This chapter was written by fundraiser and 2018 Tech in the Commons speaker Cara Schmidt.
As the holiday season draws near, nonprofit organizations all over prepare for what’s typically their busiest time of year.
It used to be the end of December as people scrambled to make end-of-year gifts, but the week after Thanksgiving has quickly become a contender. Thanks to #GivingTuesday, launched in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y as the philanthropic answer to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I have changed the way I think about donors.
In an industry that relies heavily on appeals sent by mail, printed annual reports, and often behind-the-curve technology, an approach so deeply rooted in social media seems scary to a lot of people. I hear that your donors aren’t the ones on Facebook, younger audiences aren’t the ones giving money, or posting on Twitter is like shouting into a black hole. That last bit might be a valid argument in some cases, but still, nonprofits can and do raise money on social media.
I launched my first #GivingTuesday campaign in 2013. The organization I was with, a private school in Chester County, didn’t put much energy into social media and thought it wouldn’t be an effective use of time.
That may have helped fuel my efforts, I wanted to prove that I could do something unusual. With just a few hours to plan, and no budget, I put together a simple campaign: photos of students and some quotes about what the school meant to their families. I was fortunate — our students did impressive craftwork in a beautiful setting. The pictures alone could convince people to give. But I realized we needed more than that.
We offered an incentive: If you made a gift in honor of a friend we would send them a letter and a small piece of art made by a student. The reasoning, I shared, was more than just bringing in money. This was a great way to grow our database. I reached out to a few board members and invested donors — ones that typically liked and commented on our content, and asked that they continue to do so on all the posts they’d see about our first #GivingTuesday campaign. I explained the value in their interactions and encouraged them to share our content.
Thanks in big part to their actions, 35 donors contributed a total of $7,000 for our first year — well over my spoken goal of $1,000 and my dream goal of $5,000.
The next year brought a significant vote of confidence through a matching gift. That, paired with student stories and regular communication, brought us more than double what we’d seen previously. This made me rethink the incentive angle. Were donors giving for a bookmark made of marbled paper or a pack of notecards? Probably not. Plus it took a lot of work to get those shipped.
It’s fairly easy to reach people on social media, but it’s much harder to get them engaged. For our third year I dropped the “token” and launched an extensive, grassroots effort to motivate and mobilize supporters. Each week leading up to the event I shared photos of students with testimonials from parents. To expand our Facebook reach and bring the campaign to more people’s news feeds, I emailed family members and board members, encouraging them to like, share and comment on posts. I also sent step-by-step instructions on how to share content, and quickly responded to donations with an acknowledgement email that included a personalized image donors could share on their own social media accounts.
Another matching gift, this time from a variety of stakeholders, propelled us to $40,000. I was glad I ditched the tchotchkes and focused on empowering our donors.
Last year absolutely took me by surprise. We had $27,000 in matching gifts. Donors met that number before 9:30 a.m. and the contributions continued! By the end of the campaign I had raised nearly $80,000, making 2016 a $106,691 success story.
To grow the campaign (and make my life easier), I recruited a team of individuals who I knew would not only get involved, but they’d enjoy it. We launched peer-to-peer pages, encouraged competition and acknowledged those who helped our cause. Enthusiasm was contagious as some donors gave multiple times, to several campaigns in support of their friends. The school has approximately 120 students, so to have 279 donors, 52 percent of whom were first-timers, was incredible. Donors were thanked and told how
valuable their social media interactions were. Their shares, comments and likes were instrumental to the success of the campaign.
Those donors? You need them in more ways than one.
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