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

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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!

Building a 4-stage Online Ambassador Program — Stage 2: Engagement

Before reading this post, be sure to check out Stage 1 in this four-part series on identifying potential ambassadors by clicking here.

All caught up? Great! Now let’s talk about engaging and on-boarding your potential online ambassadors.

At this point, you’ve developed a list of your online supporters who have a good degree of influence over online communities, be it on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn) or email. Next up is the crucial step of inviting them into the program and having them accept their responsibilities as online ambassadors for your institution or organization.

Today’s topic – engaging potential online ambassadors

Pick up the phone!

Sometimes new-school tactics require old-school approaches. This is certainly true of engaging your soon-to-be online ambassadors. While email and web login are mandatory aspects of most ambassador programs, some of the best performing peer-to-peer programs are built around person-to-person invitations. Often this one-on-one engagement takes place over the phone.

One great example of going one-on-one over the phone to invite ambassadors comes from Wabash College in Indiana. Before Wabash’s first giving day in 2014, Wabash Associate Dean for College Advancment, Joe Klen picked up the phone more than 180 times to recruit 175 online ambassadors who were instrumental in the day’s success. Not only did more than 2,200 donors give nearly $500,000 to the tiny school, but the ambassadors were so active that “Wabash” was trending on Twitter along other slightly more well known names like “Netflix” and “Charles Barkley.” Not bad for a school with fewer than 20,000 emailable alumni. (To read more about and watch a video on Wabash’s ambassador effort, click here.)

Tweet them!

To engage ambassadors on social media, first warm up the relationship by conversing with the potential ambassadors on their social network(s) of choice.

To engage ambassadors on social media, first warm up the relationship by conversing with the potential ambassadors on their social network(s) of choice.

If someone is active and supporting your organization on a social network, then it makes sense that you would use that network to engage them. This is especially useful if you don’t have an email or phone number for this supporter.

But be careful – you don’t want to use social media to spam or uncomfortably surprise someone. Before asking your active social media supporter to be an ambassador, warm up the conversation by retweeting them, commenting on their blog posts, or sharing their Facebook photos. Get to know the potential ambassador before using social media to ask for their support as an ambassador.

Be clear!

It’s likely you want something specific from your ambassadors – perhaps it’s supporting a giving day, expanding awareness of your mission, driving an email campaign – whatever it might be, make it clear to your ambassadors what you’ll be asking of them in the near and long-term. Give them an idea of how many emails you’ll be sending them, make them aware of any software they’ll be using, and reinforce their importance by clearly stating how impactful online ambassador activity can be in accomplishing your mission.

Additionally, it’s wise to have some rules for the ambassador game. Do you require ambassadors to state they are digital advocates of your organization in their profiles? Better let them know. Is there a minimum amount of posting activity to remain in the program? If so, your ambassadors show know what that threshold is and what happens if they don’t maintain that level. Along with basic rules for decent online decorum, give your ambassador guidelines that will help both your organization and the ambassadors themselves.

Give them a job!

Once an ambassador has agreed to be part of your program, give them something to do as soon as possible. This will help cement the program in their mind as part of their normal, daily digital routine. If too much time lapses between engagement and deployment (more on deployment in a later post) ambassadors might forget their purpose and not perform the desired sharing activity.

To learn more about technology to support ambassador programs, contact me, ScaleFunder’s VP of Digital Fundraising Strategy, Justin Ware, at justin.ware@scalefunder.com.

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.

Wabash Expands Culture of Philanthropy with Online Ambassadors

The Wabash College Day of Giving was a big win in donors and dollars AND in raising the culture of philanthropy to support the school.

The Wabash College Day of Giving was a big win in donors and dollars AND in raising the culture of philanthropy to support the school.

Online ambassadors lead to big fundraising results when their efforts are applied to short duration online giving events (a.k.a. “money bombs”). This was certainly true for Wabash College during the school’s inaugural “Day of Giving” online fundraising campaign, when 2,200 donors joined forces to raise $465,000 in just 24 hours. The thing is, those big numbers for little Wabash aren’t the main reason why school leaders are so excited about their first giving day. It’s all the attention and enthusiasm around fundraising that has Wabash officials celebrating well into the new fiscal year.

“That’s what I think’s been talked about more than anything after the day, beyond the numbers, is this sense of excitement and the fun that was happening that day surrounding giving back to the institution,” said Wabash Associate Dean for College Advancment, Joe Klen. “We had our reunion weekend in June and many people were still congratulating the president of the College on a great day of giving.”

Klen said Wabash’s Day of Giving had the feel of an extremely well-attended online reunion. As mentioned above, online ambassadors had a LOT to do with the success of Day of Giving. To learn more about Wabash’s Day of Giving, check out the video below…

Want to hear a lot more of the details from Joe Klen himself? We’ve included the full length interview on the BWF YouTube channel. You can link to the longer interview by clicking here.

Justin Ware helps organizations and institutions build peer-to-peer fundraising programs that lead to real, quantifiable success. 

Stop Telling Nonprofits They Can’t Raise Money Using Social Media

A message to social media managers, consultants, gurus, experts, etc – STOP TELLING NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS YOU CAN’T RAISE MONEY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s cliche and it’s not true. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

In October 2012, Columbia University launched their inaugural Giving Day. By all accounts, Giving Day 2012 was a monstrous success raising more than $6.8 million from 4,940 donors. How did so many thousands of donors decide to jump on board? Primarily, because those donors learned of the campaign via social media and made their gifts directly after seeing a post on social media. 55 percent of all referral traffic to Columbia’s online giving page during the campaign came via social media. In other words, social media led directly to a lot of giving activity during Columbia’s Giving Day.

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Yes, you can raise money using Facebook. It takes a smart strategy and it’s not free, but it can be enormously effective.

Still not convinced? Think about the online ambassador programs that we at BWF have helped multiple clients build. During ambassador-led fundraising campaigns, on average, those institutions saw 40 percent of all giving come from new donors. 40 percent. That flurry of new donor activity happened because dozens, in some cases hundreds, of passionate supporters were sharing the message of the campaign with their friends via social media networks. Again, this peer-to-peer social media activity was a direct driver of fundraising activity.

I get it – when someone says “you can’t raise money on social media” they’re referring to the approach of an organization or institution sending out bland fundraising asks via their official Facebook or Twitter accounts. It’s true that approach rarely works. The carpet-bombing-your-audience-with-posts-begging-for-money method is an unimaginative approach that applies old marketing principals (push messaging) to new channels (social media networks). But we know better than that now. We know how to strategically engage influential social media users and work with them to build wildly successful six- and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns.

So yes, you can use social media to raise money online. In fact, when the following three things are done and done well, I don’t know of a single organization that has fallen short of its online fundraising goals:

  • Build good online infrastructure (campaign landing page, apps, widgets, mobile responsiveness, etc)
  • Develop a robust online ambassador program
  • Implement a smart content marketing strategy to drive buzz

Doing the above is not free. It’s takes significant staff time and probably an investment in outside counsel and a tech vendor (Columbia had both). But when the investment is made, you absolutely can use social media to raise (a lot of) money.

Bentz Whaley Flessner’s Justin Ware helps clients build online ambassador programs that lead to successful online fundraising campaigns. If you’d like to have online fundraising success, connect with Justin by clicking here.

 

Columbia’s Second Annual Giving Day – Another Huge Online Ambassador Success

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Columbia University Giving Day 2013

They did it again. This time, it was even bigger.

On October 23, Columbia University hosted its second annual Giving Day. An almost entirely online, ambassador-driven fundraising campaign that ranks among the most successful in history. In just 24 hours, Columbia raised more than $7.8 million dollars from 9,759 donors. Those who gave represent 53 countries and all 50 states.

Giving Day 2013 was a huge success with nearly 10,000 donors giving $7.8 million over 24 hours.

Giving Day 2013 was a huge success with nearly 10,000 donors giving $7.8 million over 24 hours.

The logical question is, “how?” We’ll get to the specifics on that in a later post, but here’s what we already know about Giving Day 2013 and what made it successful (which are the same things that can make your online fundraising campaigns successful, albeit at scale):

  • A robust online ambassador program: Online ambassadors worked well for Columbia in 2012, so they knew they needed another strong peer-to-peer effort in 2013. With this in mind, Columbia worked hard at identifying, engaging, and coaching a team of online ambassadors who would help them have even more success in 2013. Part of this ambassador effort was the know-how and great work done by Columbia’s staff. Another part was the smart use of software like SocialToaster – all of it came together to double the number of donors from 2012 to 2013.
  • Great infrastructure: Websites, online giving pages, Facebook apps, embeddable widgets – all across the Columbia online ecosystem, donors could find easy-to-use tools that allowed them to participate in Giving Day.
  • Brilliant staff: Columbia knew after 2012 that smart, strategic planning was key to a successful campaign. Internal staff and external vendors combined to make 2012 a hit. A similar mix of talent was assembled to cement 2013’s Giving Day as a tradition.

And that is probably the most impressive thing that we can glean (so far) from Giving Day 2012 – well-run online giving days are not fads. When smart strategy, experienced personnel, innovative tech, and enthusiastic ambassadors come together, online giving days become tradition.

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.

Long Tail of Giving Follows Short Online Fundraising Campaigns

A new trend is starting to emerge that provides nonprofits with yet another reason to ramp up their online and social media giving efforts – the “long tail” of giving that follows those short-burst online fundraising campaigns. The roughly 24- to 72-hour, mostly-online or online-only campaigns have already proven themselves to be excellent tools for engaging new donors and boosting overall donor participation. Now, we’re starting to see the value in the “buzz” these campaigns create by the number of gifts that come in online AND off in the days and weeks immediately following the short online campaign.

Big Gifts Follow a Big Campaign at Columbia

GivingDayLogoEven without the post-campaign activity, Columbia University’s 2012 Giving Day was a big win for the institution and its alumni. In just 24 hours, Columbia’s supporters gave more than $6.8 million to the University through 4,940 gifts …all but 184 of which were given online. As is typical in short online campaigns, roughly 40 percent of those nearly 5,000 donors were making their first gift and more than half of the gifts originated on social networks (special apps allowed donors to start the giving process from blogs or Facebook pages. They were were then redirected to the main online giving website). But the giving didn’t end at midnight on Giving Day.

In the week following the Giving Day campaign, Columbia saw a significant boost to giving at all levels, with one story standing out. At an on-campus event, a major gift donor stood up in front of a crowd and pledged a seven-figure gift on the spot. The reason the donor gave for the spur-of-the-moment monster gift? They were proud of Columbia for taking such an innovative approach to giving and excited about all the activity around giving to the University they saw taking place online and, specifically, on social media. This is a direct example of social media buzz leading to major fundraising success for a university.

*Sidenote: multiple other institutions tell stories of seven-figure gifts coming in because a wealthy individual learned of the work being done at an institution on Facebook. That work mattered to the wealthy donor, causing them to reach out to the institution and make their first (very big) gift. Lesson? Social media is not just for the annual fund anymore.

UMassGives …and keeps giving

In late April 2013, the University of Massaschuetts Amherst conducted its first ever UMassGives – an entirely online, 36-hour campaign. The goal of UMassGives was twofold:

  1. Acquire new donors to UMass Amherst.
  2. Nurture the growing culture of philanthropy around the institution.

UMass Amherst accomplished all of the above raising nearly $84,000 from more than 1,500 donors. Roughly half of those donors were making their first ever gift to UMass – many of them students. Nothing says “expanding the culture of philanthropy at an institution” quite like engaging hundreds of students and young alumni in a buzz-worthy online fundraising campaign.

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Twitter was a buzz with activity, helping virally spread the culture of philanthropy at UMass Amherst.

Twitter was a buzz with activity, helping virally spread the culture of philanthropy at UMass Amherst.

Again, the giving didn’t end with the 36-hour campaign. May 1-8, 2013 – the week immediately following UMassGives – saw twice the number of online gifts given and twice the dollars raised online when compared to May 1-8, 2012. This 100 percent increase to online giving is another example of the long tail following a short campaign.

Ambassadors drive buzz during and after online campaigns

Both Columbia’s Giving Day and UMassGives incorporated a peer-to-peer online communication plan. Or what we call at BWF, an online ambassador program. Ambassadors programs are built around the concept of having your biggest supporters do your communication work for your organization. Ambassadors share content on Facebook, post items to their blogs, tweet messages about your institution – they engage in activity that promotes your organization’s initiatives directly to their online connections. Simply put, ambassador programs are friends encouraging friends to support your philanthropic mission. It’s the age-old “recommendation from a friend” that is and has always been the most trusted form of promotion that leads to the most conversions – in the case of fundraising, that means more gifts given.

For Columbia and UMass, ambassadors were highly active during their online campaigns, igniting buzz in dozens of social media communities and spreading word of the campaigns. That buzz wasn’t extinguished the moment the campaigns ended. It carried throughout the days and weeks following the campaigns, helping to raise more dollars, acquire more new donors, and extend the culture of philanthropy for both institutions. The key is building a volunteer ambassador program for your organization so that you can influence that peer-to-peer activity and enjoy that long tail of giving, long after a short online fundraising campaign.

To learn about how BWF can help your organization build comprehensive online ambassador programs and prepare for online fundraising campaigns, contact BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware by clicking here.