How to Turn Social Media Supporters into Donors to Your Non-Profit

It’s one of the biggest conundrums in non-profit fundraising: how do you turn social media supporters into long-term donors to your organization?

Many non-profits assume that the best way to do this is to send out fundraising links on social media. So they post some updates, send out donation links, beg their supporters to donate… and wait for the money to roll in. Often, these appeals are accompanied by asks that say something like, “If each of our Twitter followers donated just $1, we’d meet our funding needs for the entire month!”

Sadly, as far too many fundraisers have learned, making asks like that on social media rarely, if ever, results in any significant amount of funding.

Lots of non-profits who have tried, and failed, when making asks on social media think that perhaps viral fundraising is the answer… that the only way to raise money from their social followers is to replicate the Ice-Bucket Challenge to incentivize people to give.

While I am a big fan of viral fundraising campaigns and think they can be very successful (particularly local campaigns for smaller non-profits), the truth is that these are one-time fundraising efforts. Viral fundraising is not a long term solution for raising money from your social media community.

Over the past decade, as social media has become one of the primary activities people participate in online, it has become clear that non-profits need an actual system for turning social media supporters into donors. After experimenting with several different strategies, I have found the following to be the most effect method:

First Goal: Collect E-Mail Addresses

One of the most important steps in turning social media followers and fans into donors is getting access to your followers’ e-mail addresses. As I have noted before, being able to communicate with people through e-mail trumps the ability to reach them through social media by a wide margin. (To learn more about why e-mail beats social media when it comes to fundraising, read Figuring Out Your Non-Profit’s Social Media Strategy).

Frankly, one of the primary reasons your organization should be on social media is to find new supporters and drive them back to your site, where you can collect their e-mail addresses. Once you have someone’s e-mail address (and permission to use it) you can start to build a true relationship with them. (We’re not talking about spam – you shouldn’t buy lists or pay someone to track down e-mail addresses for your social media supporters. You should only e-mail them if they sign-up to receive e-mails from your organization).

The best ways to collect your social media followers’ e-mail addresses are (a) to send them back to your site often, where they will see your e-mail newsletter sign-up box on every page of your website, and (b) to directly ask them to sign-up for your e-mail newsletter or to receive a special report or other incentive via e-mail, and then send them back to a page on your website to collect their e-mail address.

You’ll never collect the e-mail address for every (or even half) of your social media followers, but that’s ok – be relentless in trying to get your social media followers to sign-up for your organization’s e-mail newsletter.

Second Goal: Build a Relationship through E-Mail

Once someone gives you their e-mail address, you need to use it. Start by sending out a regular e-newsletter from your non-profit. The newsletter should go out at least monthly, and should be well-written, mission-based, and easy to read. Your e-newsletter forms the basis of all of your online cultivation efforts.

Writing-FundraisingEmailYou should also set up a system for sending individual e-mails to all of your social media followers who sign up for your e-mail newsletter. (You could also set up this system to talk to everyone who signs-up for your e-mail newsletter, regardless of where they came from).

This doesn’t need to be overly time consuming. You can set up a bunch of e-mail templates, and just change a sentence or two to personalize it every time you send one of the e-mails out.

For example, you might send an e-mail a couple of weeks after someone gets their first e-mail newsletter from your non-profit that says:

Hi Sara,

Thanks for signing up for our e-mail newsletter. I also wanted to personally thank you for your interest in the Center Valley Conservation Society. I’d love to learn how you heard about us… if you get a moment, let me know! My contact information is below.

Thanks again – I hope to see you at one of our meet-and-greets soon!

Jim Stevens

Follow-up e-mails like this should be short and simple. Nothing overly formatted, no color templates – just make the e-mail look like you are sending it to a friend… a simple text e-mail. You can store a number of templates in your e-mail program or in a Word document and copy and paste them in to make sending e-mails quick and painless.

Most people won’t respond, but some will. Carry on the conversation with people who e-mail you back. Also, be sure to send short, personal e-mails to the people who respond on a rotating basis every couple of months, in addition to your e-mail newsletter. These short e-mails can include links to a new article on your site, a note about something that happened at your organization, or anything that would be interesting to the prospect.

Third Goal: E-Mail Fundraising Appeal

Your third goal for turning social media supporters into donors is to ask them to donate through an e-mail fundraising appeal letter. E-mail fundraising letters can be extremely effective at raising small and mid-level donations from your supporters.

Once a social media follower has been on your e-mail newsletter list for a few months, they will start to feel more of a connection with your organization. They will be following you on social media, reading your e-mail newsletters, and if you are implementing the second goal above, they will also be getting the occasional personalized e-mail from your fundraising team. At this point, you can add them to your next e-mail fundraising letter.

My suggestion is that non-profits should be sending out e-mail newsletters at least monthly, and that these newsletters should not contain any fundraising asks, but instead be cultivation pieces. Then, at least twice per year, organizations should send out stand along e-mail fundraising letters to ask for donations. To learn how to raise more money through e-mail appeals, read How to Write Better Fundraising E-Mails for Your Non-Profit.

Social media followers who sign-up for your e-mail newsletter list and then make a donation through one of your e-mail fundraising letters have successfully made the trip from social media supporter to donor, and can now be part of your “standard” cultivation and solicitation cycle.

Even though it seems like a lot more work, I have found that this process for raising money from your social media supporters by first collecting their e-mail addresses and then communicating with them that way, in addition to your communications through social media, will result in a far higher success rate than simply making asks through social networks. Ultimately, you’ll save time, money and frustration, and end up with more donors (and more loyal donors) as a result!

Optional Goal: Small Group Event

One alternate method for turning social media followers into donors that I have had success with is hosting one or more small group events to meet these supporters face-to-face. These events should be non-ask events, meaning that you are not selling tickets or asking people for a donation at the event. Instead, you are using the opportunity to meet your donors, cultivate them, and tell them more about your work. Then, you follow-up with each attendee using the methods I discussed in my article How to Hold a Non-Ask Event.

There are two ways to go when using this tactic. The first, and probably best way to do this is by collecting e-mail addresses FIRST, then using those e-mail addresses to invite your supporters to the event. The second way to go about it is to simply post an invitation to your event or meet-up on Twitter, Facebook and your other social media sites to invite your supporters and followers to attend.

In my experience, the first method will result in more attendees with a higher level of support for your organization. The second method results in less attendees and a lower average level of support among the attendees. As always, your mileage may vary. The key with either method is to follow-up with each attendee after the event to add them to your cultivation system.

There you have it: a three-step system for turning your social media supporters into donors to your organization. It takes time and effort, but this system truly can provide a new stream of prospects for your non-profit.

Photo Credits: mkhmarketing, Matthias Ripp