Donors Sweet on University of Michigan’s Victors Valentines

Michigan themed candy hearts drew new supporters toward Michigan's $4 billion campaign during Valentine's Day.

Michigan themed candy hearts drew new supporters toward Michigan’s $4 billion campaign during Valentine’s Day.

Content, content, content… In some ways, it’s the simplest concept: produce lots of good content and you’ll have more supporters and more goodwill among those supporters (not to mention online hooks that catch new supporters).

The thing is, creating good content – especially on a consistent basis – is anything but simple. You need at least one brilliantly creative mind, plus a firm grasp of what it is that your audience wants. In other words, good content is one part art form (the creative component) and one part science (the data that details your audiences’ preferences). Fortunately, there are some leaders in this space who are showing us the way. One of them is Shannon Riffe, the assistant director of marketing and online engagement at the University of Michigan.

In the video below, Riffe talks about the recently completed Victors Valentine online engagement campaign, and how the campaign introduced nearly 1,000 potential donors to the homepage of Michigan’s current $4 billion campaign:

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Justin helps clients achieve results through content marketing. To learn more, connect with Justin by clicking here.


@WorkingOrange – How to Manage a Higher Ed Twitter Account

@WorkingOrangeProfilePicIt’s an age-old (in social media time) and still relevant question – “what do we tweet?” The easy answer is, “something that’s useful, valuable, and fun for your audience.” For a specific example of a Twitter account that covers those three things and more, check out Syracuse University’s @WorkingOrange. The @WorkingOrange Twitter account is run by Syracuse’s Career Services department and is awesome, because…

First, it provides valuable information about a hot topic, especially for younger grads. Those of us who work in higher ed know there’s a lot more to a four-year degree than simply landing a job. That said, it is a big reason why many people attend college. Which means, finding a good and rewarding job is part of the “product” that colleges and universities offer. And successful brands provide adequate stellar customer service around their products. In large part, that’s what this Twitter account amounts to for Syracuse grads – a customer service channel to help fullfil that promise of meaningful work following graduation.

Two, it is highly engaging and interactive – lots of retweets and mentions. It might seem trivial to some, but to your most active and influential social media followers it is not – validation matters online.

When you think about it, we all like to be validated. Some of us at work, others by our families, others still by our friends and social circles. For those of us who spend a lot of time conversing on social networks, we also seek validation in our social media communities. @WorkingOrange provides that validation by truly communicating with the account’s followers. That activity matters, because it builds and strengthens relationships with supporters, which increases the likelihood of them becoming life-long supporters.

Three, it has personality! Most successful Twitter accounts have personality. Just have a look at the following tweets…

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 3.12.04 PM

Some Twitter accounts – @DeptofDefense, for example – need to be a bit more serious, most of the time. (Although even the Department of Defense can find appropriate ways of having fun on Twitter) But for the majority, it’s important to fit the attitude and style of the social network. For Twitter, that’s (hopefully) quick-witted, courteous, upbeat, useful, and timely. @WorkingOrange is all of those things and more.

Wanna talk more about social media for higher ed? Contact BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware by clicking here.

An Example of “Good Content” for Social Media

You might have read our earlier post on how the Thunderbird School of Global Management saw their online donations increase more than 400 percent thanks to their social media strategy. Part of that strategy includes providing “valuable” content for their supporters, via the various social networks. “Valuable” can be one of those communications buzz words that is often used, but rarely defined. Well fret no more, we’ll break down four ways you can provide value via social media in this post. But first, take a look at an example of “valuable” content from Thunderbird in the video posted below…

So what is value when it comes to content on social media? Valuable content is anything that compels your constitutes to seek you out and connect with your organization online. To be valuable, content can…

  • Make your supporters laugh.
    • The Thunderbird example above is a good illustration of humor.
  • Provide useful information.
    • Can your organization offer tips or how-to videos and/or written tutorials?
    • Is there something as simple as parking information for an upcoming event you can offer?
  • Create a feeling of nostalgia for an institution.
    • Historical photos are fun way to do this. A great example can be found on Virginia Tech’s Office of Development Tumblr.
    • This day in history posts work well, too. ALWAYS connect the post with a picture or video if the media is available.
  • Provide supporters with information on how their gifts are making the world a better place.
    • Check out A Child’s Right and their blog “Proving It.” This org is writing the book (or in this case, the blog) on how to keep your donors informed and involved after the gift is made.

The key question is “why would make someone want to connect with our Facebook page? …or Twitter account? …or YouTube channel?” Too often, orgs start building a social media strategy around the question “what should we post?” Instead, start with “what would our followers want us to post?”

For more news and information on philanthropy, visit

Middlebury’s MiddSTART Puts Donors in the Driver Seat

Thanks to the Internet, donors – just like everybody else – have come to expect a certain degree of control when it comes to how they interact with the organizations they support. So, why not give them as much control as you can? When it comes to the annual fund, that’s what Middlebury College has done with their innovative social giving site, MiddSTART. Check out the video below for more on the program…

For more great ideas from fundraising consultants and experts, check out BWF’s philanthropy news site.

How Big 10 Universities are using Social Media for Fund Raising

Overall, social media for advancement in the Big 10 seems to be lagging when it comes to the level of engagement between constituents and the institution – that’s what the Indiana University Foundation’s Sara Reeves discovered in her research. There are, however, some very bright spots. Pay special attention to the second half of Sara’s interview below where she talks about some brilliant Facebook work being done at the University of Iowa.

How to Raise $250,000 in 100 Days Using Facebook

In 2005, the Genocide Intervention Network took to the fledgling social network Facebook – made up entirely of college and high school students at the time – to raise money. During a 100-day campaign, Network Founder Mark Hanis says his organization raised roughly $250,000. Facebook is now more than 90 times larger and open to everyone (so it might just have some fundraising potential). For more on the Genocide Intervention Network’s campaign, check out the video below…

Social Media for Healthcare Fundraising – a Q & A with Children’s MN

Jesse Stremcha, an e-Philanthropy Strategist with Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota (@ChildrensMN), has been leading a comprehensive social-media-for-fundraising strategy for more than three years. Which means, he has a lot of tips, data and best practices to share. The following is a Q and A I sent to Jesse and the answers he returned… 

Q1: What role does social media play in Children’s annual giving campaigns?

I think in general, we use online tools and social media in ways that closely mirror the relationship building that happens in major gift work.  And, we’re able to do it in many-to-many ways.  That is, we can share information in a way that raises awareness, cultivates engagement and drives action in a way that impacts not only our audience directly, but also asks them to participate in sharing our message with their audiences.

To draw a direct comparison, its looks like this:

Online Major Gift
Stage 1 Awareness Discovery
Stage 2 Engagement Cultivation
Stage 3 Action Solicitation

If you take a look at Children’s Facebook page, you’ll see these three things happening all the time.  There’s a continual flow of short bits of information aimed at raising awareness of what happens at Children’s and engaging people in it.  There’s good evidence of engagement in ‘comments’ and ‘likes’ we get.  And, we’re sprinkling in calls to action (solicitation), too.  Those can be event invitations, calls to participate in legislative action and invitations to give.

The analogy also holds in terms of ratios of people at various stages.  You do a lot of discovery to get a few people engaged and it’s a subset of those that will ultimate make gifts.

Q2: How important is conversation (via social and new media) to cultivating relationships with donors?

It’s a hard thing to quantify.  To lean on my analogy again, how important is cultivation and stewardship to successful major gift work?

I think there’s two pieces of data I’ve seen that support the idea that social media and online tools make a difference:

  • Major donors research charities online
  • Consumers who connect with brand via social media increase loyalty

I think it’s a short leap to conclude that if major donors are making gift choices based on online research – and ‘consumers’ are developing greater brand loyalty because of the connections they make with those brands via social media – that donors are building charitable affinity through an on-going relationship and conversation with charities via social media.

Q3: How do you measure the effectiveness of you social media strategy?

It’s a mix of art and science.  For all the metrics available online and about social media use, it’s pretty hard to know how likely a Facebook fan is to donate, or even if a Facebook fan has donated.

The science

On the social media side, we look at all of the metrics available to us.  From those, we know our fan base on Facebook and following on Twitter continue to grow with consistently high indications of engagement (comments, retweets, likes, comments, etc.).  We also know the quality of comments we get, particularly on Facebook, is very high.

We also know that the quality of traffic that gets referred from social media sites is very high.  That is, visitors coming from our social properties view more pages and spend more time browsing on our site than the average visitor.

And, we know that as we’ve continued to move communication online and make good use of social media channels we’ve seen more event registrations, peer-to-peer fundraising, advocacy and donation online.

I recently read this piece from the Business Insider suggesting a Facebook fan is worth 20 clicks to your website per year. If we’ve got 4500+ Facebook fans, a fan=20 visits/year, and we use $1/referral (based on a modest cost-per-click of online advertising), Facebook generates $90,000 in advertising value alone:

4500 fans x 20 visits x $1/visit = $90,000

I think you could fairly argue our fans are considerably more engaged than those of a ‘top 100 retailer’ and value the CPC higher to increase the dollar value of our Facebook participation.  That could pretty easily double the figure.   So, that’s an interesting statistic and a way to put a dollar value on it.

The art

…or intuition?  Leap of faith?  We know all about people’s use of social media and that they are engaged people from the data.  We also know that we’re bringing in more money and having more action online.  We can’t conclusively draw a straight line, though, to say that an individual action by us on social media will drive a specific dollar amount of response.

To use my earlier analogy, this same ambiguity exists in other fundraising.  While we have a pretty good idea more discovery calls will generate more cultivation prospects and ultimately gifts, there’s no formula that works every time.

I firmly believe we’re doing the right stuff to raise awareness, engage our social media audience and ultimately drive people to advocacy, event attendance and making gifts.

Q4: Have you noticed any results in fundraising you think are linked to Children’s social media efforts?

We’ve continued to make better websites, use social media to engage our audience and ask people to make gifts or attend events.  As we’ve done that, we continued to see great results in online revenue.  In 2009, we increased giving online by over 100%.  We saw a 34% increase from 2009 to 2010.  And, we’re on pace to increase over 30% again in 2011.  All of that is happening in an environment where overall fundraising is falling or basically flat.

Q5: When it comes to identifying the value of social media in fundraising, what do you think is the biggest challenge?

I’ll give two:

We’ve got to invent the future.  There isn’t much of a roadmap.  Most days, that’s exciting for me.  It means I get to try new things, experiment, learn and get better over time.  Still, sometimes it would be nice to say: do x, y, and z just like so-and-so and we can expect xx% of donors to give with an average gift between $xxx-xxxx.  That ain’t gonna happen.  So, I have a post-it note on my desk that asks “What is the next thing?”  It’s a fun challenge, but it’s a challenge nonetheless.

The other is related to better measurement.  I’m fortunate because our results have been pretty good, and there’s a strong commitment from our leadership and organization to being excellent online.  Still, I can’t firmly say 15% of our Facebook fans give with an average gift of $225.  We measure what we can and make a good case for what we’re doing online.  Nonetheless, more data is better.  So, I’m continually trying to solve the measurement challenge to refine and improve how we demonstrate the effectiveness of social media.

Q6: What kind of effort does it take to be successful fundraising online?

It takes long-term, sustained effort to maintain a good social media program.  You can’t do it overnight and you can’t do it do it in fits and starts.  You have to produce good, engaging content every day over the long-term.  You’ve got to think about each channel and customize.  That’s hard.

I’m not saying that every non-profit needs one or more full-time people managing their online effort.  I do think it means that as more and more people conduct more and more of their lives online, all nonprofits need to think about what resources they can commit and focus some sustained effort to improving their online properties.