A theme that has run through my public presentations is that experienced, mature fundraising professionals are ideal for producing and managing social media communications. Social media has become too important for nonprofit organizations to ignore it. Follow the link to an article from Inc., “8 Risks When You Ignore Social Media” by Hollis Thomases.
“Social media ROI [return on investment] has always been a touchy subject. You’ll find divided camps: those who emphasize that social media should not be expected to perform like a direct response tactic and those who can provide all kinds of empirical formulas for calculating social media ROI. But one move will have more measurable impact on your bottom line than the number of Likes, mentions or +1s will ever have: ignoring.”
At the conclusion of a session I taught at the Crescendo Interactive Practical Planned Giving Conference a few years ago, a distinguished planned giving professional came up to me and said, “You know, until today, I have avoided social media, thinking it is a waste of time. But after your talk, I just might open a Facebook page.” Then, he gave my hand a hearty shake. If you read Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, you will discover that I launched my presence on Facebook at the suggestion of a major gift donor. Today, I share information with the donors and professional advisors who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn, including updates about projects on which I am working that need funding.
Major gift and planned giving executives often have more life and work experience than other nonprofit executives. A mature major gift and planned giving expert can often be more effective when it comes to understanding and interacting online and in-person with donors who are the focus of major and planned giving efforts (those activities involving significant, long-term financial investment).
This is not to say younger staff are not helpful when it comes to communicating online! Younger staff are often more quick to adopt new technologies and platforms. They can be invaluable allies for less-facile colleagues. But the finely-tuned mind of a mature fundraising professional is key in the communications arena. They will have the interests of the donor and the nonprofit’s mission foremost in mind, as they formulate their online dialogue with the constituents of their organizations. Certainly, there are roles for both younger and older staff members online, and it depends on the image you wish to convey. But admittedly, I have yet to find a nonprofit organization that does not need to secure significant funding. Hence, you should be thoughtful when making use of social media.
For the pitfalls of relegating social media to less experienced colleagues, read another telling article by Hollis Thomases for Inc., “Social Media: 11 Reasons a 23-Year-Old Shouldn’t Run Your Social Media.” Since returning to Austin in mid 2013, I have heard more than one nonprofit executive decide to relegate social media to an unpaid intern because that would be more cost effective for the nonprofit. College interns are wonderful and they love to, “talk tech.”
But as one organization discovered on its Twitter feed, which was chocked full of, “I posted a photo on Facebook” (plus a link), this is no way to manage Twitter (that is Facebook’s “auto” phrase for cross posting on Twitter). Carrying on a meaningful dialogue with your social media followers in the unique manner promoted by each platform makes more sense. Knowing the nonprofit well, maintaining a “cool head” less inclined to responding emotionally without thinking, and understanding the organization’s short and long-term needs are the skills of a mature and ideal social media manager.
Blackbaud has posted a white paper by Katherine Swank, J.D. of Target Analytics, “From O.K. to OMG!: How to Be an Extraordinary Planned Giving Professional.“ Katherine notes that being a truly extraordinary planned giving professional requires the ability to communicate in diverse ways:
- Personal (face-to-face) interactions between the constituent and an organizational representative, whether paid or volunteer, which includes one-on-one meetings as well as group gatherings;
- Peer-to-peer interactions with friends/others also involved with the organization and its planned giving opportunities;
- Telephone conversations for Baby Boom-aged prospects and older;
- E-mail for Boomers and younger;
- Media, both mainstream if your organization uses it, and internal, through the use of your own publications such as magazines, newsletters, and the like;
- All communication methods that drive constituents to your website;
- Social media sites.
As donors and prospective donors find new ways to communicate online, nonprofit professionals must recognize and adopt the use of those channels as well. Having a calm, experienced mind operating those communication vehicles will help ensure the image of the nonprofit is safely maintained and the interests of both the organization and its constituents are being thoughtfully considered on an ongoing basis.
On a personal note, I have found learning and making use of a wide range of social media platforms to be a worthwhile pursuit. I have connected (and reconnected) with more donors, professional advisors and colleagues, family and friends. I have learned more about them through social media, and that knowledge has helped me become a more effective communicator. The speed at which I can reach them has also increased dramatically the past eight or so years.
Last but not least, I have been introduced to potential funding partners on social media. Twitter chats are one excellent example of this. I also conduct quite a bit of research on social media, and each time I do, I learn a great deal about potential partners and donors, their interests, their communication styles and more. This is invaluable information when it comes to formulating funding proposals.
First written in 2013, updated in 2017