Friday, November 27, 2009

The social networking trap - or why we are afraid

As I reflected in my pre-turkey post, I was contemplating Stephanie's post regarding use of Social Networking in the fundraising environment. After a couple of days with family, I have collected my thoughts on the matter.

In sum, I see a couple of significant hurdles:
1) Internal Perception - the view of social networking within most of the higher education community is that of trepidation. We proceed carefully in a world that is moving at internet speed to innovate and change. This is a result of the higher education approach to the world that is only now coming out of the dark ages of monks and scribes. This approach creates a huge gap between where our constituents are and where we think they are.

2) Investment in media - we all have a web presence that we pay/paid a significant sum of money for. For most of us that is likely an aggregate effort between some consultant help and full time employees. That investment has been further enhanced through the development and implementation of an online community that was often more successful in concept than in actuality. This has lead to a sense of investment already made and often the results from a funding standpoint have not met the expectations.

3) "Our folks on not on there." - VPs, presidents and major gift officers - in sum those who bring in the large dollars, are not familiar with these tools and even when they are, realize that the vast majority of our dollars are not going to result from the folks who are on the sites. While this is true today, those of us in Annual Giving realize that the next generation of major donors will most likely come from younger graduates who are making their decisions today about which charities they are going to support. This is true, for now. While we need to "fish where the fish are" from a major gift/dollars standpoint, this holds true for communications with younger alumni as well.

4) Lack of understanding about how to utilize these to further the advancement process. - these are specialized tools that have no cost to implement and much like email a decade ago, the view persists that making this a portion of someone already on staff's job is the way to approach it. While a small select group of institutions have been able to make significant headway in email fundraising without adding additional resources, tools and staffing, they tend to be places that have extraordinary success and investment in other aspects of fundraising. This is the largest gap in higher education implementation of fundraising tools through social networking.

The solution is simple, the process to do so is complicated. Success will come to those places that invest in creation, implementation, and execution in the social networking arena. That can come in the form of hiring staff, outsourcing implementation or even finding some volunteers from your alumni body to manage your efforts. We all know they are out there. The folks who are interested in us will find us and the communication stream is as close to 1 to 1 as possible, allowing two way communication and providing considerable connection. We remain afraid.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the other side of the fence

I have been working on a response to Stephanie building on her comments about social networking and how we can use some of the readily available tools as part of the efforts to build a community that supports each of our causes. In doing so, I spent some time working on creating and maintaining a group on LinkedIn, Online Fundraising Exchange (if you are on LinkedIn, find me and join the group) to learn more about how parts of that environment work.

I sat down tonight to put the ideas together and checked my email as is my habit in the early part of the evening. I had three messages (a clear sign that many of the folks that I work with are already relaxing for the holiday), 1 confirming the shipment of a Christmas present for my wife, 1 from LinkedIn telling me that a colleague had accepted my invitation to connect and 1 from my Alma Mater, Allegheny College.

I have given to Allegheny every year since I graduated - more than a decade of annual gifts. The total dollar value of those gifts is modest to say the least but I am a consistent and easy donor to work with. I give the same way every year, as the result of a fiscal year end mailing that I cross over into an online gift. The piece that they sent was the first non-online community piece that I had seen from them this fall. I get a monthly email from their online community telling me about the classnotes that have been submitted from folks the year ahead and year behind me so am accustomed to seeing email from the college.

What struck me as unique about this email right away was the look - a picture - more like a postcard than an email. While it was picture of the campus, it was not an area that I would have chosen as a signature location on campus and it used a merge area looking kind of like a name plate for a donor recognition plaque to personalize it. While I appreciate the effort to personalize the piece, I was a bit dismayed that it looked more like a mailing label stuck to the picture than a smooth digital merge field.

The flash portion of the piece that it linked me to played smoothly with nice controls (watch it here: Allegheny College - post your thoughts on the piece please!) and was relevant to me - the images all have meaning and it clearly comes from folks at the school that have a good grasp on what makes the College unique. That said, I was disappointed in how it left me feeling - distant. I felt like I was watching an admissions video more than an appeal for my support. It did not connect me to folks in a personal fashion, did not provide me with any opportunity to connect to other alumni or communicate with the College, it simply ended with a completed form including my name and address along with a suggested gift of $50. Since I just spoke with the phonathon caller who asked me for $100, I thought that was an interesting amount - have an email in to the annual giving folks there to ask what the thought was behind that.

Reflecting on what was wrong about the piece, I come up with the following thought; I expect more from online communications that telling me what is happening. I have become accustomed to the interaction of the social networking tools - I want to be able to post and hear back from friends and connections right now, I want to be given the opportunity to read those classnotes and comment back to the note writer, I want control of the content of what I see and when I see it. I was disappointed that rather than playing on the communication they are already providing, I was sent a one way communication that reads as "old" media - no matter how well done, it missed the target completely.

Stephanie and I were talking this afternoon prior to this email and the subject of continuity came up - how many years of working with a client does it take to provide consistent results, her response: 3 or more. I thought that was striking comment and even more so in light of my reaction to this solicitation piece. Striking but not surprising - my expectations were set by the monthly communication that I am already getting. If the email had linked me to a microsite and asked me for my unique experience that would be shared with others, I would probably have ended with a gift - give me the chance to share and be shared with - continue the work that is going on rather than changing directions when you want to solicit me and success will follow.

I will get back to work on my social networking post and get that up for our return to work on Monday the 30th - Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why are we afraid?

I had great conversations with two clients this week about leveraging Facebook to increase engagement and giving. During both discussions, I mentioned using Causes in Facebook as a possible way to increase exposure and giving. Both clients expressed reservations about using Facebook to promote a giving message, yet both were interested in using Facebook to increase engagement. After doing a quick search for a cause for my alma mater and others, it looks like many institutions share the same reservations.

I'm not sure that we should throw out the idea altogether - I think it's worth exploring why we are afraid and how we can temper those fears. With over 300 million users and more than 10 million becoming fans of pages daily, Facebook is a powerful tool for fundraisers. Your constituents - young and older - are using Facebook, and by maintaining a presence on the site for your institution with updated content, event info, and other links, your institution will build engagement. So why not include a way for "fans" to support the institution? Are we afraid of invading a social tool with a giving message? Or that asking for support will lead to decreased engagement? Don't misunderstand my questions - I believe these are valid concerns and that further discussion will resolve them and pave the way for more effective fundraising through this medium.

The first concern - that Facebook is a private social space that should remain separate from the fundraising arena and that mixing the two will be seen as an invasion of privacy - is a valid fear. But let's do a quick reality check - this is already happening. Causes has already signed up 11,000 non-profit partners and Facebook cites over 35M monthly active users of Causes. That means it's highly likely that your constituents have received a petition to support a cause and are petitioning friends to support causes already. Causes can be initiated by individuals as well as non-profits themselves, and they range from well-known non-profits like Habitat for Humanity to small, community causes around a community library or a local school drive. Facebook members are participating in Causes every day – why shouldn't they have an opportunity to join your cause?

The second concern - that asking for support on Facebook will turn people off - is also a valid fear that I believe can be resolved with a better understanding of the way Causes works. The premise behind the application is to help individuals start a campaign for collective action through social networks. Through Facebook, individuals can set up a cause and designate a 501(c)3 beneficiary. Individuals can then petition friends to support their cause. Charitable organizations can also start a cause to benefit your organization. When you do this you will be best served if you become an official non-profit partner with Causes so that you have access to a personal dashboard that tracks donation activity to your causes. Through your dashboard, you can send petitions for support as well. (We can get into the ins and outs of petitioning in the next post.) Before you jump into petitioning, add the cause to your fan page. Don't worry, there's no blinking arrow pointing to a donate now button on your page - it's simply another item on your wall. If you're afraid of turning people off with a giving message, just leave the petitioning to your fans for now.

What next? Test it out! Start slowly by establishing your cause and linking it to your Facebook page so that fans can support your institution through Facebook. As you become more comfortable, consider approaching alumni leaders to join the cause and send petitions to friends. Once you have some experience under your belt, you can begin to develop more complex strategies that include things like setting up multiple causes for specific initiatives (i.e. senior class giving), fundraising invitations, donor matches and birthday wishes that will further enable fans to support your institution.

I welcome your feedback – comments and questions – and I hope that you will consider how your institution can use Facebook and Causes to grow engagement and dollars.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook

After spending a couple of weeks working on integration between Twitter and LinkedIn, I am amazed at how much can be done with a little knowledge, a lot of curiosity and some willingness to try different options and ways to integrate social networking tools. I realize that many of you reading this may not have either the time or the comfort level required to do some of this on your own but that is not an obstacle. Simply find a student or tech savvy employee on your or the advancement staff and enlist their help if you wish to improve what you are doing and how you are generating conversation and activity on your social networking sites. In any case, take a look at what you are doing and how you can amplify that conversation.

What is really important here in any case is what value are you able to derive from your presence on the sites. I know that my supervisors pay a tremendous amount of attention to the number of fans of our facebook page, how many members we have in LinkedIn and how many people are following us on Twitter. In the light of the traditional focus on numbers that we track in advancement that is the logic thought process. Unfortunately it is the wrong metric to be using.

While each of the major Social Networking platforms also provides measuring stick opportunities, those are limited to a single platform and don't really provide much in terms of meaning to you as an advancement professional. I strongly suggest that we all need to work on ways to identify what value there is for providing resources to our employer. The best of the sites for this process is Meetup exists purely for the point of connecting each person to one another online with an endgame goal of meeting in real life. I realize that this is still a couple of steps short of providing resources for you to apply to your mission but it is a good transition measure - from talking online to meeting in person.

I am working on running a report that compares folks who are self identified to me as being on one or more Social Networking site and includes real time interaction and giving. At this point, the most obvious (and predicatable) outcome is that the more active the user online, the more valuable they are.

In my small sample, that has not proven to be true. In fact, the more active they are online, the less likely they are to have offline interaction with us. Does this hold true for other schools? Please feel welcome to reach out to me if you need help to identify what your results are.