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2012 Update: Social Media and Nonprofits

You’re going to want to tweet this: in response to May’s “Question of the Month,” 24% of respondents claimed that social media was the best marketing tool for nonprofits. “Word of mouth” and the organization’s own website tied for first place, each netting 29% of respondents’ votes.

http://onlinebusiness.volusion.com/articles/word-of-mouth-marketing-introduction/Not surprisingly, some nonprofits are turning to social media as a means to disseminate their missions, visions, and values. The Fourth Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report reported that in 2012, 93% of U.S. nonprofit organizations have a presence on one or more social networking websites.

However, there are still many organizations that have no social media strategy to speak of. The answers to this month’s question reflect a number of trends we’ve noticed developing over the last few years:

  1. All nonprofits do not yet understand the power of social media.
  2. The priority placed on social media as a “connection tool” is sporadic and seems to  be used primarily by very large and very small nonprofits.
  3. Creativity relating to marketing remains very traditional. Even though everyone has a website and therefore the capability to connect with users via an interactive interface, many don’t.
  4. Impersonal marketing still dominates the landscape, and nonprofits suffer for it.

Over the last five years, many nonprofits have transitioned to using Facebook and Twitter as ways to build a donor base and market themselves to supporters. However, there is still a great deal to be learned about just how effective a tool Facebook and Twitter can be.

An astounding 98% of respondents to the Report indicated they have a presence on Facebook, offering many potential opportunities for fundraising. However, 53% of respondents said that they were NOT using Facebook for fundraising at all. 

Some organizations are opting for a modified social media fundraising approach. According to Robert Strickler, the Donor Pages Product Manager at DonorPerfect Software, an increasing amount of nonprofits are turning to what he calls a “donor driven” approach.

His firm has developed Donor Pages, an online “friend to friend portal” where an organization recruits its supporters to set up a website where they can reach out to family, friends, and colleagues and personally ask them to donate.

“Using a page like this gives ownership to the online social fundraising experience,” says Strickler. “We find that this tends to be effective because it operates on a more personal level.”

Just like fundraising through direct mail, meetings or phone calls, the same rules of stewardship are just as critical to online fundraising. Connection – genuine, heartfelt, and personal – is the key to fundraising success.

Adapted from “Social Media and Jewish Nonprofits: Missing in Action?” originally published on February 15, 2012 via eJewishPhilanthropy

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What Do Donors REALLY Want? Information!

Reposted from eJewishPhilanthropy – May 21, 2012

Nonprofit leaders face tremendous pressures today: living, operating and succeeding in a competitive marketplace of ideas, programs and services presents innumerable challenges. Donors who are guided by a passion for certain aspects of an agency’s mission and vision might be unaware, or unconcerned, about the everyday deliverables the agency must produce to achieve certain goals. Keeping both supporters and constituents happy is often a delicate dance.

Nonprofit leaders must continuously upgrade and strengthen their abilities to translate their mission into a “selling proposition” for a variety of interest groups. This selling proposition involves creating a case for support that clearly communicates what the agency does, their goals, and the methodologies used to achieve these goals.

All of these complexities must then be translated into “everyday language” and communicated in the fundraising context to donors of all shapes and sizes, from national foundations to individual givers.

In today’s economy, customers drive the marketplace, and in the philanthropic world, donors drive the discussion around sustainable funding. The essential question then becomes, “What do donors want?”

What are their motivations to give, and what do they expect from the agencies they support and the staff who run them?

How are decisions made in the current giving climate, and what are the “deal breakers” today?

We thought that it would be most helpful to address these issues through questions that are often raised during our interactions with donors across North America. Let us predicate this conversation with two basic assumptions about why people give:

  • They care about the person making the “ask.” Despite advances in technology and the way people give to agencies (text to give, online fundraising websites, etc.) the dictum “people give to people” is still as true as ever.
  • They care about the impact of their gift. The vision of the organization and the resulting impact of the contribution are critical to encouraging a donor to make a gift. The difference that the gift will make in the lives of people, the life of the community and in the life of the donor remains essential parts of the “selling proposition.”

Now, let’s move onto the top three questions we receive as fundraising consultants.

DONOR QUESTION #1: Do you have a Business Plan?

We first heard this question more than ten years ago during a meeting with a prospective major donor to a prominent Jewish arts group in New York City. Nowadays the question seems intuitive enough, yet the organization’s Artistic Director who was leading the meeting was taken aback.

“Well, we have a budget,” she responded.

“I’m not looking for a budget,” the prospect responded. “I want to know that my investment will not be swallowed up because the organization – as much as I love what you do – won’t exist five years from now. Show me that you believe and can demonstrate that you will be around and in good health and I will make the gift that you are asking for.”

SOLUTION #1: Be prepared with current facts and long-term vision.

Be ready with the facts: your nonprofit is a business with a “selling proposition” that provides demonstrable benefits within your community. Know what those benefits are and how they will change over time. Luckily for our example organization, the Director had considered the long-term viability of the mission and vision and was able to communicate it to the donor, who then made a significant gift.

It is essential for nonprofit leaders to consider the long-term vision for your nonprofit: where it is today, where it will in five years, and in ten years. This long-term vision (which will often include grand plans such as new programs, services, and resources) will inspire and motivate your donors.

DONOR QUESTION #2: Why does it take so long to understand what you do?

“It is like I have ADD sometimes: I cannot listen to long explanations,” complained a leading benefactor to a growing Israel-based organization. This individual, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, made a good point.

In today’s fast-paced and hyper-competitive world driven by smart-phones, tablets, and the demand for instantaneous responses and results, donors want the information now. In addition, loyalty is an almost-dying commodity; unlike in decades past when someone picked one cause and stayed with it for a lifetime, today’s donors spread themselves around.

SOLUTION #2: Make your point quickly and use varied communication channels.

Modern nonprofits needs to be deft and nimble, framing their”selling proposition” in small, understandable bites through a variety of communication channels. Create an “elevator speech,” no longer than 30 seconds, that explains your organization’s mission, vision, and deliverables, and distribute it to your executive staff, Board of Directors, and leading donors. Utilize online tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as traditional media like newsletters, press releases, and direct mail.

You must always be ready to make your case quickly, because donors who notice that you are slow to respond to their interests might move on to the person or organization that best fills that philanthropic vacuum with easily digestible information.

DONOR QUESTION #3: I cannot ask my friends for money; can’t you just do it for me?

This is the question we most often receive from leading donors and Board members. For example, a committed Board member of a Jewish day school was recently approached to set up meetings with his contacts for the head of the school, who would then present the school’s “selling proposition” and hopefully engage these prospects as donors. The Board member was devoted and generous with his contacts but would not attend a prospect meeting with a contact he knew personally.

“Just tell him I said he should give,” the Board member offered. “If he hears that, and knows that I am also supportive, then he will give.”

“Come with us,” we implored him, knowing the power of personal connection. “We will help you prepare and role play for the meeting. Tell him yourself how much you support this cause, and he will be moved and surely respond.”

“I cannot ask my friends for money,” he lamented. “What if they say no?”

“He agreed to a meeting and knew why we requested the meeting. If he was going to say no, he would have done so already,” we advised.

We went to the meeting without the Board member and made our presentation.

“I really like what I am hearing and am interested in supporting the school,” the prospective donor replied, “but I really need to speak with my friend who set this up to know why he’s giving and how much before I’ll give you a final answer.”

SOLUTION #3: Conquer your fear of the “ask.”

So many leading donors do not want to ask their contacts to support their favorite charity. What drives this phenomenon? Fear! Leading donors are afraid that if they ask friends for money, these friends might then turn around and ask them for money. That sometimes happens, but is typically for a good cause, and should not be considered reason enough to NOT ask.

Secondly, leading donors fear of losing a friend when they ask for money. In our 21 years of consulting, this has never happened. Strong prospect research eliminates candidates who do not want to give, so that by the time a leading donor asks his/her friend to help support a cause, the answer is always yes. The amount varies, and sometimes it takes more than one ask, but at EHL Consulting we have never seen a friendship dissolve because of this situation.

Remember, the mission and not the market drives the donor, so know WHY your agency is in business and be clear and concise in how you communicate your “selling proposition” to your stakeholders. Use ALL of the tools that you have at your disposal … from online marketing to far-reaching contacts of your Board members and agency leadership. They all have their role in helping communicate long-term vision.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask others to support your passions. The real reason a donor supports a worthwhile cause is because he/she receives a formal request. Finally, if you want to close a major gift, take a deep breath and meet face to face.

Don’t rely on technology to do what humans do best.

Social Media and Jewish Nonprofits: Missing in Action?

Reposted from eJewish Philanthropy – February 15, 2012

So much attention is focused today on technology and especially social media as a platform to inform, educate and organize. Not a day goes by without some mention of the dynamics of Facebook and Twitter, and even eJewish Philanthropy almost always includes citations about the power of technology for nonprofits. This has prompted us to conduct an unofficial survey of a number of Jewish nonprofits, investigating how they are utilizing social media and how it enables them to meet the demands that they and their leaders are facing. The picture is not entirely positive.

The bottom line, as summarized by Jim Gelles, of Membership Management Services, developer of MM2000, a synagogue software system used by more than 200 congregations: “most of the Jewish world seems frozen in the 20th century when it comes to being technologically advanced.”

The Third Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report reported in 2011 that 92% of U.S. nonprofit organizations have a presence on one or more social networking websites. This does not come as a surprise. However, what shocked us is the alarmingly low rate of Jewish nonprofits that have embraced social media as viable communications and fundraising enabling opportunities.

In the last decade, online social networking has expanded beyond being used solely as a tool for individuals to connect to/with each other. Instead, nonprofits are transitioning to using Facebook and Twitter as ways for organizations to build a donor base and market themselves to supporters. In terms of driving and growing fundraising potential and results, social networking may well be the next frontier!

However, there is still a great deal to be learned about just how effective a tool Facebook and Twitter can be.

Our recent survey demonstrated a significant lack of human or dollar resources invested by Jewish groups into Facebook and Twitter. Very few synagogues even seem to have any presence on Facebook or Twitter, although they all have websites, many of which are reasonably interactive. Robyn Cimbol, director of development at New York City’s Temple Emanu-El, noted that her congregation was probably the first Jewish congregation to have a website but today they have no specific plans to foster Facebook or Twitter activities, citing other pressing priorities and no apparent demands from their 2,800 member households. “We have limited staff resources and capabilities for this,” she noted, “but we are gearing up ultimately to recognize social media as one communications opportunity,” she told us. She did emphasize that “a number of staff members do use Face Book … to communicate with specific constituents but it is not used Temple-wide.”

Facebook reports that 89% of 1.3 million U.S. nonprofit organizations boast a social networking presence, offering opportunities potentially for fundraising. However, fundraising on Facebook is still a “minority effort,” despite recent gains.

Some organizations are opting for a modified social media fundraising approach. According to Robert Strickler, the Donor Pages Product Manager at DonorPerfect Software, an increasing amount of non-profits is turning to what he calls a “donor driven” approach. His firm has developed Donor Pages, an online “friend to friend portal” where an organization recruits its supporters to set up a website where they can reach out to family, friends and colleagues and personally ask them to donate. A platform like Donor Pages would be especially useful for synagogues, he notes, where membership serves as a “viable community which could set up pages and fundraise within their own personal networks.”

“Using a page like this gives ownership to the online social fundraising experience,” says Strickler. “We find that this tends to be effective because it operates on a more personal level.” He added that DonorPerfect has over 200 clients, both large and small, using donor pages, and that some have raised millions of dollars through the system. However, of these, only about 10 or 12 are Jewish organizations, and he said they are not yet fully utilizing the program.”

Despite the lack of nonprofits actively fundraising using Facebook, some data speaks to how viable an option it is. According to this year’s Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, four out of five nonprofit organizations find social networks a “valuable” fundraising option, yet they cannot exactly quantify why. This may be because only 9% of Facebook-using nonprofits measured a hard “return on investment” (i.e.: money raised or supporters recruited) for their social network usage. Therefore, estimates of fundraising successes via social media are hard to quantify.

Two organizations we contacted talked passionately about their experiences using social media. Avi Halzel, Head of the Denver Jewish Day School, noted that all of their events are publicized and communicated through Facebook, with a goal of reaching all of their audiences. “There is no real extra work for us,” he noted, because “we believe that this builds community and this is one of our key goals.” “While we cannot quantify income directly from our Facebook activities, we believe it’s working.”

“Our goal is one or two tweets and Facebook postings every day,” he added, “and we work hard to coordinate our messages accordingly.”

At Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Community Day School in Baltimore and its close to 1000 student PreSchool-12 day school, social media has become a high priority, especially to connect families and alumni with dynamic school activities. Mandi Miller, the director of development, predicts even much more significant attention to Facebook and Twitter in the coming months, especially as they look to their critical annual Spotlight Scholarship event in June. “For the past few years we have experimented with different ways to use Facebook and Twitter, recognizing that the major costs are staff time.”

Her acknowledging that devoting resources, especially of staff time, towards stewardship, maintenance and expansion of the online community and other outreach efforts, seem unacknowledged generally. Just like fundraising through direct mail, meetings or phone calls, the same rules of stewardship are just as critical. Most nonprofits have no specific budget for technology, including social networking, despite the fact that no organization can manage today without staying current with technology. Miller also points out that volunteers can serve as a very powerful resource to expand the organization’s use of social media.

The power of resources is evident in what the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report calls Master Social Fundraisers, nonprofit organizations that have raised more than $100,000 on Facebook. Quite surprisingly, with 30% of these agencies having an annual budget of $1-5 million, they reported at least $100,000 received in financial support. Distinguishing this group of agencies is that they report they had two or more people on staff dedicated – at least part-time – to social networking.

Last week, the Jewish Futures Competition was announced by the Jewish Education Project and JESNA’s Lippman Kanfer Institute, in partnership with UJA Federation of New York. Perhaps some candidates for creative projects will be tempted by the $1,800 prize money to suggest dynamic ways that the Jewish community’s nonprofits can advance utilizing Facebook and Twitter arenas and thus capture more participation and dollars … perhaps even functioning on a par with non-Jewish nonprofits that seem to be light years ahead of them.