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Social Media and Today’s Online Fundraising Landscape

It’s rare to find an organization without a social media presence.  The 2018 Global NGO Technology report found that 92% of NGOs in the U.S. use Facebook and 83% have a Twitter profile. But yet, in the midst of the 500 million tweets sent per day, 44% of Twitter users don’t actually tweet, but instead use Twitter as their own personal news feed. This is why having a strong social media presence is so important to nonprofit organizations. When nonprofits are able to create positive conversation around their cause areas/brands, and encourage organic endorsements on social media, they can be effective in capturing the attention of and engaging constituents – both new and old.

But what is the link between social media presence and online giving? Online giving to nonprofit organizations nationwide has been growing significantly (and consistently) in recent years – with a 2016 growth rate of 15%, and an even larger increase of 23% in 2017. What is driving these disruptive increases in online giving? One might point to email newsletters and other forms of appeals driving their fundraising growth but an M+R Benchmarks study reveals that for every 1,000 emails delivered, a non-profit only raises $44.

However, a study from SUNY Buffalo on the relationship between social media and online giving revealed a major finding – “Online donations are driven by the number of ‘friends’ that a cause elicits through online sites. Friends often recommend a cause to other friends, which extends the reach the cause or group had.” The same study found that, in contrast to “offline” and more conventional approaches to soliciting donations, the actual size/historic reputation and organizational efficiency of nonprofit organizations did not profoundly impact the nature of their online donations. This is particularly significant for smaller nonprofits, who feel that they can’t compete with larger entities in traditional ad spending. It is also important for larger organizations to keep in mind – as there may be a higher ROI (especially long term with younger donors and prospects) in building a strong base of engaged and active followers. The study also found that “online supporters are more likely to fund new projects or projects with a tangible result. This is a relevant insight for nonprofits of all sizes – and is in line with nationwide trends of younger donors demanding to see a more tangible impact with their donated dollars.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, all of this data is great – but how does my organization effectively use social media to increase my fundraising bottom line?  Like many questions of this nature, there’s no one silver bullet. But there are key elements to keep in mind. Firstly, clear channels and profiles that are easy to access, understand and navigate. Can someone pull up your platform, cause and most of your posts, and understand what it’s all about right away? Secondly, quality posts that create natural conversation and generate brand engagements. Are your posts hitting on industry trends? What sort of engagement are your staff, board and most loyal supporters having with your content? These posts should be driven by data on what types of cause-relevant topics and information will be well received from your key audiences both through retrospective and “real-time” analysis.

With each of these key insights in mind, Changing Our World has recently launched its custom-built digital platform for social media analytics and peer benchmarking. Our platform was intentionally designed through the lens of our broad experience serving the global social impact sector, and it is distinctly informed by our unique perspective on the central social media needs facing organizations today. Utilizing this data-driven approach, we are working to help organizations effectively integrate the types of strategies noted above into their own social media plans – ultimately creating the kind of meaningful online engagement, and strong digital community, that have each proven their positive impact on fundraising revenues across the sector.


About Katherine Austin-Evelyn

Katherine Austin-Evelyn is a Director at Changing Our World, Inc.  Katherine works with nonprofit organizations to assess, manage, design and implement strategic planning projects and grant-making strategies.

About Benji Bernstein

Benji Bernstein is a Director at Changing Our World. Since joining the firm in 2016, Benji has played a core role in helping facilitate and further expand the firm’s strategic Research and Analytics service offerings.