Most non-profits are investing increased amounts of time, energy, and money into social media networking… but to what end? While raising awareness of your mission is a good thing, unless your non-profit is focused on issue education and awareness, it doesn’t necessarily help you fulfill your ultimate goals.
Development directors, board members, and other non-profit leaders often wonder how to turn social media support into fundraising revenue for their organizations. Many non-profits have tried, with varying degrees of success, to raise money through social networks. For the vast majority of them, social media lags way behind other fundraising methods in terms of dollars raised per hour spent on development.
While social media can provide a boost to your fundraising efforts by supporting and complementing your other activities, raising money through direct asks on social media is not something that most non-profits can rely on for significant revenue. There is, however, a proven strategy for turning a portion of your social media followers into offline donors, if you are willing to think outside of the box.
The First Step: Providing Real Value on Social Media
Of course, the first thing you will need to do if you want to be able to raise money from your social media followers is to provide real value on social media. This means being active on each site where you have a presence, and showing your followers how compelling and important your work is.
Be sure to make your presence on social media a two-way conversation. Ask people for their opinions… take polls and surveys… hold contests… and give “inside information” that makes people feel like a part of your team. Your activity on social media should build trust, because in the next step, you will be asking people to trust you with their e-mail address.
The Second Step: Converting Social into E-Mail
This is where the “outside the box” thinking comes in. If you want to turn your social media followers into donors, you need to move the conversation off of the social networks. Social media can be a great cultivation tool, but for the time being, it is not a great solicitation tool.
Thus, you’ll want to convert your social media relationships into e-mail relationships. You will need to ask your social media followers to sign-up for your non-profit’s e-mail newsletter. You can do this by regularly posting links on your social networks asking people to sign-up for your newsletter, and by giving them compelling reasons to do so. These reasons can be as varied as exclusive articles and pictures of your work, invitations to events, the chance to build a deeper relationship with your organization or to better support your initiatives, etc.
Some non-profits find value in running paid advertising to make sure that their e-mail sign-up link is front and center for their followers on social networks, but most non-profits simply post updates on a regular basis asking people to sign-up for the e-mail newsletter, and giving them a link to do so.
The Third Step: Providing Real Value through E-Mail
Once your social followers sign-up for your e-mail newsletter, you’ll need to continue building the relationship by providing real value through e-mail. Your goal is to make sure that your e-mail subscribers look forward to receiving your newsletters. You can do this by including interesting stories of your work and profiles of your clients, donors, board members and staff… as well as features on your events and thought leadership about your mission field.
Make sure that you send out your e-mail newsletters on a regular basis, otherwise people will forget that they signed up, or become disinterested in your work. Most non-profits should be sending out an e-mail newsletter at least monthly.
The Fourth Step: E-Mail Fundraising Solicitations
Now we come to the pay-off. While social media isn’t a great way to make asks, e-mail is… at least when it comes to quick, cheap, mass-communicated asks. When it comes to online fundraising, no ask medium is as effective as e-mail. That’s why you spent so much time in the preceding three steps getting people to move from social to e-mail, and building up a relationship with them through your e-mail newsletter.
Your non-profit should be sending out several e-mail fundraising solicitations to its list each year. These e-mail asks should be similar to offline direct mail appeals, and be focused solely on fundraising – these aren’t cultivation e-mails, they are ask e-mails.
The only real difference between direct mail appeals and e-mail solicitations is the length… e-mail appeals should be much shorter than offline appeal letters… in most cases, no longer than 300-400 words. Be sure that your e-mail solicitations include a true ask (“Would you be able to make a gift of $25, $50, or $100 today to support our work?”), and that they include links and buttons that people can click to make an immediate donation to your organization.
Also, we have found that e-mail solicitations work better when they are sent in “flights” of 2-3 e-mails. This means that for each e-mail solicitation you send, you send several e-mails to your entire list. The first is the full (300-400 word maximum) appeal e-mail. The second (and third, if you do three) e-mails are shorter 100-150 word reminder e-mails that say something like, “I’m checking in to make sure you received my e-mail earlier this week.” Use these e-mails to summarize the first e-mail and to again make the ask (again, include links and buttons to donate). In our experience, sending these follow-up e-mails can boost your solicitation revenue by 10-25%.
Remember to send out e-mail appeals on a regular basis to your newsletter list. Many non-profits find that sending a monthly e-mail newsletter, along with 2 flights of e-mail appeals per year, results in strong online revenue for the organization.
Photo Credit: Jason Howie