Thursday, October 29, 2009

Social networks and fundraising

I spent the end of last week in Washington DC for a St. John's alumni event. While I was in DC (where I worked for almost 4 years at American University) I set up a visit with a colleague from Catholic University who work in Annual Giving. Catholic is a companion School to St. John's and we had been following them on facebook for some time. As a result I asked him to coordinate a meeting with the alumni office folks who run their facebook page.

This is step one of the social networking - using the folks that you have relationships with to increase the knowledge base that you possess.  Using that resource was invaluable in this case as it gave me the background to approach the internal constraints that I have on getting this done and present them with a plan and an approach that has already been tested and that I am able to show potential results from.

That approach is as follows:
Use Twitter as the base for all posts.  By setting up the RSS feeds between twitter and facebook you are able to pull the status updates from twitter into facebook.  Using as the upload client, you can schedule the tweets and thus schedule your facebook status updates.  The RSS feeds create a cascade effect with a delay between the tweet and the status update.  This can be done using a facebook ap that uses the #fb tag to carry those items through into status updates.

Post questions on a daily basis - generate traffic through a consistent contest and Q&A basis - think morning drive radio show.  Same question category every day, keep it light and fun with real time announcement of prizes.  Plan this out - have a weekly meeting to establish how you are going to do this and then use that scheduling process to ensure that you follow through.

Use a blog page as a way to establish an externally viewable listing of your communication history.  Post each of your email digests and general messages to the blog - simple, free and easy as a way to ensure that the monthly newsletter and electronic communications that you send to your alumni who have provided you with an email can also be viewed by those who simply visit your page or are fans on a social network without you needing to post them again and again and again to accomplish that.  Again, leverage the technology - use RSS feeds and the blog tools to make that happen automatically whenever the messages are sent.

Create a home page that cleanly integrates these pieces and youtube channels or other networks that you are using.  The vast majority of your content can be generated and refreshed through the posts, updates and emails that you are already sending - rather than adding to the content needs, the social networking sites can be used to increase value and engagement while expanding your reach, at the same time limiting the work needed to do so.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

budget cuts? what to do...

If my day to day workplace is anything like most of yours, this month has been a bit of a downer. At St. John's we freeze our student data in the middle of October, providing advancement with the listing of new student names and current parent records and more importantly providing a snapshot of the current fiscal health of the university. While last fall was disastrous from a fundraising standpoint for our industry, this fall has greater potential for long term impact. Budget cuts are either here or coming and with the employment picture what it is, likely here for a couple of years.

Those of us on the front lines of fundraising realize that our most important step is to invest in programs, practice and people. We need to keep ourselves relevant to our donors and provide a concrete, responsible, grounded case for support to all prospects regardless of gift history. In addition to that, you need to make your organization relevant to your alumni today. Career Services, accurate and detailed reporting on the use and value of support and networking opportunities are three simple and controllable items that can provide ongoing relevance.

Unfortunately, budget cuts often target those items that provide this relevance because they are difficult to directly tie back to quantifiable benefits. It is easy to justify the cost of the phone program or a mailer or even a new online effort as they all end with direct and clear results - dollars and donors that you can balance against the cost of the effort. It is much more difficult to make a strong case for investing in stewardship, donor relations and communications efforts.

So what to do?

I advocate for a comprehensive approach - collaborate with your internal partners to create pieces that serve multiple functions. Identify several other offices that are looking to communicate with similar constituent bases. Think globally - we all work with the other aspects of advancement at our institutions but who else wants to communicate with external constituents? I would suggest the following offices may be worth a conversation: institutional research, academic deans, admissions/enrollment, career services, communications/marketing.

I am sure that there are others that are unique to your institution but you may notice a trend in the offices that I listed - almost all of them have a stake in the items that you are looking to provide - accountability, current services and networking opportunities. Use that common ground and shared efforts to maximize budgets and return on investment for you. This may require some sacrifice in direct control of the pieces but typically we are all better served to get something in our constituent's hands than not to. You will achieve benefits in increased communication and relationships that will carry value long after the current budget issue has passed and may just make a couple of new friends as well!