Major Donors and New Media

This article was written for NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. It appears in the December, 2011 issue of its CHANGE e-journal. You may view this specific issue on SlideShare (click on the photograph and turn to page 26).

Using social media for major gift fundraising and planned giving has been viewed somewhat skeptically by the traditional fundraising community. Major gift fundraisers – including planned giving professionals – tend to focus on older individuals whose careers are established: their children have left home, their financial obligations are reduced, and they have the means to consider making significant charitable gifts.

As social media use began to increase among older generations approximately two years ago [when this blog post was written, that would have been ca. 2009], using social media to communicate with them about nonprofit projects and issues makes sense. No longer viewed as a “toy” for young people, social media and new technologies have truly become a communications lifeline for all ages.

Jamie Carracher, formerly of Edelman Digital, noted:

“Older people are among the fastest-growing demographics online. Social network use among Internet users 50 years old and older has nearly doubled to 42% over the past year …. in the U.S. alone there are nearly 16 million people 55 and older using Facebook” (Mashable Social Media, April 6, 2011). Jim Jansen of Pew Internet Research Project notes, “95% of those in households earning over $75,000 use the Internet and cell phones” (November 24, 2010).

After 25 years of traditional fundraising, I was well-versed at communicating with donors using standard mail; printed documents; telephone; and ultimately by composing and submitting detailed grant proposals. I was reluctant to pay attention to social media, which seemed frivolous to me three years ago.

But then, what a surprise! My first invitation to create a Facebook page and be “friended” came from a donor whose family has contributed significantly to several of my nonprofit projects, in the seven-figure range, in fact. After considering how important this person is me and my nonprofit projects, I took the leap. I haven’t looked back since.

How should we reach major gift donors? The techniques are similar for donors at any level. “Cross-pollinate”: be sure your website, e-mail and printed publications include links to your social media venues. Develop a thoughtful strategy to regularly discuss your nonprofit’s mission, financial needs and most pressing issues. Consider developing cause-specific apps for even greater depth of discussion. Actively seek donors out and ask them to “like” your Facebook page, or to join groups that you have established using other forms of social media.

Donors are receiving more requests than ever. While waiting for that critical, in-person meeting, consider informing and engaging them using social media and new technologies. In the end, these methods make life easier on everyone – grant maker and grant seeker.

For more information, you might enjoy reviewing a presentation that Holly Ross, formerly of the NTEN and Drupal Association, Kristen Schultz-Jaarda of Crescendo Interactive, Inc., and I created for a joint conference of CharityChannel and GPA: Grant Professionals Association in October, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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