Is Social Media the Future of Fundraising? Not Quite.
Considering how popular and enticing social media is, it’s easy to see why so many nonprofits are convinced that online platforms like Facebook and Instagram are the future of modern fundraising. After all, thousands of current and prospective donors spend hours on social media, seemingly just waiting for the perfect post to inspire them to give.
However, while social media can be a powerful tool to engage your donors, it may not be the ultimate fundraising tool that many people seem to think. The truth is a bit more complicated, with social media playing a specific role in larger, more complex, and more effective fundraising campaigns.
Whether you’re an experienced nonprofit leader or a part of an up-and-coming nonprofit looking for fundraising strategies, it’s important for every nonprofit professional to understand how to navigate our modern fundraising landscape. To dispel some common myths about modern fundraising and social media and help you host more efficient campaigns, we’ll dig deeper into:
- The Reality of Social Media and Modern Fundraising
- How to Effectively Leverage Social Media
- How to Create a Rich Multichannel Fundraising Strategy
With a clearer understanding of your main fundraising channels, their strengths, and best practices, you should be able to boost incoming donations and be well-equipped to engage new audiences, increase donor acquisition, and better steward your donor base.
The Reality of Social Media and Modern Fundraising
As social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok have ballooned in popularity, social media has become a staple for many nonprofit organizations. In fact, according to fundraising statistics from Nonprofit Tech for Good, 87% of nonprofits worldwide use social media, and 53% of nonprofits spend money on social media advertising.
From the outside looking in, it might seem like social media is a game-changing fundraising channel on the rise, soon to outpace older mediums like direct mail or phone call appeals. And with a bit of elbow grease, maybe your nonprofit’s name can hit the trending page with some wild viral challenge that breaks the seven digits.
Yet, in reality, only 18% of donors consider social media to be the platform that inspires them most to give. Few nonprofits that engage in social media fundraising will break $100,000 from a given campaign hosted solely on these platforms.
This isn’t to say that social media isn’t a useful tool—after all, it’s an incredibly effective platform to engage and inform your current supporters and reach new donors. Additionally, it’s helped revolutionize how crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraisers are hosted.
That being said, we’re sorry to say that viral trends like the 2014 ALS ice bucket challenge are few and far between. Looking at an average nonprofit organization, you’d be hard-pressed to find social media campaigns that (on their own!) significantly and regularly outperform more traditional fundraising channels, such as email or direct mail.
How to Effectively Leverage Social Media
Now that we’ve broken the bad news, it’s time to look at the bright side of social media outreach. On an individual level, social media may not be some exceptional, breakthrough method of bringing in vastly greater donations. However, social media does work well for:
- Engaging existing donors with fresh and interesting content.
- Reaching new and distant audiences to boost email capture, donor acquisition, and brand awareness.
- Strengthening larger, multichannel fundraising campaigns through targeted marketing, engagement, and online community-building.
This is especially true when you account for Millennial and Gen Z supporters, who use social media regularly to share posts, chat with friends, and scroll through galleries of content.
So, rather than thinking of social media as the end-all, be-all fundraising platform, try to conceptualize social media in the context of your larger fundraising campaigns.
On its own, social media probably isn’t going to be able to fuel your organization’s fundraising ambitions. But as a complementary strategy within a bigger multichannel fundraising campaign, social media can become one of your most valuable tools to engage donors, increase your reach, and strengthen your fundraising appeals.
For example, consider these best practices to use social media for the benefit of a larger and more effective multichannel fundraising campaign:
- Create bite-sized video content and striking photos to promote your campaign.
- Use hashtags and other sharing tools to create campaign momentum and spread the word.
- Host live streams and Q&As at little to no cost to engage with supporters and educate them about your campaign.
- Share quick, digestible updates on your campaign’s progress.
- Relate your organization’s story in an interesting and visually engaging way.
- Create an appealing downloadable content offer that will provide prospective donors with valuable, relevant information, while your organization will gain an email subscriber that could be converted into a donor.
For best results, you may even consider investing in a professional fundraising consultant to straighten out your social media strategies and plan and manage your overall multichannel campaign. For expert guidance and assistance to improve your fundraising strategies, the Meyer Partners guide to professional fundraising consultants offers a list of top providers for firms that can maximize the success of your campaigns.
How to Create a Rich Multichannel Fundraising Strategy
As we’ve established, the best way to think about social media fundraising and use it to your advantage is to imagine it in the context of a broader multichannel campaign. However, what does it take to host a multichannel campaign, and what other channels should you consider?
Let’s take a brief look at some of the major fundraising and communication channels and their best practices.
Because social media refers broadly to multiple platforms, you should consider each channel’s unique best practices as you build out your social media strategies.
For example, Instagram is the perfect place to share easily-consumable, short-form videos, photos, and other graphics to promote and fundraise for your campaign. On the other hand, Facebook can include slightly longer text posts and videos, and the platform’s Groups feature can be a great way to discover, engage with, and create communities for new supporters.
To reach the right social media audience with your campaign, use the donor data in your CRM and target those donors through Facebook and Instagram Audience Targeting. This multichannel approach allows your organization to continue the conversation with those same donors who might be receiving mail and email appeals.
In such an intensely digital age, it can be tempting to want to use an all-digital strategy to try and bring in donations. However, you’d be missing out on a fundamental type of fundraising.
Direct mail is the solicitation of donations through hard-copy requests that are physically sent out to donors. While this may seem like an outdated method, direct mail can be an incredibly effective way to engage donors and encourage donations. In fact, studies show that donors are more likely to read a direct mail fundraising appeal than an email appeal.
To make the most of this powerful channel, use the information in your CRM, house files, and prospect lists to identify current and prospective donors who would respond well to your solicitations.
Additionally, take advantage of this tangible, more intimate medium to tell your organization’s story, relate your impact on the community, and inspire readers. You can even attach a photo of your donors, events, or people you’ve aided to inspire supporters and engage their senses.
Email is one of the most important fundraising channels in your nonprofit toolkit, with one of the highest ROIs of any medium.
Considering how essential email is to your everyday communications and outreach efforts, you’re probably the most familiar and comfortable with this channel. That being said, there’s always room to shake things up and make your messaging more engaging. For instance, you should:
- Personalize communications by segmenting donors by giving patterns, engagement history, and personal demographics.
- Optimize your subject line and preview text to encourage donors to click into the full message.
- Utilize copywriting techniques for donor engagement to ensure the email copy is sincere, friendly, and personalized.
- Include relevant calls to action (CTAs) to encourage engagement.
To ensure that your email appeals (and your other fundraising channels) are performing as well as possible, track key performance indicators throughout your campaign and properly leverage the donor data in your CRM to reach the right audience with the right messages.
By investing in these technology-driven solutions, you will be in a far better position to effectively engage your donors, inspire support, and expand your donor community.
Your website is incredibly important for your fundraising efforts and keeping donors informed, engaged, and involved with your organization. It’s the central engagement hub for your organization, and if you leverage it correctly, it can become an invaluable resource for the success of your fundraising campaign.
To turn your website into a powerful fundraising tool:
- Optimize your site for mobile users.
- Incorporate accessibility best practices for users with visual impairments, hearing impairments, or low internet speeds.
- Streamline the donation process with easy navigation to your donation page and secure payment processing tools.
- Continue the story on the landing page by using consistent campaign messaging and photos to tell your story.
To continually improve your nonprofit website, you should also regularly employ A/B testing on your various web pages, tweaking and perfecting your web design to maximize engagement and online giving.
There’s a reason that social media has become such a central fixture of the nonprofit world. While it may not be a revolutionary fundraising method that’s leaving other channels in the dust, when used correctly, it can be a precious tool to help your organization raise more support, revenue, and awareness for your mission.
With these insights and a strong grasp of how you can manage your various fundraising channels, you should be on the path to hosting more successful fundraising campaigns than ever before. Good luck, and happy fundraising!
This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.