Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks offer limitless opportunities for fundraising professionals to engage their supporters and raise more money.
For most fundraisers, however, success on social media is elusive.
After all, social media is only one small component of their work. And it’s often difficult to keep track of the latest trends and best practices.
But time-strapped fundraisers can get more mileage from their social-media efforts by following a few simple rules of thumb.
Rule 1: Talk ‘To’, Not ‘At’
We all know that guy — the know-it-all who likes to show off his knowledge at parties. He’s the guy who is always talking and who never seems to pay attention to what anyone else is saying.
Does your organization take this approach with its Facebook page or Twitter feed? Are you constantly talking without taking a pause to ask questions, pay attention to what your supporters are talking about, or share their posts?
Social media is a social medium.
This means that most of the same rules that apply to our in-person social encounters apply in places like Facebook and Instagram.
However, for many time-strapped organizations, their social networks have become extended versions of the “donate now” and press pages on their websites — full of announcements, links, and calls-to-action.
These elements should be a part of your social-media messaging strategy. But they should only be there as part of a larger mix of activity.
Take some time to listen, to ask questions, and to share. These tactics will get more people to follow and engage with you — which will ultimately lead to more eyes on those announcements and calls-to-action.
Rule 2: It’s Not Really About You
If you visit the Facebook page for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, you’ll find a lively feed full of updates and posts that regularly get liked, shared, and commented on by hundreds (and often thousands) of supporters.
It’s the type of activity all nonprofits strive for — but few achieve.
What’s its secret?
It realizes that its work isn’t about the organization — it’s about the people who support it — and it applies that knowledge to how it approaches its social media communications.
Almost all of St. Baldrick’s Facebook posts are about the people who support the organization, rather than the organization itself.
Its feed is filled with pictures of participants, posts that ask a question, and inspirational messages that appeal to its core supporters.
The most successful organizations on social media are the ones who understand that they are building communities rather than promoting themselves.
They devote their time online to finding opportunities to showcase their supporters, give their supporters the chance to share their experiences, and provide them with a safe space to talk about their passions and ask questions.
This approach requires a bit of thought, but it almost always leads to stronger engagement.
Before you create your next post, start with a simple question: What’s the best way to make this post about our supporters?
Rule 3: Give Your Supporters the Tools — And Then Get Out of the Way
Peer-to-peer fundraising is powerful because it gives your supporters the opportunity to raise money for you, using their own voices to connect with their own friends and families.
To do this effectively on social media, your organization needs to be willing to resist the urge to “own” its communications on social media.
It instead needs to give up control — to trust your supporters to speak on your behalf. This requires a bit of a leap of faith on behalf of your organization, but it’s a leap worth taking.
Charity: Water has become a poster child for this approach, and for good reason. While many in the nonprofit world think that Charity: Water gets attention because it has a big budget to create content and stories, the secret to its success is that it actually does a great job of staying out of the way.
Yes, it has invested in a slick website and has a sexy story to tell. But it gets so much attention and raises a lot of money because it gives its supporters the tools they need to tell their own stories. Its supporters are actually the ones who are doing the heavy lifting.
It starts with its website, which is built around making it easy for supporters to start their own do-it-yourself fundraising campaigns and share their stories. And its social networking strategy is focused on showcasing the stories of people who support the organization. It makes them — not the organization — the heroes in its story.
This approach encourages sharing — and it rewards supporters who host fundraising campaigns with very public acknowledgement of their efforts on its behalf.
The biggest obstacle to this approach isn’t money. It’s the notion that you have to give up control of your message. Your organization has to cede that control. It’s not an easy task for groups that have traditionally been able to manage their own message, but over time it will transform the way people are talking about you online (for the better)!
Rule 4: Don’t Just Ask for Money
Not every social-media post should include an ask.
In fact, you’ll likely generate more followers and raise more money if you ask less often.
Many of the most successful P2P social-media campaigns focus less on the ask and more on getting people to share their stories and talk about the cause.
Yes, it’s definitely okay to include calls to action in your feed. But they should be something you sprinkle in among other types of content.
The Alzheimer’s Association’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s does a great job of asking questions that get supporters talking about their personal connection to the organization and the disease.
One simple question on Facebook, “What is your reason to end Alzheimer’s?”, spawned more than 300 comments, more than 400 shares, and more than 3,000 likes. That’s a lot of activity for a simple question!
The men’s health charity Movember is another great example of an organization that has built a social-media presence that is less about asking and more about sharing.
Many of its social-media asks aren’t about raising money. They are about getting supporters to share pictures and stories.
A Facebook post, for instance, will ask supporters to share a picture and a grooming tip.
These efforts aim to make the process of raising money more fun for participants — and they don’t involve direct appeals from the charity.
This approach requires some advanced planning — since you’ll likely want to develop some creative questions that will inspire your supporters to share. But it will generate much more attention for your organization — and people will be more apt to want to give something when mix in that ask for money or time.
Rule 5: Say ‘Thank You’
We all know that we cannot thank our supporters enough. After all, they are the ones who are donating their time, money, sweat, and even blood on our behalf.
Social media provides a great venue for publicly acknowledging these sacrifices.
And we should be using our Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and Twitter feeds to thank our supporters.
It doesn’t cost you anything to tag a picture of a walk participant on Facebook and thank her for walking 10 kilometers on a Sunday to raise $250.
Not only will she get kudos from her friends and followers, she might just be more willing to do it again next year.