Skagit Valley Hospital

The Big Three: How to Engage Your Donors with Social Media



PrintThis post is part of our 2016 blog series, The Changing Faces of Philanthropy in the Northwest. All year long we’ll be exploring how the profound changes and contrasts in our demographics, economy, and beliefs are impacting philanthropy in our region. Join the conversation!

Based in the Pacific Northwest, one of the tech capitals of the world, one would expect local nonprofits to know automatically how to use technology—specifically social media—to the best of its ability. But “best use” is not always intuitive. As fundraisers, our job is to connect with people who are passionate about the change we are making in the world and ask them to engage in our work, financially or otherwise. Since social media was created to connect people, it’s a great platform to tell your story and show your knowledge. But how can it help nonprofits engage donors?

There are three big questions I hear repeatedly from local nonprofit clients and peers around this question. Here are the answers.

Q: Where should my nonprofit post content?
A: Probably on Facebook, but it doesn’t hurt to ask!

Despite highly publicized differences between how generations use social media, Facebook remains by far the dominant platform of the day; at least 59% of the 68-and-over generation, 71% of Boomers, 77% of GenX-ers, and 90% of Millennials in this country are on Facebook.* Indeed, an overwhelming 95.8% of social media marketers worldwide name Facebook the most effective marketing tool with the highest return on investment in a March 2016 survey. And specific to the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2015 report, 80% of the public are using social media, with the most frequently used platform among this group being Facebook (90%).

If your development shop is like most, you have limited resources and staffing to expend upon social media engagement. And it is far better to post strong content on one channel then to be spread thinly across multiple ones. If you have to choose one platform, choose Facebook. (But there is a catch to this one-channel approach: the new Facebook algorithm is emphasizing videos, so you probably need to be active on YouTube as well!)

Of course, these numbers are for the general population—to really know where your donors are online, ask them! Survey your donors to find out what platforms they use, if they are connected to your organization online, and what type of information they want to receive from you via social media. A survey is a great way to kick-start online engagement, and the information will help you focus your social media efforts.

Q: What should my nonprofit post?
A: Mostly “gifts,” sprinkled with a few calls to action!

There is so much information and noise online that it’s imperative you post only relevant, meaningful information. Think of social media as a place where you can:

  • Show your expertise
  • Share your impact stories
  • Activate your network

Personally, I love International Justice Mission’s 80/20 rule: 80% of social media content must be “gifts” to its followers (i.e., information and expertise that its audience would find interesting and useful), and only 20 percent can be calls to action (requests for donations or other kinds of support). Before you post, ask yourself, “Is this is content a gift to our followers?” or, “Are we asking them to do something important?” If not, change the content.

Q: How do we know if it’s working?
A: Measure engagement—not dollars raised!

Remember that social media is designed to connect people, not to raise money. Unless you launch a specific, online-only campaign (think Ice Bucket Challenge), you are not going to be able to measure how much of your fundraising is a direct result of social media. Instead, measure non-financial goals in terms of engagement. Is your social media content driving people to your website? If so, which posts lead them there? What kinds of content are people liking or retweeting? Can you improve these numbers? Do you know everyone who has liked or shared your posts? Do you have a plan for how to bring them in closer?

Get with the program!

As Aggie Sweeney pointed out in her analysis of recent giving trends data, social media is making a significant impact on philanthropy. Online giving increased 9.2% in 2015, and the upward trend shows no sign of slowing. In order to stay relevant, give your donors what they want to hear, see, and feel in online places where they already gather.


*Source: 2016 Advancement Northwest Forum on Strategic Fundraising; Session Eight, Lessons from an Award-Winning Campaign


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About the Author

Kate Banta-Green

Kate Banta-Green


Kate’s talents include research, donor and volunteer relations, and refereeing pre-teen boys.


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