Fundraising is hard work. From the annual fund to major gift solicitation, there is heavy lifting to do at every step of the process and any help you can get – especially in volunteer form – ultimately makes your efforts more fruitful. The good news – at least for the more technologically savvy organizations – is creating vocal volunteers to advance your communication goals is easier than ever, thanks to the free tools available online. The following examples illustrate some best practices in online communication and how integrating those practices into your operations can lead to the development of online ambassadors who will help spread your message on the Internet and beyond.
Awareness and Providing Value Lead to Online Ambassadors
For every cause, there is an audience of enthusiastic supporters online, waiting to lend a hand in sharing that cause’s message. This is your group of potential online ambassadors. All that they need to move from potential to actual is 1) they need to know your organization exists and 2) they need content about your organization to share with the world and let everyone know how great your organization is. A smart online strategy is the way to deliver both.
To point #1: attractive websites, strategically managed and consistently monitored social media networks, and emails worth reading help get you noticed by those online ambassadors in waiting. And few organizations play this awareness game better than the Humane Society of the United States. For several years now, the HSUS has been implementing and managing a comprehensive online strategy that includes a main Facebook page with more than 1 million followers, plus several other pages that fit niche demographics such as their Farm Animal Protection campaign. The HSUS takes the same approach with Twitter, where they nurture relationships with supporters, and YouTube, where they provide quality content about their mission and activity.
Which leads me to point #2 – online super users are always looking for content to share with their followers. So make life easy on them by providing a study stream of content about your org that they can easily share. Check out what The University of Minnesota has done with its YouTube channel. If you’re an alumnus or general supporter, no matter what it is you like about the U of MN, you can probably find it on their YouTube channel and share it with your friends. This approach of appealing to multiple audiences with a wide array of content has translated into nearly 6 million views of videos on The University of Minnesota’s channel, including one video – The Science of Watchmen – that has won an Emmy.
Finally, once you have the attention of your new online ambassadors, cultivate their sense of connectivity to your organization by keeping them apprised of how their support is making the world a better place. One of my favorite examples of this new online form of stewardship comes from A Child’s Right and their blog “Proving It.” With a focus on providing clean water to children around the world, A Child’s Right goes to great lengths keeping their donors and supporters informed about each project they take on. The good, the bad, and the ugly – nothing is concealed. It’s transparency at its finest and it helps donors – most of whom are thousands of miles away from the people impacted – feel more connected to the cause.
Now that you’ve created an army of online ambassadors, how should you put them to work?
Florida State University’s Great Give – While it might not be the most sexy of online tools, email might still be the most powerful. (And the rise of mobile could lead to an even more prominent role for email.) The Florida State University’s annual giving team discovered this during their 36-hour, online-only campaign in January 2012. The FSU annual giving team easily surpassed their goal raising $186,000, entirely online, in just a day and a half. What might have been even more impressive, was of the 1,100 who gave, 380 were first time donors to FSU.
So where did all these donors come from? Annual giving team members were busy throughout the campaign using social media to promote the event. But they didn’t just send messages out themselves, from FSU accounts. Instead, they connected with their biggest Internet cheerleaders –their online ambassadors – and sent them pre-packaged tweets and Facebook updates.
All the supporters had to do was copy and paste the message into their social networks and hit send. In an instant, dozens of supporters were sharing messages hand-picked by the annual giving team with all their friends and followers in a manner that looked and felt organic to everyone involved. Just one of the many ways email can be used to boost giving, especially in the online realm, when you have an army of online ambassadors ready to lead the fundraising charge.
Justin Ware is the director of social media at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients develop online strategies for engaging donors and increasing fundraising. Read Justin’s complete bio.