media, a bigger and more engaged group of online ambassadors, and more involvement from you major gift program. Between content production, a mail piece, and strategic planning, expect to spend between $25,000 and $50,000 if you’re looking for six figure dollar results and/or four figure donor results.
  • For the giants – think large colleges and universities, large healthcare organizations, international aid organizations, animal welfare groups, and environmental NPOs who look at anything under seven figures as failure – real investment is needed. Without naming names, the university behind one of the most successful higher education giving days in history invested north of $300,000 in technology, outside strategic counsel, and other related costs. And they raised nearly $7 million from approximately 5,000 donors.

High retention happens when you are stuck in the minds of your donors throughout the year.

When your organization’s work is burned into the psyche of your donors, they are ready and willing to act on appeals as they arrive in their inbox or their mailbox. And for a growing majority of Americans, one of the best ways to remain stuck in their minds is through good social media strategy. (Yes, the majority of Americans are now active on social media)

Easier said than done? Not necessarily, as long as you’re willing to invest in good content strategy and production.

To do content marketing well requires at least one full time position dedicated to the planning and production of content. If your digital strategy is a larger, more sophisticated effort, this content producer should be part of a team and under a more senior director-level position tasked with managing the overall digital strategy. So, for smaller organizations, think $50,ooo/year with an additional $5,000 to $10,000 for equipment the first year. If yours is a larger organization and you’re not spending at least $100,000 on digital content marketing, you’re probably losing several times that amount in easy-to-grab fundraising opportunities.

Major gift donors are online and at shockingly high rates.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, check out this 2011 Fidelity Investments study that tells us 85 percent of millionaires use social media with the median age of those social media users set at 56. We’ve written about tactics to engage your highest capacity donors online. Read a couple of those posts here and here.

But for the sake of this post, how much should you invest for digital engagement of major gift donors? First, make sure you have a strategy in place. Typically that involves an outside firm (like BWF_social) and runs from about $15,000 to $50,000 depending on the work done. As part of that strategy, you’ll want to be sure your gift officers are properly trained on using digital media, you’ll need good content to share with your major donor community, and you’ll want to appropriately leverage the online communities of willing major donors. (In other words, you’ll want to build a major donor online ambassador program). Many organizations can do this within the aforementioned $15,000 to $50,000 while some of the larger more sophisticated nonprofits will want to invest six figures+ on a digital strategy for major donors. Of course, since it is for major gift work, it shouldn’t take long for your organization to enjoy a significant return on any smart investment in digital strategy.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he helps clients build digital media strategies for fundraising success.

HOW TO Add Digital to Your Major Gift Strategy

Major donors often make decisions about where to give based on what they see online.

Major donors often make decisions about where to give based on what they see online.

Should you use social media to engage your major gift prospects and donors? Absolutely!

During Washington State University’s recent #CougsGive125 36-hour online campaign (WSU is a BWF_social client), 42 donors made gifts between $1,000 and $25,000. And with research showing that wealthy individuals are active on social media platforms like Facebook, it’s important to consider that audience in your online engagement strategies.

Below is a short video with 3 ways your organization can integrate digital with your major gift strategy:

Want to learn more? Connect with BWF_social’s Justin Ware by visiting BWFsocial.com.