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