Monthly Archives: September 2013

Social Media’s Influence on Fundraising “Modest” But Growing

Social media is playing a bigger role in connecting donors to nonprofits, according to the latest donor research just released in “The Burk Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2013.” The report is the fifth annual survey by Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, and the second to explore the role of social media in fundraising.

Conducted in 2011 and 2013, the research shows that social media is not yet a major factor in directly driving more donations, or larger donations. But through social media, nonprofits are successfully attracting people to events, enlisting more volunteers, and turning supporters into ambassadors for their cause. Even though the hard data doesn’t exist, it’s reasonable to conclude that social media is indirectly leading to more gifts and larger gifts by engaging supporters in these and others ways.

I asked Penelope about some of these trends.

Q: Your report calls social media a “modest player” in donor communications, but with 57 percent of young donors following nonprofits through social media, do you think it’s gaining traction?

A: Yes, it is gaining traction. It’s only a modest player when fundraisers look at the end goal in fundraising, which is raising money. But indirectly, social media offers the two-way communication platform that is essential in building relationships with young donors and potential donors. Young donors do not respond well to direct asks absent of the opportunity to engage.

Q: Should organizations factor volunteering, event attendance, and other types of engagement when they’re measuring the ROI of their social media efforts?

A: Absolutely, since young donors prefer a multi-faceted route to giving. The opportunity to be directly involved and then have a good experience volunteering, or being part of a discussion group for example, is what then inspires them to give. Older donors are more used to giving and leaving the decision-making to those who run the charity.

However, given the high rate of donor attrition and dissatisfaction with uninformative appeals and communications, young donors may be onto something. I think they are demanding a kind of relationship from the start that will ensure a better flow of information and a more inclusive approach by not-for-profits. This should bode well for donor retention and generosity once they do start to give.

Q: Your 2011 survey suggested that being seen as an “expert” helps attract social media audiences for nonprofits. But you also said it’s not enough to just call yourself an expert. How can a nonprofit position itself in a credible way?

A: It’s commonplace for not-for-profits to declare themselves as the first, the biggest, or the best at what they do absent of any objective information that confirms that assertion. So statements like those are meaningless to donors at any age level and are actually viewed as suspect. It is much more effective to simply state an achievement your organization has made, a goal you have reached, or a new initiative you have undertaken in specific terms, reporting how you got there and the impact it has had on the people you serve. That allows readers to conclude for themselves that you are expert, which is a much more powerful way to establish credibility.

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Download a free executive summary or purchase “The Burk Donor Survey…Where Philanthropy is Headed in 2013” at www.cygresearch.com.

Young Donors are Different: What the Latest Research Means for Fundraisers

Young donors differ from other donors in many ways, and new research on their interests, preferences, and behaviors suggests several ways you can engage them more effectively. Penelope Burk, president of Cygnus Applied Research and the “Burk” in the annual Burk Donor Survey, talked to me about findings in her 2013 research that relate to young donors.

What Young Donors Support
Burk’s research shows that many young donors support human services (54%) and arts/culture (47%). Many people think of the environment as a favored cause for young people, but research doesn’t back that up. Only 21% of donors under the age of 35 supported environmental organizations, compared with 34% of middle-age donors and 45% of donors 65 and older.

What Appeals are Appealing
Young donors are far less likely to respond to direct mail appeals (31%) than donors age 35-64 (50%) and donors 65 and older (68%). They are much more likely to respond to online appeals and give electronically (49%) than middle-age donors (37%) or older donors (32%). Events are appealing to all age groups, Burk said. “Young donors are as interested in giving through fundraising events as older donors in the study. Events in which they can actively participate, rather than simply being guests, tend to be more popular with younger donors.”

Implications for Communications
Burk says the biggest difference between older and younger donors is their preferences for communications. “The youngest donors (under 35) appear to be less patient and they make decisions about what they will and will not read more quickly,” she said. “Young donors are more sensitive to getting too many emails and they are less forgiving of charities that send communications that appear to be uninteresting.”

Burk’s advice for fundraising appeals to young people: Get to the point. They say they are too busy to read a lot of text, so “make communications content (especially the first sentence) compelling enough to persuade young donors to take the time.”

Young donors have a decided preference for electronic over print communication. Only 3% of those receiving information online would have preferred to get a print piece in the mail, but 45% of those getting print currently say they would much prefer electronic communication. “Not-for-profits should make every effort offer their donors the opportunity to transition into electronic communication with every communication they send,” Burk said.

The Giving Potential of Young Donors
While some organizations overlook younger donors because of they currently give less than other donors, Burk’s research shows that young people can give more. In fact, 58% said they definitely or probably could have given more to charitable causes last year, a figure considerably higher than for older donors (42%).

“While the average gift value of young donors is much less than their middle-age or older counterparts,” Burk said, “it appears that either the tactics fundraisers use to acquire donors and renew their support are not reaching people under 35, or fundraisers are under-asking, assuming that young people cannot give more generously.”

Do these findings match up with what you’re seeing in your organization? How do you tailor your communications to younger donors?

Download a free executive summary of the 2013 Burk Donor Survey or purchase the full survey.

 

Which is a Worse Influence: Miley’s Twerking, or Her Spelling?

In my recent post about bad grammar and spelling on social media, and how it affects companies’ reputations, I didn’t make the point that these errors may also affect children and others who are still learning the English language. In this video, young students in Brazil take the time to correct their favorite celebs — and the results are entertaining and eye-opening. Could it be that Miley Cyrus’s use of grammar is as harmful as all of the other ways she’s influencing a generation that grew up watching “Hannah Montana”?

In the intro to this video, Andrea Baena, a teacher in Brazil, says, “The main point of social media is how fast it is. They’re not worried about their accuracy — they’re more worried about the message. We have celebrities that are not really worried about the language. Concerning education, it’s really bad, because when they see their idols speaking like that, they come to us and say, ‘This is right — he’s American, he’s using it.’ ”

So Red Balloon, an English school in Brazil, asked 8- to 13-year-olds to check and correct their idols’ tweets. You have to admire how well they play the role of grammar cops while also being polite and even complimentary of stars like Charlie Sheen, Miley Cyrus, Rihanna, Sylvester Stallone, Ashton Kutcher, John Cusack, and so many others. My favorite line is to Miley — “Look, ‘birthday’ has no Fs.”

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What do you think? Snarky or cute? Or both?

Spelling, Grammar, and Your Reputation

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As an English and journalism major in college, I used to test my proofreading skills by trying to find a typo — any typo — as I read The Washington Post. Things have changed a lot since then, and errors in the most prestigious newspaper in the nation’s capital are all too common.

The photo above is from the front page of the Post‘s sports section on Sept. 13. I know the reporters and editors of the sports section know that the Mets play baseball, and the Nets play basketball. The story got it right, but the prominent subhead got it wrong.

Grammar and spelling standards are in sharp decline, for a number of reasons. In the newspaper industry, tight budgets have led to cuts in both reporting and editing positions, meaning that fewer people are churning out content, and fewer people are reviewing that content and correcting errors. This is not a new problem; several years ago, former Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton addressed this problem in a blog post: “I don’t mean to pile on, but copy editing mistakes are among the most frequent complaints to the ombudsman.” He quoted a reader who had written to him: “The quality of copy editing at the paper is abysmal….Is anybody reading what goes on up on the Web site or in the paper?…It diminishes the overall reputation of the paper.”

The quality of newspapers has declined, but the biggest impact on poor grammar is social media, which gives everyone the ability to be a publisher. The same things that make social media so powerful — its immediacy and access — also contributes to lots of bad grammar and spelling.

Which raises the question, does it even matter if people use correct spelling and grammar? Several studies say yes — that your company’s use of language directly affects your reputation. In a July 2013 study, Disruptive Communications found that the use of poor spelling and grammar is the mistake most likely to damage their opinion of a company on social media. Read “What Customers Hate About Social Brands.”

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A friend who knows me too well once gave me a book called I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar. It turns out I’m not the only one.

Online Civility, Part 4: How to Design for Civility

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Photo by stepnout

Part 4 of 4

In a thoughtful essay “How Can Communication Technology Encourage Civility?” on the website Big Questions Online, Derek Powazek examines the question, “What is it about online comments that makes us so awful?”

He reviews a number of studies on this topic, including one from 2006 in which a common room in a workplace had a refrigerator stocked with drinks. People who took a drink were encouraged to make a voluntary donation into an “honesty box.” One set of people had a box with a photo of flowers on it; the second group had a box with a photo of human eyes on it. Even a photo of eyes — the concept of being watched — influenced their behavior. After being monitored for 10 weeks, the people who saw the eyes were nearly three times as likely as the others to make a donation.

Now think about how that applies to the anonymous world of the Internet. But Powazek points out there are ways to make people feel part of a group that’s watching — for example, avatars of other community members who are reading or have read a story online. I think he’s on to something, because there are websites where I feel more or less anonymous, and it definitely affects what I say and how I say it.

This and other studies leads him to conclude that there’s no way to eliminate bad behavior online, but says the people and organizations that who create digital experiences can “design for civility.” Specifically, he says that civility can be improved by doing these things:

  • Use community managers and software to weed out bad apples.
  • Design features to show that people are watching.
  • Make sure the visual design reinforces the interaction with color and shape.
  • And do everything you can to make people feel in control.

What sites do this well, and how are you “designing for civility”?