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


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!

Instagram -ing a Kidney Transplant

Social media can serve as a window into your organization, connecting supporters and donors to your day-to-day operation. Piedmont Healthcare Atlanta took that window concept literally, live posting tweets, photos and more from a kidney transplant operation in December 2012.

The goal of the live posting project, according to a Piedmont Healthcare statement, was “to increase awareness about living donation through the power of social media since half of all kidneys transplanted at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital come from living donors, which allows for better long-term outcomes for our recipients.”

The following are a few examples from the live posting project:

KidneyTransPreppingFrom the prepping of the organs, to the transplant, to the reactions from doctors, family, and the patients themselves, every step of the process was recorded…

KidneyTransplantKidneyTransHappyDoc KidneyTransHappyFamily


The live posting of the process drew rave reviews from followers across Twitter and other social networks…


In addition to expanding awareness of a cause, a project like this can easily be leveraged for fundraising by occasionally including a link to a giving form in the tweets or building a website to serve as a hub for all the live posting activity with a clearly visible “Donate” or “Give Now” button on the website.

Beyond any practical applications, Piedmont should be commended for taking a chance on a project that puts the patient on display. With privacy laws in place, many healthcare organizations would not consider a project like this, because of the mistaken idea that privacy laws make it nearly impossible to accomplish. Piedmont has shown us otherwise and is likely reaping the benefits of a more connected and dedicated base of followers as a result.

To follow the full day’s activity on Storify, click here.

To learn more about developing strategies like this to connect with your donors and supporters, contact Justin Ware, BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication, by clicking here.

Competition Drives Online and Social Media Action

Earlier this week, about 120 million Americans took part in what boils to down to the country’s biggest competition – an election. This Saturday and Sunday – and every weekend through the beginning of February – about another hundred million+ people will at least passively observe any one of several dozen fierce competitions on football fields across the nation. Combine the two, and you have a roughly $10 BILLION industry all built around one thing – (hopefully) friendly competition.

It’s clear competition drives behavior in America and across the globe (from what I understand, soccer is kind of a big deal around the world). We’re human, therefore we like to compete. So doesn’t it make sense to add a little competition to your fundraising strategy to drive giving activity? The following are two examples – one from healthcare, one from higher education – where competition was cleverly used to accomplish fundraising and/or membership goals.

‘Tis the Season for Online Gaming

In late fall 2010, the University of California, San Francisco was looking to raise awareness about fundraising for their new Benioff Children’s Hospital. The objective was donors, not necessarily dollars, so a mini campaign was launched with a goal of raising $100,000. To participate, supporters of the new children’s hospital were encouraged to set up online teams. The rules were simple – which ever team had the most donors won the competition and the right to name a wing of the hospital.

As it turns out, $100,000 is a bit low if you’re running a fun online competition, just outside of Silicon Valley, during the holidays. After the short (roughly one-month) campaign wrapped up, the teams who took part in the UCSF Challenge for the Children raised more than $1 million through roughly 165,000 donors. The winner? Online gaming development company Zynga, the firm behind Facebook’s popular “Farmville” application raised more than $800,000 through roughly 162,000 donors. In Farmville, game players build their own virtual farms with virtual animals, plants, barns, and whatever else you might find on a real farm. For the Challenge for the Children, Zynga sold virtual candy cane seeds which could be grown on the players’ Farmville plots. Proceeds from each candy cane were given to the Challenge for the Children, making each gamer who bought a candy cane a donor.

The Challenge for the Children also drew celebrity support, but the second place finisher was 12-year-old boy and cancer survivor named Paddy O’Brien. Paddy brought in roughly $12,000 through 425 donors. When asked how he did it, Paddy said it was simple: he asked his friends to support his team and had those friends ask their friends to do the same. Paddy was an online ambassador for the Benioff campaign. And online ambassadors are a group your nonprofit needs to have a program built around if you’re planning on raising money online. (For more on how to use online ambassadors to boost your Facebook presence, check out this earlier post.)

For a great, recent example of using competition to boost your organization’s social media activity, I present you The Alumpics.

The Alumpics was a competition between the alumni associations of seven of the ten Ivy+ schools. It ran during the 2012 Summer Olympics. Instead of tests of physical prowess, the Alumpics tested the social media mettle of these organizations. Each day, the organizations would post an alumni-related photo on Facebook. The photo with the most likes that day won gold, second-most silver, and third most took home the bronze. At the end of the Alumpics, the org with the most golds won the contest.

While this didn’t have a direct fundraising tie, it did create a lot of buzz around the participating schools’ Facebook pages. In total, 70 photos received 32,532 “likes.”

“So what?” you might be asking. Well, here’s why 32,532 Facebook “likes” is a big deal. According to the 2012 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report, the value of a Facebook fan who “likes” a  nonprofit’s page is $214.81/year. That bears repeating – every Facebook “like” or fan of your organization’s page is worth $214.81 per year if you follow up with that fan. So those 32,000+ likes are potentially worth just under $7 million for the institutions that participated in the Alumpics.

Online competition can work to drive fundraising, but it’s not as simple as just putting a scoreboard on your website and hoping people will get in the game. The following are a few tips to help your online fundraising competitions boost giving and interest in your organization’s mission.

Connect with the zietgeist: What societal movement has everybody talking? What’s happening in pop culture? Is the Final Four coming up? Does your institution have a big anniversary on the horizon? Is it the holiday season? Connect your competition with a well-known and heavily participated-in event to leverage the buzz that already exists around that event.

Make it easy to participate: Ease-of-use should be a serious consideration for all your online giving activity, but it’s especially important if you’re trying to lure new donors to your cause. For online giving forms, only require information that is absolutely necessary. For returning donors, enable one-click giving with the information they’ve already provided. And…

Make your contest mobile platform friendly: Several studies show that the primary method of checking email is now on a mobile device. A large number of your supporters will share a link to your online competition via email, which is just one of many reasons why you should considering optimizing your online giving process for mobile platforms.

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

The 2011 Healthcare Philanthropy Survey [Infographic]

Our wonderfully talented graphic designers have taken some of the highlights from the 2011 Bentz Whaley Flessner Healthcare Philanthropy Survey and developed an infographic. Go ahead and click on the image to the right to open the full-size infographic for a closer look.

Inforgraphics for Fundraising

Infographics are great way to quickly deliver the most pertinent information to your donors and other supporters in an attractive, easy-to-digest, easy-to-remember, and – most important for online purposes – easy-to-share format. Here’s a great example of an infographic from the Humane Society about their efforts at ending Canada’s seal hunts.

What are some of the best infographics for philanthropic purposes that you’ve seen? What would you like to see in infographic form? Let us know in the comments below!

For more on social media in philanthropy, visit BWF.com.

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.