Effective fundraising through social media tools like Twitter and Facebook is an elusive goal. It's possible to be tempted by exceptional cases (disaster relief, celebrity-endorsed campaigns by big-name charities), into believing "social" is all you need. But exceptions are exactly that. For most organizations, social media is part of a well-built donor-communication plan, not the cornerstone of it.
The post reports on 25 such campaigns in the US and Canada that found 15% to 18% -- in one case, 33% -- of donations came through Facebook. Additionally, donors who could log in to campaign sites with their Facebook IDs "raised on average 40% more than those who used traditional registration."
Earthshaking? Maybe not yet. Something to keep in mind? Sure. One key point is that social media was one element of the campaign, not the complete strategy. As more and more charities start to get a handle on how social media can strengthen their ties with their donors, we'll start to find more ways to make social-media fundraising success less exceptional.
It's a picture of a meteor entering the atmosphere (not, I assume, the meteor in question). In the frame below the picture is an actual piece of meteorite taken from the Campo del Cielo debris field.
It's that little hunk of rock that makes this more than an odd piece of wall art. The rock makes it something real -- even, if you're geeky enough, a touch with fame.
I imagine one of the main expenses of manufacturing this print is the genuine Campo del Cielo meteorite -- finding it in Argentina, transporting it from there, making sure it's the real thing.
Almost any old hunk of rock would do the job just as well as the Campo del Cielo meteorite -- the geeks who received the print with a non- Campo del Cielo rock would never be the wiser. Think how much money they could save.
Of course, if buyers learned their rocks were fakes, there'd be some geeky version of a riot. If the marketing up front said "contains a rock that looks just like a Cielo del Campo meteorite," you'd hardly sell any at all.
That's why they don't do either of those things, and why they include a "certificate of authenticity" with the print.
Because authenticity matters. The "real" rock can't be replaced with a look-alike, even if there's no discernible difference.
Authenticity is one of the keys to fundraising.
What can you offer your donors that allows them to have direct connection with the cause they support?
Not any old tchotchke will do. Look for something that's ...
Unique to your cause
Inexpensive but not crappy
Give it some thought, because a little bit of authenticity can really boost your fundraising.
Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future by Jonah Sachs
You can't read more than a few paragraphs about fundraising practice without being told that telling stories is the key to success. (my book, for example, has a chapter about this.)
Yes, you're going to do a lot better if you show donors through stories why they're needed and what their gifts will do than you will with iron-clad facts and statistics.
But there's more to it than that. Not every story is equally powerful. That's what Story Wars is about. And that's why you should read this book.
It's a hands-on look at the type of stories that touch people and affect their behavior. Drawing heavily from real life, it both dissects the elements of successful stories and leads you through the process of building your own.
There's a lot there, but the insight that I think fundraisers need to pay the most attention to is this:
If you are the hero of your own story ... you wind up with only a single compelling character -- yourself.
We can create far more compelling stories by realizing that our brand is not the hero, our audience members are.
That is a Big Deal. It separates the stories that make a difference from the stories that don't. And it got me thinking about the three most common story types we use in fundraising:
Almost never works: The nonprofit as hero. Our dynamic, cutting-edge methodologies and excellent staff are the best! It's mainly empty bragging, and thus not interesting.
Sometimes works: The story of a beneficiary in need. Here's dramatic proof that our work is needed. When it's a great story, it moves donors to care and to give. The story isn't always great, though.
Usually works: The donor as hero. Here's your chance to make a difference! This is the real story you should always tell. In fact, the two other types of stories only work at all because the donor makes it part of her story for you.
Fundraising really is all about telling stories. But it's about telling the right story in the right way.
I urge you to read Story Wars to deepen you understanding the power and use of stories.
Yes, it turns out that you can survive telemarketing. It won't trigger a mass exodus of donors, a riot, a lawsuit, or some other public humiliation. And it might -- if you use it well -- engage a lot of donors and encourage them to give:
Using the phone ... allows one-to-one communication that informs, engages, and educates your donors. It reinforces the idea of giving more, more often, and becoming more involved in the causes they believe in. Giving just once is nice, but a genuinely committed donor will support you time after time.
It's a mistake for anyone think that because they hate telemarketing, everyone else does too. An expensive mistake.
Among those principles: Understanding your constituents is more important than them understanding you and your institution.
When we hold a general view that our work is ... to better understand our donors and future donors, we have the beginning framework of how we should work. Instead of arming major gift officers with printed case statements, ipads, or other materials designed to help us tell our story better, we should teach them how to ask insightful questions and listen actively.
This can turn a hurting program around.
So many organization work from the errant assumption that they'd raise more funds if they could figure out how to educate their donors more. So they keep trying more and more self-centered marketing about how excellent they are -- which makes them less and less interesting to donors.
The real answer is in the opposite direction: Figure out your donors. Realize that by asking them to give, you are asking to join their "program" of world-changing generosity, not asking them to become part of your program.
The more you know about your donors, the better you can meet their needs. And the more they'll give.
If your organization is bad at direct mail fundraising, you are in a tough spot, as you probably know. But it's worse than you might have thought, because you don't have a lot of options. If you're bad at direct mail, don't think you'll find a refuge from your shortcomings by focusing on social media marketing.
Both are about being interesting. Both are about putting your audience first. Both are about give and take. If you aren't getting those things right in direct mail fundraising, you won't be magically good at it in a new medium.
In fact, if your direct mail is ineffective, your social media will likely fail even more spectacularly than your mail does.
Let me show you how not to do social media marketing with this tweet that came up in my Twitter feed recently (revised to protect the tweeter's identity):
It's 50 years since we were founded, and we're tweeting 50 of our top achievements.
(There was a goofy #hashtag that no human will ever search, even if we continue to exist for the next trillion years.)
Then, over the course of a couple days, they actually tweeted fifty accomplishments. None of them had anything to do with donors. All of them were about the heroism of the organization and its insiders.
That's crappy, boring, self-centered, and tone-deaf. It would fail badly in the mail, and it will fail on Twitter.
Social media can't rescue that organization from its inability to connect meaningfully with donors. It won't rescue you either.
The smart way to learn social media marketing is to learn traditional marketing first. Then transfer what you know to the new situation.
Focus on real children. It doesn't play the abstract symbol game, but shows the children in need that they're hoping to motivate donors to help. (It's sad that when nonprofit ads do this it's notable.)
Jarring, realistic imagery. Some of the images toward the end are frankly hard to look at. No pie-in-the-sky abstractions here. That's how you get people to give.
What the video does wrong:
Wastes time being clever. Nearly half of the meager 60 seconds is spent showing kids so close-up you can't see the problem. They're doing it for a reason -- building to a clever reveal. Being clever is a waste of time. And it's not motivating.
Plays the numbers game. This is one of the most common of fundraising errors. Millions of children living in poverty is not a reason people respond. It's a reason they don't respond.
No specific fundraising offer. Fundraising works when it's about action. Specific action that your audience understands and can get excited about. They were probably banking on the strong awareness that Save the Children has. And that probably helps. But relying on your brand to reel in the donation is like expecting your car to fill itself with gas.
Call to action is on-screen only four seconds. Effective direct-response would have it visible the whole time.
I'm not calling this video a Stupid Nonprofit Ad, though it has some of the characteristics of one. Let's call it a worthy effort that succumbed to some of the temptations of glib agency style over fundraising substance.
With a mailing universe of tens of millions, a mailing schedule that ran to several emails per day toward the end of the campaign, and a narrow, urgent window of opportunity for fundraising, they had an unparalleled learning laboratory, and they used it very well. Most of the $690 million the Obama campaign raised online came from those e-mails.
Two powerful learnings cited in the article:
Casual, personal-sounding subject lines did best. One of their strongest: Hey.
Ugly worked. "Every time something really ugly won, it would shock me: giant-size fonts for links, plain-text links vs. pretty 'Donate' buttons. Eventually we got to thinking, 'How could we make things even less attractive?' That's how we arrived at the ugly yellow highlighting on the sections we wanted to draw people's eye to."
That these things worked in political fundraising doesn't necessarily mean they'll work for you. But those two points have played out in my experience:
If your subject line has that phony marketing voice, the email won't do well. Make it sound like a real person.
You simply can't be too ugly. In email or any other medium.
What this blog is about
The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It's not about any technology, medium, or technique. It's about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It's already here. More.
About the blogger
Jeff Brooks, creative director at TrueSense Marketing, has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 20 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you'll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff.brooks [at] truesense [dot] com. More.
Instead of talking at donors, TrueSense is proving it's smarter to listen. Asking donors how they prefer to give. Because we’re about creating relationships and building trust and communicating honestly and powerfully. One to one. Want to talk fundraising? Drop me a line.
Read the book!
At last, the book you really need to read about fundraising. I wrote it for you: All the stuff you wish you (or your boss) knew about fundraising that motivates donors to give, give frequently, and give joyfully.
Some of what you'll find here may seem contrarian. It's not. It's proven, tested, real-life stuff that actually works. If you care about fundraising, about your donors, and about supporting your cause, you need to read The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications by Jeff Brooks.