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Not Another Social Media Commercial

rubics cube

Three years ago I wrote an article entitled “Confessions of a Social Media Phobe.” Way back then, I was wondering “aloud” about the relevance, future, and wisdom of social media relative to fundraising and life in general. In 2009, it was easy to feel smothered by the hype around online networking and communications and the number of emerging channels and options that seemed to double almost weekly. I concluded the article claiming an open mind on the subject, but also a “show me” attitude about the real and practical commercial utility of SM on the ground and in the lives of my colleagues in advancement.

Oh, how times – and minds – can change.
Fast forward thirty six months. I have been blogging for almost two years, am deeply engaged on LinkedIn, and have evolved my business to include services to help clients and nonprofits find their footing in the digital world. Go figure, an old dog can learn new tricks…but questions still remain about the costs, benefits, and ROI of investing in a social media footprint and program for NPOs.
So here’s what we do know today. The data is pretty clear about the efficacy of fundraising via email and landing pages versus more traditional direct mail and event strategies. The 2011 donorCentrics™ Internet andMultichannel Giving Benchmarking Report revealed a number of trends that are quite interesting from the planning, acquisition, and renewal perspectives.
  • Online-acquired donors tend to give much larger gifts than mail-acquired donors but tend to have slightly lower retention rates than mail-acquired donors.
  • The majority of multichannel donors are those who are acquired online and then subsequently start giving direct mail gifts. This is the only situation in which there are significant numbers of cross-channel donors across all organizations.
  • Every year, large proportions of online-acquired donors switch from online giving to offline sources — primarily to direct mail. The reverse is not true, however; only a tiny percentage of mail-acquired donors give online in later years.
  • When online-acquired donors move offline, they tend to do so soon, in their first renewal year and then continue to give offline in similar proportions in subsequent years.
  • Eventually, just under half of all online-acquired donors convert entirely to offline, primarily direct mail giving.
  • Robust direct mail programs drive up the retention and long-term value of new donors acquired online. Without the ability to become multichannel givers by renewing their support via direct mail, this group of donors would be worth far less. Other than monthly recurring giving programs, established direct mail programs are the best method for gaining repeat gifts from online acquired donors.
One can argue at first blush that costs associated with online solicitation efforts appear much less than direct mail and events. But it is important to consider all the factors and elements associated with electronic campaigns. These include the resources for designing and writing the email solicitation, designing and establishing landing pages, generating email addresses, processing gifts, generating acknowledgements (done via email typically, and are far less sticky… perhaps resulting in poorer loyalty), paying a staff person or two to run the program and/or hiring a consultant to run things. And, programs based on email addresses are much more vulnerable to ISP and employer/personal email address changes; people tend to physically relocate far less often then they update their virtual contact information.
So perhaps social media is not a comprehensive panacea for fundraising. But – I have to admit – owning, writing, and regularly updating a blog does elevate the visibility and prestige of your organization, if you can provide original and actionable content and demonstrate thought leadership. Some organizations are in a position to do this, in part because they do have thought leaders, valuable insights, and the discipline to post new content at least twice per month.
LinkedIn is also a good indirect channel to help grow the footprint of your organization in the 24/7 cyberspace world. It can play an important role in promoting your mission and success stories, directing traffic towards your blog, and building networks through affinity groups. And, from a nonprofit perspective, LinkedIn is also an increasingly a good research tool to scope out donors and prospects, possible new volunteers and leadership, and advocates for your cause.
You will notice I still have not addressed Twitter , Plurk , mobile apps, Tumblr , Jaiku , LiveJournal, Open Diary , ExpressionEngine , Xanga , Bebo , Facebook , MySpace , Orkut , Skyrock , Hi5 , Ning , Elgg , NutshellMail , FriendFeed , Digg , Mixx , Reddit , NowPublic , epinions , Yelp , Flickr , Zooomr , Photobucket , SmugMug , Picasa, YouTube , Vimeo , sevenload , , , Stickam , and Skype. Those – and the zillions of other options – will have to wait for another tweet, blog, flik, video or ping.
Your takes:
  1. Social media is an important aspect of a well rounded fundraising strategy, but not a replacement for more traditional channels, including direct mail and events.
  2. Online resources are a great way to promote your mission, increase your visibility, and attract new prospects, donors, and volunteers; made sure to have a strategy to include these elements in your marketing and communication strategy.
  3. Take advantage of your thought leaders, if you have them; a blog is a great way to capture their ideas and differentiate your organization through original content.
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Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.