Online Fundraising and Non-Profit Social Media – with Ephraim Gopin

Today, we’re continuing with our new Learn from an Authority interview series. Today, we’re talking with fundraising guru Ephraim Gopin about using the best ways for non-profits to use social media and online fundraising.

Ephraim is a well respected social media and fundraising consultant. He works with nonprofits to get them started using social media to engage, cultivate relationships and, ultimately, fundraise. Read Ephraim’s blog to learn more about using social media for fundraising. He is more than happy to connect on Twitter and happy to discuss your organization’s social media needs.

1. On your blog, you talk a lot about the best ways for non-profits to use social media. How important is social media to non-profit organizations? Why?

Social media should be a major cog in a nonprofit’s fundraising engine, along with one-on-one solicitation, direct mail and website appeals. There are two reasons for this:

1) The “pie factor”- there are many more nonprofits today than 10 years ago vying for the same piece of the fundraising dollar pie. BUT social media savvy allows you to reach people near and far- people who can become your best cheerleaders, volunteers and, if you play your cards right, donors.

2) The explosion of outlets and sheer numbers of people on the various social media outlets. 10% of the world’s population is on Facebook- that’s a staggering number! If you’re not there, you almost don’t exist… Social media needs to be included in your overall PR & fundraising efforts now. I wouldn’t wait- you could be leaving quite a lot of money on the table.

2. What is the biggest mistake you see non-profits making in the social media space? How can they correct it?

Guess what Joe- I see 3 mistakes all the time and it’s so easy to correct them

1) NPO’s think they’ll raise Red Cross money- you won’t!!! When the “big boys” do social media campaigns- it works. But that’s because they’ve built up a huge, loyal following. Wanna raise funds eventually through social media? It’s all about being authentic, humorous, engaging people, cultivating relationships and only then taking it to next level. People want to know the person behind the nonprofit’s social media logo. So go ahead, share your hobbies & interests- you never know who you’ll engage because of it.

2) Lack of Strategy- it has to be all in. The organization has to be willing to invest time (and possibly a little money) in creating and implementing a social media strategy: what outlets to be on, who will be responsible, what to tweet/post and more. Too many times I see NPO’s where it’s obvious someone said, We need to be on this outlet, they opened an account, posted a few times and then abandoned it when they didn’t see immediate results. Patience, grasshoppers.

3) Me Me Me Me, Like us on Facebook and Please Donate- that’s all that’s posted. Sure, your biggest “cheerleaders” want to hear more about the orgs. work. But the average social media user? Not so much. There’s a place for “pat on the back” material- but not every tweet or status update. It gets real old, real quick.

In the end, social media is about building ROE (Return on Engagement)- you engage new people who never heard of you, you build brand awareness, you use it to expand existing programs, recruit volunteers and down the road- launch campaigns.

3. You published a fantastic post on how charitable organizations can use Twitter for maximum advantage. What should NPO’s be doing to get their message out on that site?

1) Find the thought leaders in your field of expertise, follow and engage them. They are happy to engage and when relevant- push out your tweets and orgs. mission

2) Turn your org into an authority on the issue you deal with. For example: I worked for a nonprofit who dealt with the local digital gap- the gap between those with access to technology and those without. I could have tweeted about all the wonderful programs the NPO operated- but frankly, who cares? There are so many NPO’s on Twitter.

Instead, I tweeted about the social issues people without access to technology face. I connected with NPO’s worldwide who have similar missions and we began to trade ideas and best practices. I connected with people whose tweets showed an interest in technology and social justice. I tweeted content which others were happy to retweet- the goal was to turn the org. into an authority on the digital gap.

3) Besides my answer to Question 2 which is relevant here, I would also encourage your org. to stand out. Come up with a daily/weekly gimmick which keeps followers interested and retweeting the posts. For example, on my Twitter account, I have 2 daily tweets: fundraisin idea of the day and nonprofit of the day. People tweet me with links to articles which I can later use. Additionally, join relevant online webinars and live tweet the event- you learn new material plus join a conversation, which is what it’s all about.

4. Let’s talk about non-profit websites. What are the top three things non-profit orgs should be doing on their website to capture people’s attention?

1) Clear call to action- tell people what to do: donate, volunteer, pass the word along to others and more. Don’t just tell me you need- tell me how much, who will benefit and why the need exists

2) Tell a story- Donors need a clear, concise mission statement and organization vision. Beyond that, storytelling is where it’s at- weave a tale that tugs at the donor’s heart and makes them want to be involved NOW

3) Usability/easy navigation- I cannot stress this enough: I look at nonprofit websites all day and so many of them are too busy: so many links, pictures and more that the eye doesn’t focus on one specific place. The latest stats: you have 2.5 seconds to get a person’s attention when they reach your site. If you did, then you have another 7 seconds to get them to click on something and stay on your site. That’s it. So the site should not only be clean but easy to navigate- clear buttons and menu items make it easy for me to find exactly what I want to know.

5. How effective is fundraising over the internet for the average non-profit?

For starters, direct mail is still king. BUT that’s slowly changing with the ability to use social media and mobile to “push” people towards donating via credit card on your site. When I ran large gala events, I set a target of 25% of all funds to be donated via the website. Doesn’t sound like a large number but remember this: people give MORE online via credit card than via check. When they use their credit card they receive points, so they donate more than they set out to.

Effective online fundraising depends on the ease of donating via the website’s donation page and the website’s design and content (see above) which causes people to want to donate. Most important: ASK where appropriate for people to give and encourage them to do so via the NPO’s website.

6. What can non-profits do to increase the amount of money they raise online?

I may sound like a broken record but it bears repeating: enter the world of social media, fix up your website and ask!!! Use e-newsletters, e-appeals and even in direct mail- your website address should appear everywhere.

Oh- and prepare for the mobile revolution: there are 5,000,000,000 mobile subscriptions worldwide. Want to find donors and bring them to your website’s donation page? Start thinking mobile.

7. Let’s say I’m the Executive Director of a small non-profit. We’ve got three staff members, and raise around $500,000 per year. How much time should we be putting into online stuff? Where should we focus our time online?

Time depends on the human and financial resources of each org. One person CANNOT do everything: manage the website, social media, mailings and more. Small NPO staff members wear too many hats as it is. However, it must be factored into a 40-hour work week.

The first thing to focus on is the website. Not every website needs a complete overhaul and not every overhaul is costly. But the website is your storefront- that’s how people find you and that should be your main focus. Make sure it is always updated with fresh content, pictures and video. You might want to start a blog in order to drive traffic to the site.

Next is social media- you do not have to be everywhere all the time! With limited staff numbers and time, you need to pick and choose where to be and for how long each day. That’s why a strategy is so important: it identifies the right platforms for your orgs needs and resources, plans how much time should be spent on each platform and how it can be incorporated into the normal work schedule.

Starting in social media can be accomplished with a small investment of money. But the returns can be enormous. Your organization needs to start focusing attention online because that’s where the donors are.

8. Finally, Ephraim, you’ve got a fantastic website at where you’ve got lots of great articles and a ton of information… What’s the most interesting project you are working on that you’d like our readers to know about?

I am currently excited about two projects:

1) I am working with a hi-tech/business start up to get them set up and started in social media. The basic rules of engagement apply- but the business world differs in many ways from the nonprofit world. I do have a background and degree in Business Management but I have spent the last decade in the nonprofit world. So I’m enjoying learning about this particular niche industry while at the same time applying my social media knowledge to build up their online presence

2) I am beginning to work with nonprofits to help them understand social media, plan a strategy, teach them how to use various outlets, get started and then watch them grow their online presence. My goal is to impart my knowledge to the point where they can manage their online presence without my assistance.