Utilizing Social Media as a Donor Research Tool

Posted on 11/01/2018

Nothing makes a fundraising appeal more effective than when it speaks to a prospective donor personally. There are numerous techniques for achieving this, from addressing the prospect by name, to acknowledging an action they’ve taken in the past (such as making a gift or attending an event), or simply adding a handwritten note at the bottom of a letter. One of the best ways to make an appeal feel personal is to make sure the content aligns with the recipient’s individual interests. Instead of sending all of your prospects a generic “one size fits all” appeal, try one that shares information on—and asks them to support—something that they really care about.

But, how? Fundraisers are not mind-readers, and while alumni and donor databases can include information on prospects’ interests and preferences, that data is often limited and outdated. Fortunately, the proliferation of social media now offers a way to access and use information on prospects that tends to be more accurate than what’s sitting in the institution’s own files. And as college and university advancement programs are increasing the amount of content that they’re posting to social media channels, there is a growing opportunity to watch how alumni respond and learn more about them.

The annual giving team at Bentley University has recognized the value of utilizing social media as a donor research tool, leading them to invest more time and resources into mining it. By monitoring who “likes” and comments on particular content on Facebook and other channels, they gain valuable data points and then use that information to better inform their solicitation strategies. For example, if the university posts on their Facebook page that the basketball team has won a game and 25 alumni engage with that post, the annual giving team knows that those 25 alumni are possible prospects for future solicitations to support the basketball team.

As populations of special interest are identified, potential donors and segments are flagged in the prospect database. While there is a growing number of software tools out there to assist with this process, it’s also possible to do this manually. Then, as the team develops its solicitation strategies throughout the year, they have access to this information to help make decisions about who, how, and when to target.

Bentley understands that taking advantage of social media is part of an evolution in annual giving. Younger donors are more interested in directing their philanthropy to areas that are meaningful to them, and using social media helps build a better connection with those donors and drives future investment. The team is so optimistic about this approach to donor research and marketing that they’ve created a new position on their annual giving team exclusively dedicated to engaging with alumni via social media channels. In fact, the first person they hired for the role is a recent graduate who not only has a good grasp of social media but who is also very familiar with the organization and culture of the university. And while the team hasn’t set specific dollar goals for this position yet, they hope and expect that the investment will lead to increased participation over time, particularly among younger alumni.

In this day and age, with people interacting digitally as much as (if not more than!) in person, you’re missing out on some of the best opportunities to not only engage your base but also to learn more about them if you aren’t leveraging social media channels in your work. By employing even basic data mining and analytics, you can gain valuable insight to help guide the personalization of your appeals. So go social—in this situation, no doubt it will be time well spent.

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