What is a social media strategy for fundraising?

When I ask clients “do you have a social media strategy?” they will often point me to a list of guidelines for best practices on using social media. Make no mistake, establishing guidelines for your organization’s use of social media is smart …but it’s far from a strategy.

A good social media strategy starts with a statement of goals, tactics, tools, and metrics.

A good social media strategy starts with a statement of goals, tactics, tools, and metrics.

An online and social media strategy – a document that helps you effectively manage your presence and accomplish fundraising goals – consists of two parts.

  1. First, on online and social media strategy should be a statement of goals, tactics for accomplishing those goals, resources that will be deployed, and a system for measuring the effectiveness of all that online activity.
  2. Second, should be a timeline that extends out over at least the next 12 months. On this timeline should be all the major events, milestones, campaigns, and other opportunities for fundraising and/or donor engagement. For each event/opportunity on this timeline, there should be a detailed set of tactics that will be deployed for accomplishing the associated goals. And because it’s a timeline, there will likely be items several months in advance that are imperative to the success of each event or opportunity. This second portion of the strategy is key to ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.

The two components of your strategy should work together. For example, the first portion (the goals/tactics/resources/metrics piece) should be applied to the timeline to help planners create a cohesive, on-message, and consistent approach for managing homecoming …or for the communication plan around a hospital gala …or the one-day fundraising effort for your small nonprofit around #GivingTuesday.

Why does this matter? Think about your organization’s online activity. Is it a series of one off posts that have no interconnectivity? When you post something on Facebook or Twitter, are you thinking about how that post will impact your audience’s sense of philanthropy around a specific initiative, say a scholarship drive? If you’re planning an online fundraising campaign in support of scholarships in five months, you should be posting content that (however subtly and cleverly) reinforces that audience’s understanding of the importance of supporting scholarship-related fundraising activity over the next five months (among other good content aimed at other strategic goals, of course).

Unfortunately, too many content decisions are made based on “what’s happening right now?” or “what do we need to immediately accomplish?” or “what’s hot in the news?” Not to say those things don’t matter. In fact, a portion of your social media activity needs to be reactive to provide adequate customer service. The best content is audience-focused and timely. But that doesn’t mean strategic messaging can’t be baked into the content. Not to mention, advanced planning actually frees your staff up to be more reactive, because they’ve already completed some of the work needed to reach those long-term goals.

To do the big things requires a long-term strategy that everyone on your team supports and understands. So what does this look like in real life?

In April 2013, a smart charted plotted out over a timeline led to huge donor acquisition numbers for UMass Amherst.

In April 2013, a smart strategy plotted out over a timeline led to huge donor acquisition numbers for UMass Amherst.

When you plan in advance, produce a timeline, and have a strategy to guide it all, you’re positioning your organization for success. And with how important online communication has become for nonprofits, it’s imperative your organization or institution finds the resources to enact this strategic approach.

Justin Ware is the Director Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. If you’d like to learn more about how Justin helps clients build strategies that lead to six- and seven-figure online fundraising success, click here.

ASU Raises More Than $3 Million During 2-day Online Campaign

There’s nothing like the feeling after an intense fundraising campaign ends with all the goals met. And of course, it’s great when your organization blows past its goals. But how about when you beat your goals by more than 3,800 percent?

That was the glorious experience Arizona State University development pros enjoyed after ASU recorded an awe-inspiring $3,059,265 during the second annual, two-day, Mark It Day online fundraising campaign. That $3 million haul vastly exceeded the modest goal they had set of $76,611. (ASU had raised roughly $170,000 during the first Mark It Day one year earlier)

So… HOW?!?! Well, to begin with, ASU had solid online infrastructure built on the iModules platform. An attractive landing page for the campaign had a nice mix of fundraising asks, updates, and engaging content…

ASU's Mark It Day started with an attractive, engaging campaign home page.

ASU’s Mark It Day started with an attractive, engaging campaign home page.


The campaign page also had clever, interactive content to add to the notion of this campaign being a major event.

The campaign page also had clever, interactive content to add to the notion of this campaign being a major event.

Markie - the Mark It Day mascot

Markie – the Mark It Day mascot

Beyond the basics, Arizona State’s annual giving and interactive marketing teams got together to assemble a strategy built around smart, fun, engaging content. The very idea of the campaign is both cute and engaging. Markie – essentially a map pin mascot – encourages ASU alumni to mark their place on the map with a gift. It’s the type of campaign where donors contribute almost involuntarily, because taking part is so much fun thanks to the technology.

Another key to ASU’s success were the efforts at bringing the entire campus community on board with the campaign.

“Mark It Day 2014 had increased partner participation with colleges, programs, faculty, staff, and students all helping spread our message and encouraging people to support ASU,” said Stacy Holmstedt, Senior Director of Internet Marketing.

Holmstedt and fellow campaign planner, Senior Director of Annual Giving Shad Hanselman, worked diligently to get their colleagues on board by providing them with the resources they needed to successfully contribute to the effort.

“We created a lot of custom prepared social media messaging and art for each of the colleges so they could just plug it in and go,” said Holmstedt. “We’ve found that the easier you make it for your colleagues, the higher amount of success you’ll have in getting your message out to a wide audience.”

Markie Day Graphic

Markie Day Graphic 2









ASU also didn’t let the enthusiasm from the first Mark It Day in 2013 die after the campaign closed. Instead, they used Markie to keep the idea of philanthropy alive and thriving throughout the year.

“Markie has his own social media presence and thousands of followers, and he kept them engaged throughout the year, not just in the weeks building up to the campaign,” said Holmstedt. “He did some fun things like leading a Fight Song Sing-Along video and constantly posted shout-outs to students who were being philanthropic, even if they weren’t giving directly to ASU. Building a culture of philanthropy has been of great importance here.”

As for advice, Holmstedt and Hanselman say “start planning early” and learn what it is about your audience that will motivate them to give during the campaign.

“Ours like seeing their names appear on a map in real-time; both the individual recognition and the instant gratification are motivational to our audience,” said Holmstedt.

But perhaps most important, don’t go it alone.

“Getting buy-in from the whole university is also key. This can’t just be a foundation effort, it has to be ‘everyone in.'”

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients produce six- and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. To contact Justin, click here.



Three Reasons Why You Want to Do More Online in 2014

It’s never too early to start planning, especially when it comes to next year’s budget. As for that budget, it should include money for online and social media under the communications heading. If it already does include budget for online and social, unless you’re beating all your fundraising goals (online and off line), it should include more money this year.

Why? I’m glad you asked. The following are three, statistically-backed reasons why you want to be doing more online to boost your fundraising in the next 12 months and beyond…

New donor acquisition: Well-run online fundraising campaigns are absolute juggernauts when it comes to acquiring new donors. A recent, informal BWF survey of mostly higher education institutions found that, on average, 40 percent of the donors who give during online ambassador-driven campaigns are new donors. While we haven’t crunched the numbers yet, when it comes to the healthcare examples we know of, that number is even higher.

Online Donors Give Bigger Gifts Than Those Acquired Via Mail

Online Donors Give Bigger Gifts Than Those Acquired Via Mail – Blackbaud, 2011

And here’s the thing – we’re not talking about 22-year-old donors who can barely make ends meet …online-acquired donors have higher household incomes, are more educated, and give larger gifts than donors acquired via mail. And, they’re not just kids. For everyone under age 65, online is now the primary method they use to make their first gift.

Stewardship: A good social media content marketing strategy helps donors understand how their gifts make a difference. The more you share that story online, the more their decision to give and give again is reinforced. That’s true for donors at all levels. Good social media content marketing is a major component of modern donor stewardship.

But what about stewarding major donors? Online and social media are just too impersonal, right? Not if you don’t want it to be. Check out this wonderful thank you video from Cornell to a generous supporter. Not only does content like this recognize the donor it honors, but that donor can easily share this video with their connections – many of whom are potential major donor prospects themselves. Content marketing is just as, if not more powerful in your major donor stewardship programs as it is for the annual fund.

Dayton's "I Love UD" campaign raised $1.7 million from more than 3,000 donors in one month.

Dayton’s “I Love UD” campaign raised $1.7 million from more than 3,000 donors in one month.

You’ll raise money! By now, you’ve probably heard about Columbia University’s back-to-back $6.9 million and $7.8 million 24-hour campaigns. But have you also heard about how the University of Dayton raised $1.7 million in one month through an online ambassador program? …or how Georgetown used gamification to raise more than $500,000 in 27 hours? …or how the University of Massachusetts Amherst exceeded the entire previous year’s worth of student giving in a day and a half? You don’t have to be an Ivy League school to raise big money online. All you need is a smart online and social media strategy that’s connected to a well-planned online fundraising campaign.

Now that you know you should must increase your investment in online and social media for fundraising, where should you allocate that investment? Below are three tips that will help you raise more money now and long-term.

An online ambassador program: Identify, engage, steward, and leverage your most influential online supporters to boost your online fundraising and awareness-building activity. Use smart tech, dedicated personnel to managing the program, and treat your ambassadors like the valuable volunteers they are… ALL YEAR LONG. Not just leading up to a fundraising campaign.

Better online infrastructure: Ease of use is enormous. You must be sure that your online giving process is as attractive, trusthworthy-seeming, and effortless as possible. Give donors the ability to make a gift from where ever they feel comfortable online – from email, on a mobile device, or via social networks like Facebook. Good tech (when coupled with a good communications strategy) is always worth the investment.

Personnel to create and manage an online strategy: You need a detailed social media strategy that delineates how your online and social media is going to help you reach your goals. This is not guesswork anymore. There are experienced professionals (and consultants!) who know what it takes to raise more money online. Hire them and build a strategy to help you increase online and social media fundraising in 2014 and beyond!

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Learn more about how he helps clients raise more money online by clicking here.

How to Have a Successful Online Giving Day

Few people know more about creating a successful online giving day than CloEve Demmer, one of the primary architects behind both of Columbia’s massively effective Giving Days, which raised $6.9 million and $7.8 million respectively. In a recent Advancement Live webcast (embedded below), CloEve talks about how Columbia constructed their inaugural Giving Day effort in October 2012.

Higher Ed Live LogoI was also fortunate enough to take part in the Advancement Live webcast where I shared tips on creating an online giving day for your institution. From starting an ambassador program, to building affinity through content marketing, CloEve and I cover all the basics about online fundraising in this hour-long webcast. If you have the time, check it out! (Special thanks to Cornell’s Andrew Gossen for coordinating the hosting the webcast)

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To learn more about BWF’s work in planning online fundraising campaigns, visit BWF.com.

6 Case Studies on Using Social Media in Fundraising and Alumni Relations

CASE, BWF, and mStoner combined to write a white paper on social media for advancement.

CASE, BWF, and mStoner combined to write a white paper on social media for advancement.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step recounting of how to use social media for advancement, check out this recent white paper assembled by mStoner and CASE. (BWF contributed two of the case studies to this effort)

How did UMass Amherst boost it’s culture of philanthropy by acquiring more than 1,000 new donors in 36 hours (half of them students)?

What allowed Georgetown to pull in more than a half million dollars from donors across the country during its 24-hour City Challenge online campaign?

And how in the world did Columbia University raise $6.8 million from 4,400 donors in just a single day? …most of it online?

Those stories plus three more case studies are included in the white paper “#SocialMedia, Advancement, and Fundraising in Education.” Download it,  have a read, and then apply the lessons learned to your own online fundraising and advancement initiatives. No matter your size or goals, the tactics can be scaled to meet your institution’s needs.

Would you like to learn more about using social media to raise more money? Connect with BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication, and co-author of the aforementioned white paper, Justin Ware by clicking here.

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.

Integrating Social Media with Traditional Media Relations

Social media works best when it’s integrated with traditional media relations efforts, such as news releases and news conferences. The inverse is also true. Which is why I love this example of social media informing media relations from the University of Toronto.

Instagram News Release from the University of Toronto

Instagram News Release from the University of Toronto

Social media managers need content … Schools and other nonprofit organizations need to connect with their constituencies in new ways … media outlets like TV stations and newspapers appreciate having content that represents their viewers. A strategy that produces news releases like the above example from the U of T accomplishes all of that and more.

Essentially, this is a retroactive user-submitted content campaign. Instead of promoting a contest and hoping that your community will snap pictures or shoot videos for you, the U of T went in after the fact and mined the stream of Instagram photos using the hashtag #UofT. The result was a number of beautiful images that represent campus life which can be used for media relations, student recruitment, donor relations …really, anything that requires a communication element.

Have you had similar success with user-generated content contests? If so, share them in the comments below, on Twitter by tagging @BWF_social, or on the BWF Facebook page.

Interested in developing a content strategy that leads to real online fundraising success? Connect with BWF’s Justin Ware by clicking here.

57% of Those Who Watch Nonprofit Videos Go On to Make a Donation

YouTube_LogoA recent survey from Google found that 57 percent of everyone who watches a nonprofit’s video will go on to make a donation to that nonprofit.

57 percent.

So, what is your nonprofit’s video strategy? As recently as 10 years ago, that question was ludicrous for a large number of cash-strapped organizations. But video is far more affordable than it used to be. High-quality cameras that provide HD video can be purchased for just a few hundred dollars. Editing software is either free or low-cost …most of us even carry phones that shoot decent video!

Below is a video from a workshop with tips to help even the most novice photographers shoot quality video that can be uploaded to sites and networks like YouTube and Facebook. It’s likely your organization has someone who could easily become a decent videographer. Think about your staff members who have active Instagram feeds or those who often post cool pictures to Facebook – they could become highly valuable video producers for your nonprofit. Get them started with the tips in the video below…

Now that you know how to shoot, the next question is, what should you shoot? Think about the following when deciding what to produce and/or post:

  • Length: Shorter is always sweeter. Remember, the total running time on YouTube videos is apparent before a person starts to watch. If you’re at your desk taking a short break, which video are you more likely to watch …the 2:00 video or the 20:00 video?
  • Authenticity: Avoid the urge to produce what looks like a traditional TV ad. Instead, deliver the message straight from the mouths of those your organization helps. Simple thank yous, like this one from The Children’s Hospital Foundation, are beyond powerful. [WARNING: grab a tissue before clicking on that Children’s Hospital Foundation video]
  • Produce videos that carry emotion. Whether it’s a deeply moving piece like this one from the Cleveland Clinic or something that makes you laugh like this video for the Rain Forest Alliance, nothing moves a donor to give more quickly that connecting with them on an emotional level.
  • Get creative: From lip dubs, to pink gloves, the viral hits are those that took a chance and did something unique. It’s video …have fun with it! 

Justin Ware is an Emmy-winning YouTube video producer who helps BWF’s clients build online and social media content strategies. To learn more, click here.

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.

Obama’s Online Ambassadors – How It Can Work for Your Nonprofit

As someone who works in online and social media fundraising, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion “how did Obama do it?” The easy answer is to respond by explaining how different a presidential campaign is from most of the fundraising operations we work with …but that would be ignoring some very obvious and useful strategies that can easily be transitioned from Team Obama to your organization.

First, I would suggest you read two excellent pieces from Time‘s Swampland blog. The first, Inside the Secret World of the Data Crunchers Who Helped Obama Win by Michael Scherer and the second, Friended: How the Obama Campaign Connected with Young Voters also by Michael Scherer, tell the story of Obama’s data-driven network of online ambassadors and how they helped him win re-election. Below, I’ll take a look at the highlights from those two articles and offer suggestions for how the principles behind Obama’s strategy can work for your organization.

Identifying and Organizing Your Online Ambassadors

It’s important knowing who your online ambassadors are. (Remember, ambassadors are influential Internet users who are or likely would be vocal online supporters of your organization). Equally as important is knowing what your ambassadors like or, more specifically, what they like to do when they’re online. The following is an excerpt from Scherer on how Obama’s “megafile” of donors was divided into sub files based on what messages resonated with the people in those groups:

The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn’t just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign’s most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data about voters helped round out the picture. “We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,” said one of the senior advisers about the predictive profiles built by the data. “In the end, modeling became something way bigger for us in ’12 than in ’08 because it made our time more efficient.”

After you’ve identified your first group(s) of online ambassadors, study their online behavior. What type of content do they retweet? Which posts from your organization’s accounts do they share? What gets those ambassadors talking with their online connections? Create ambassador profiles that stores and saves this information about their online behavior. It will help you hone a more effective content strategy and help strengthen your relationships with the ambassadors, because you’ll better be able to deliver what they want. All of this leads to your organization’s ability to better leverage those ambassadors when you need them, like during an online fundraising campaign.

Online Giving Must Be Easy

Especially when it comes to mobile giving, the process must be almost effortless. As in one click and you’re done. Literally. Why? Scherer explains:

Chicago discovered that people who signed up for the campaign’s Quick Donate program, which allowed repeat giving online or via text message without having to re-enter credit-card information, gave about four times as much as other donors.

“Buyer’s remorse” is a real problem that affects an unknown, but certainly significant number of nonprofits. It occurs when a donor intends to make a gift, but gives up halfway through the process. It can happen for a number of reasons, but one sure way to reduce buyer’s remorse is by shortening the online giving process so the donor has less opportunity to give up. Remove as many obstacles as possible at every juncture during the online giving process. Whether it’s your org’s online giving website or the mobile version, you’re sure to see more money come in online as a result.

Build Infrastructure to Enable the Support of Ambassadors

From Scherer’s piece…

Online, the get-out-the-vote effort continued with a first-ever attempt at using Facebook on a mass scale to replicate the door-knocking efforts of field organizers. In the final weeks of the campaign, people who had downloaded an app were sent messages with pictures of their friends in swing states. They were told to click a button to automatically urge those targeted voters to take certain actions, such as registering to vote, voting early or getting to the polls. The campaign found that roughly 1 in 5 people contacted by a Facebook pal acted on the request, in large part because the message came from someone they knew.

I am constantly suggesting to clients that they make investments in improved infrastructure to boost fundraising. Sure, Facebook and Twitter are free, but the possibilities are endless with, for example, custom-built Facebook applications. Determine what it is you need your Facebook page to do, then pay someone to build an app that does exactly that for your organization. It could be the quickest and surest way to measurable fundraising ROI using social media.

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