Last Minute Tips for #GivingTuesday

I know, I know …we should have started our #GivingTuesday planning many months ago. And most of you have. But there are still a few last-second items you should consider to give your fundraising on December 1 an extra boost.

GivingTuesday Logo

The following are some quick, easy-to-implement tactics for getting the most out of #GivingTuesday:

Map out a strong email schedule

Oh, the dreaded unsubscribe. While it’s true that we don’t want to spam our donors on any channel, let alone email, too many of us are actually sending far too few emails for fear of our donors unsubscribing. But from experience, we’ve seen some of the top performing email programs sending donors, on average, one solicitation per week.

Especially on a day like #GivingTuesday, when the leading nonprofits in your region will be carpet bombing your potential donors, it’s imperative that you have a robust email strategy with several touch points across the day. That doesn’t mean you should be sloppy with your email – content still matters. So what does a good email strategy for #GivingTuesday look like? Here are a few tips:

  • Provide meaningful updates. Do you have a challenge? Keep donors apprised of your progress on a regular basis. Are you raising money for something concrete that impacts a specific person (or profile of a certain type of individual)? Send an email from that person’s personal address with a story about how a donor’s gift improves their life. Make your email about more than just the ask …while also being sure to include an ask. (It is #GivingTuesday, after all)
  • Send emails that redirect your donors and constituents to content on blogs and social media.
  • Let them know when a milestone is reached and thank them for their support in the campaign. Use this a reminder to give if they haven’t already or if they have given, remind them to share on social media and via email to encourage their friends to give.
  • Send more email than you’re comfortable sending. If a recipient is going to unsubscribe because of a #GivingTuesday ask, they probably aren’t going to become a donor anyway. Focus on an email strategy that ensures you hit every potential donor and not on the vocal minority who don’t want to see you in their inbox.

Identify at least 10 online ambassadors

If you already have 10, then find 10 more! The more individuals you have spreading buzz about your cause on #GivingTuesday, the more new donors you will connect with. Go to Twitter, search hashtags that relate to your organization’s mission, and find Twitter users who are including those mission-related hashtags in their posts. Then, analyze the Twitter users’ bios to determine if they have online influence beyond Twitter. If the answer is yes, ask them to be an ambassador on #GivingTuesday.

Produce a compelling #GivingTuesday video

According to a recent Georgia Tech study on Kickstarter data, crowdfunding projects with a video perform far better than those without a video. Perhaps even more compelling, a recent Google study found that 57 percent of donors who watch a nonprofit’s video will eventually go on to make a gift to that nonprofit. 57 percent. So yeah, make sure you have a coherent and engaging video to host on your website and share via email and social networks on #GivingTuesday.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder, where clients use the ScaleFunder Crowdfunding module to launch successful #GivingTuesday campaigns.


Email v. Social Media

Email v. Social Media – which deserves more of your time and resources when trying to grow your donor base?

*Quick caveat here: I don’t believe in a one versus the other approach as they’re both crucially important. But in a cash-strapped world where digital content is a must, where should you focus more of your time if you want to expand your reach into segments of new donors? Let’s discuss…

Email versus Social MediaWhen it comes to conversions, email brings in far more fundraising donors and dollars that social media. After all, social media is rarely used as a solicitation channel. Facebook’s “Donate” button has yet to gain significant traction, for example.

But, social media is an incredible awareness tool and the only set of channels where a cause can quickly go viral. That’s probably why, according to this 2013 Georgetown/Waggener Edstrom study, the vast majority of those surveyed said social media is the #1 way they learn of a new cause to support. In fact, social media outpaced email by a rate of about 2 to 1 across all cohorts in the study.

And really, this makes sense when you consider how a person typically interacts with email. It’s two things – either you respond to email, because you have to (for your job) or because you REALLY believe in something. Email is deliberate – the decision to support has already been made in many cases. And according to the aforementioned Georgetown study, it’s likely that decision-making process started as a result of something you viewed on social media.

So, if you’re interested in growing your base, consider beefing up your social media presence by doing the following:

Get active on several major social media networks.

The “must list” of social networks to be active on is somewhat fluid, but Facebook is mandatory. It has, by far, the most users and the most users in the key donor demos of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Plus, despite punditry to the contrary, Millennials are still very active on Facebook, too. You’ll also want to be active on LinkedIn for the prospecting value of the professionally focused social network if nothing else. Instagram is imperative if you want younger donors and students involved.

Train your staff – especially you major gift staff. (Or hire additional staff)

Did you know that 85 percent of all millionaires use social media, text messaging, AND smartphone apps? The more money you have, the more likely it is you’re online and using social media. Be sure you have multiple staff members in every area of focus who can contribute to content production and social media conversation management.

Produce good content on a regular basis.

This doesn’t have to be overly polished content. In fact, some of our crowdfunding data at ScaleFunder suggests a highly-produced piece can actually be detrimental to the success of a fund. (More research needs to be done, but still, interesting to note…) To be effective, content needs to be coherent and connect to the emotions of the audience. Or at a minimum, fulfill a need for the audience. Do that and do it often to provide your donors with a ever-open window into your organization that keeps your mission front and center in their minds, while at the same time, extending your mission to new audiences ready to support your cause.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy with ScaleFunder. In early 2016, Justin will be helping to launch ScaleFunder’s Giving Day module and consulting services to pair with ScaleFunder’s already highly successful Crowdfunding module.

Passive v. Active Online Giving

Give Now ButtonFrom online giving days, to #GivingTuesday, to the launch of a crowdfunding program, a growing number of higher education institutions now have at least one marquee digital event every year. These buzz worthy online events stand in contrast to the day-in, day-out presence of those bright red “Give Now” or “Donate” buttons we all have (or all should have) on our school’s or organization’s homepage. For the large majority of the year, those “Give Now” buttons push Internet users to a static and often drab online form ready to take the credit card information of those who REALLY want to make an online gift during a mostly non-momentous point in time.

Think of it this way – a widely celebrated giving day or well-run crowdfunding program is very much actively involved fundraising, where as the traditional “Give Now” path to a bland giving form is passive, sit-back-and-wait fundraising. And that can no longer be acceptable in development. Consider the following:

  • 71 percent of online adults use Facebook. (2013 Pew study)
  • 85 percent of millionaires use text messaging, smart phone apps, and social media. (2011 Fidelity study)
  • Three out of four donors born from 1979 to 1994—a generation often referred to as “millennials”—said they were turned off when a nonprofit’s Web site had not been updated recently. (2013 Millennial Impact Report)

The bottom line is, lots of people are online every day. Many of them have come to expect dynamic, real-time engagement with online platforms. And the passive fundraising tactic of planting a static a giving form at the backend of a “Give Now” button simply doesn’t match the dynamic, real-time expectation of donors.

This is especially problematic as we approach the end of the calendar year. Many donors will seek out your online giving form as they make their late December gifts. Providing them with a compelling experience is crucial.

So what’s the solution? Simple. Your online giving process should be dynamic and operate in real time. Your giving page – even the standard, daily form – should reflect this dynamic feel. Here are a few tips for how to make this happen:

Focus on real-time current events.

What is happening in your alumni community, region, or the world that has the attention of potential donors? This could be a holiday, a big cultural event like #GivingTuesday, or something seemingly unrelated to the fundraising world such as the Oscars or the Super Bowl. Find creative ways to mesh your fundraising with timely real-world events. This then gives you an excuse to develop content for email and social media that subtly points to fundraising opportunities while distracting the donor with the pop culture theme of the day.

Illustrate the impact of giving on a regular basis.

In crowdfunding, this is easy. Each crowdfunding project clearly states the purpose of the dollars given to that project. But really, this shouldn’t be a tactic set aside solely for crowdfunding. Whether it’s for a specific research project or the general fund, there is always a story to be told that illustrates how donors’ dollars will be used. Produce these stories often and feature them on your online giving form to give it a frequently refreshed appearance.

Use online ambassadors. Always.

Online ambassadors are not just a giving day tactic. In fact, when you think about it, crowdfunding is essentially online-ambassador-led fundraising. Every crowdfunding project leader, to be successful, needs to be an online ambassador for their project. Just like with a crowdfunding project or fund, ambassadors can help drive donors to the funds on your standard online giving form.

For your online giving page, be sure you have an ambassador or several ambassadors driving traffic to that page on a regular basis. Make it relevant to the ambassadors by featuring funds or giving opportunities that matter to them. Consider featuring the ambassadors’ alumni profiles on the giving page to give the process a more tangible, human element. To grab social media users, make your everyday online giving page a more social experience.

Even without these tactics, online giving continues to grow at a double digit pace nearly every year. For a small number of forward-thinking nonprofits, online has grown so quickly email has supplanted direct mail as the top direct fundraiser. By applying a more dynamic, human, and timely approach to your day-to-day online giving, your organization could join that list.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder. Read more about ScaleFunder’s crowdfunding client case studies at ScaleFunder’s blog by clicking here.


Online Ambassadors Influence Major Gift Donor Decisions

We’ve written extensively on both online ambassadors and major gift work. We know, from our clients’ experiences, that the two go hand in hand. A growing mountain of data and studies tells us the same. Now we have more data that helps explain why peer-to-peer is even more important and effective in major gift work than we first assumed.

For those who work in the for-profit world – particularly in retail – you’re probably familiar with the terms “higher-consideration purchases” and “lower-consideration purchases.” Even if you’re not familiar, the definitions are quite simple.

“Higher-consideration” are those purchases where you give more consideration, because they are big purchases. Think of a new car, a home, a college or university choice …something that costs a lot and is fairly permanent and often live-affecting.

“Lower-consideration” …think of a pack of gum or where you’re eating tonight.

It’s not hard to draw the nonprofit parallels and align higher-consideration purchases with major gift work and lower-consideration purchase with the annual fund.

So what does this all have to do with online ambassadors? According to the 2014 Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s study, Word of Mouth has a MUCH higher influence over a person’s higher-consideration decisions than it does for lower-consideration decisions. Which makes sense – do you often call your friends to ask which toothbrush you should buy? Unless you are the most uber of uber social media users, you probably make that call by your lonesome. On the flip side, when you’re in the market for a new set of wheels, you’ll likely have many conversations with friends, family, and co-workers before selecting your new vehicle.

The 2014 Word of Mouth Marketing Association's study shows us that the bigger the purchase decision, the more word of mouth (and online ambassadors) sways the decision.

The 2014 Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s study shows us that the bigger the purchase decision, the more word of mouth (and online ambassadors) sways the decision.

Something similar likely applies to fundraising. A $25 gift might be the result of a clever end-of-year email or well-run matching challenge. But the biggest gift a person makes in their lifetime will be the result of many factors. Not the least of which, information a person has gleaned from many years of conversations with their most trusted peers.

And here’s the kicker, that same WOMMA 2014 study found that 1/3 of all word of mouth purchasing influence now takes place online.

Yet another substantial study that, along with the growing heap of real world examples, shows us that a major gift program without a strong online dimension is probably grossly underperforming.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder.

Want to increase online engagement? Stop being so serious!

FunderfulThis article was contributed by Funderful and originally appeared in the April edition of CASE Currents magazine. Click here to read more.

Working adults crave fun. Four out of 10 adults worldwide deal with excessive pressure on the job, according to a global workforce study by Towers Watson. A recent work survey showed that more than 80 percent of Americans are stressed about at least one thing at work—from low pay and long commutes to overwhelming workloads and annoying co-workers. Put another way, we want to laugh more.

Your alumni are also begging for something fun that will grab their attention. Let’s look at ways your university can dust the stuffiness off of its giving campaigns and attract the attention of long-lost alumni.

When we took over alumni giving as volunteers for the alumni association at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga in 2007, the participation rate was zero percent. Four years later, participation was at 11 percent, and we ambitiously decided to surpass the rate of the university that raised the most money that year—Stanford University, which received gifts from 34 percent of its alumni in 2011. Two years later, our Let’s Beat Stanford campaign came to fruition: Approximately every third alumnus donated, increasing participation by 318 percent. This multiyear campaign also allowed us to grant 60 scholarships and provide ongoing support to renovate an auditorium.

How did we do it? By challenging egos, inventing mascots, tapping into nostalgia, and having fun.

The annual participation rate is the best measure of the strength of an alumni network—and the only true metric, suggests Dave Celone, former head of the annual giving effort at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Alumni participation has steadily declined throughout the last decade, even as total amounts of fundraising have grown. We as an industry are good at contacting prospects but struggle when old tools no longer engage the masses—and when alumni adapt to new technologies faster than we do. More charities are also competing for the same donors than ever before.

Traditional approaches seem to have reached their limits. 47 percent of people find it annoying to be solicited for gifts via phone, revealed a 2013 survey from the U.K.–based nfpSynergy, a research consultancy for nonprofits. It’s time to rethink your strategy.

You may be hearing a lot about gamification as a flashy way to change people’s behavior. Yet if you’re not addressing the innate needs and desires that get people to participate and care about something, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on social media campaigns, fancy websites, or exotic scavenger hunts and adventure mazes.

Think about what drives people to spend. Everyone has to allocate money for necessities like housing, gasoline, insurance, and groceries. Beyond that, most money is spent on entertainment— dinners, movies, iPads, vacations. Fun makes people part with their earnings, not only when they want to but even when they know they shouldn’t. When you combine fun with great causes, you can give people the amusement they desire and are willing to pay for. But even more than fun, good appeals, regardless of medium, have to address the need for playing, being social, and receiving recognition for good deeds. Give your alumni a game, absolutely, but match that game with insights into your community, and you will have an approach that gives the best digital life to your campaign.

If you want prospective donors to fall in love with your cause, these components are crucial. Instead of considering the needs of the institution, remind alumni what makes it special.

The key to engaging more people is to appeal to a number of triggers: peer pressure (All your friends are donating! You should too!); competition (Can your class be the most spirited?); nostalgia (Remember how fun it was here?); and pride (Look what your university has accomplished!). If you can integrate these elements into your messaging and appeals, you will persuade alumni to part with their time and money. Participation rates will soar.

Go ahead, try it. We dare you.

The ROI of Investing in Digital for Fundraising

Why should you invest in digital media for fundraising? In short, because you like seeing lots of new donors, high retention, and engaged major gift donors for your organization. But we did say “invest in digital media.” So what is the cost of achieving those attributes of online and social media fundraising? Read on to see the cost and ROI breakdowns on investments in digital media for fundraising work…

New donor acquisition happens when you have inspiring, infectious online events.

For higher ed, the infectious event is a giving day. For most other nonprofits – especially smaller nonprofits – it might be a regional or national event like #GivingTuesday. And what do these events cost?

  • Great content, especially creative video, is almost always worth the investment for fundraising.

    Great content, especially creative video, is almost always worth the investment for fundraising.

    For small nonprofits who are just looking to make a splash (less than 100 gifts or $10,000 raised), the cost can be next to nothing (excluding staff time, of course). Schedule three to five emails, coordinate those emails with your social media efforts, consider a mail piece to your most engaged donors, connect with your online ambassadors (or start a small online ambassador program) to spread the asks and content online …all of this can be done in the $0 to $5,000 range for nonprofits.

  • For the mid range nonprofits – think regional NPOs, small healthcare organizations, and smaller colleges who are hoping to reach close to 1,000 donors and at least $100,000 during an event – you’re going to want to do most of the same things the small nonprofits do, but on a larger scale. To grab the bigger donor and dollar numbers, you’ll need a more thought out strategy, more well-produced content to share on social media, a bigger and more engaged group of online ambassadors, and more involvement from you major gift program. Between content production, a mail piece, and strategic planning, expect to spend between $25,000 and $50,000 if you’re looking for six figure dollar results and/or four figure donor results.
  • For the giants – think large colleges and universities, large healthcare organizations, international aid organizations, animal welfare groups, and environmental NPOs who look at anything under seven figures as failure – real investment is needed. Without naming names, the university behind one of the most successful higher education giving days in history invested north of $300,000 in technology, outside strategic counsel, and other related costs. And they raised nearly $7 million from approximately 5,000 donors.

High retention happens when you are stuck in the minds of your donors throughout the year.

When your organization’s work is burned into the psyche of your donors, they are ready and willing to act on appeals as they arrive in their inbox or their mailbox. And for a growing majority of Americans, one of the best ways to remain stuck in their minds is through good social media strategy. (Yes, the majority of Americans are now active on social media)

Easier said than done? Not necessarily, as long as you’re willing to invest in good content strategy and production.

To do content marketing well requires at least one full time position dedicated to the planning and production of content. If your digital strategy is a larger, more sophisticated effort, this content producer should be part of a team and under a more senior director-level position tasked with managing the overall digital strategy. So, for smaller organizations, think $50,ooo/year with an additional $5,000 to $10,000 for equipment the first year. If yours is a larger organization and you’re not spending at least $100,000 on digital content marketing, you’re probably losing several times that amount in easy-to-grab fundraising opportunities.

Major gift donors are online and at shockingly high rates.

But don’t take my word for it. Instead, check out this 2011 Fidelity Investments study that tells us 85 percent of millionaires use social media with the median age of those social media users set at 56. We’ve written about tactics to engage your highest capacity donors online. Read a couple of those posts here and here.

But for the sake of this post, how much should you invest for digital engagement of major gift donors? First, make sure you have a strategy in place. Typically that involves an outside firm (like BWF_social) and runs from about $15,000 to $50,000 depending on the work done. As part of that strategy, you’ll want to be sure your gift officers are properly trained on using digital media, you’ll need good content to share with your major donor community, and you’ll want to appropriately leverage the online communities of willing major donors. (In other words, you’ll want to build a major donor online ambassador program). Many organizations can do this within the aforementioned $15,000 to $50,000 while some of the larger more sophisticated nonprofits will want to invest six figures+ on a digital strategy for major donors. Of course, since it is for major gift work, it shouldn’t take long for your organization to enjoy a significant return on any smart investment in digital strategy.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he helps clients build digital media strategies for fundraising success.

HOW TO Add Digital to Your Major Gift Strategy

Major donors often make decisions about where to give based on what they see online.

Major donors often make decisions about where to give based on what they see online.

Should you use social media to engage your major gift prospects and donors? Absolutely!

During Washington State University’s recent #CougsGive125 36-hour online campaign (WSU is a BWF_social client), 42 donors made gifts between $1,000 and $25,000. And with research showing that wealthy individuals are active on social media platforms like Facebook, it’s important to consider that audience in your online engagement strategies.

Below is a short video with 3 ways your organization can integrate digital with your major gift strategy:

Want to learn more? Connect with BWF_social’s Justin Ware by visiting

Age Breakdowns for the Biggest Social Media Networks and What it Means for Your Strategy

More than half of America uses social media regularly and Facebook is still the king when it comes to number of users. And while the share might shift between social networks and demographics, there is no indication that use and growth of social media is going to stop any time soon.

For the full report from eMarketer and Adweek on who is using which networks, click here.

We frequently see reports and studies telling us how many people, in which demographics, use social media. But how can we take these usage numbers and apply them to our digital strategy? Below are a set of tips, based on data from the above eMarketer strategy, for the three biggest social networks — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Facebook is a behemoth of a social network with more than 1 billion people worldwide and more than half the U.S. population actively using the site. Facebook’s user base is getting older, but that’s more of an opportunity than a drawback for fundraisers. To understand why, think major gift work.

Did you know that:

The third point is from our work with clients at BWF_social. In our two most recent giving day campaigns, 42 major donors gave online gifts of $1,000 or more during one giving day, while 26 gave gifts of $1,000 or more during the second effort. In both cases, the gifts were unsolicited beyond the mass marketing work that reached all donors, primarily through email and social media.

In short — your major gift donors are online and the majority of them are using Facebook. Considering the above mentioned data about major donors and this eMarketer data which shows a large and growing number of older Facebook users, your major gift officers should know the network and be leveraging it to better connect with their major gift donors and prospects. Your communications team should be producing content that reinforces giving at all levels, especially the major gift level. Finally, you should be looking to Facebook and all social media as a way of prospecting for new major gift donors.


Twitter users are mostly a bunch of kids, right? Sure, nearly half of all Twitter users are under age 35, but more than a quarter are between age 35 and 54. And it might surprise many to learn that about 13 percent of Twitter users are over age 55.

But really, when it comes to Twitter, age doesn’t matter as much as functionality. For most people, Twitter is a news source. So a good Twitter strategy should be built around sharing a good deal of relevant content. Both relevant to your organization and, most importantly, to your audience. An aging but still accurate HubSpot study from Dan Zarella tells us Twitter users with the most followers are those who often post links in their tweets. Another study from Zarella and HubSpot tells us posting a picture via your tweet helps engagement.  In other words, don’t just tweet about your lunch — tweet about your lunch using a picture and including a link to the recipe.


Instagram is the king of social media networks when it comes to audience engagement.

Instagram is the king of social media networks when it comes to audience engagement.

On Instagram, it is (mostly) about the kids …and engagement. In fact, Instagram has, by far, the highest engagement of any major social media network. If you’re looking to connect with and market to people age 45 and under, Instagram is where it’s at.

You can’t post links on Instagram, so don’t bother using it as a direct marketing resource. Instead, think of Instagram more like traditional advertising. Can someone give a gift directly through a TV ad? How about a print ad? No. But both television and print have value for raising the awareness and improving the perception of your organization. At a minimum, Instagram — and all social media, for that matter — is no different. Especially if we’re talking about engaging the younger audiences who heavily use Instagram and who really don’t watch TV or read much print.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients build digital engagement strategies for every aspect of fundraising — from the annual fund to major gift work. Click here to learn more.

Why You Want to Ask Major Donors for Online Challenge Gifts

A common phrase we hear while planning online giving days and discussing major donor involvement for challenges is “We don’t want to ask major donors about giving days, because it will interrupt our solicitation process…”

Fair enough. It makes sense you wouldn’t want to jeopardize a months or years-long solicitation process for a 7-figure gift by asking someone to put up $50,000 for a matching campaign.

Many of your major donors are online and they want to hear about online fundraising camaigns.

Many of your major donors are online and they want to hear about online fundraising camaigns.

But asking for a major donor’s participation in an online celebration of fundraising — which is what good giving days are — shouldn’t be in conflict with the major gift solicitation process. It should be part of the solicitation process. And it can be part of the solicitation process if your development operation has a truly comprehensive digital strategy that guides ALL the work you do (major gifts included).

Before we get to tips for integrating major gift work with online, let’s examine a few reasons why your major gift program probably needs to start leveraging online and social media as soon as possible:

  • 85 percent of all millionaires use social media. (Source: 2011 Fidelity Investments study)
  • Online donors have higher household incomes than donors who only give offline. (2011 Blackbaud/Convio study)
  • Online-acquire donors give twice the size of gifts compared to donors acquired via mail. (Blackbaud/Convio study)

Just this week, BWF_social enjoyed watching a real world example of how big gift donors love great online fundraising. Washington State University (a BWF_social client) launched its #CougsGive125 event on March 26-27. The 36-hour event was an enormous success with more than $300,000 raised, entirely online. Part of that $300,000 came via approximately 30 gifts of $1,000+. These large, $1,000+ gifts were not directly solicited — they simply came in through the #CougsGive125 website. Fortunately, part of the WSU giving day strategy included a “large gift protocol” that involved connecting with the $1,000+ donors by alerting their assigned gift officers to the big online gifts (when applicable) so they could thank the donors and learn more about their gift. This reactive strategy to big donors who love online giving worked, as many of the donors reached were thrilled to have the immediate response.

In addition to the sheer number of big gifts, we were also amazed by:

  • The number of donors giving big online gifts who graduated before 1960.
  • The number of donors giving big online gifts who never gave to WSU prior to the giving day. (In other words, the #CougsGive125 campaign led to new major donors)

As you can see from the stats and story above, major gift donors — even those in the Baby Boomer generation and older — love online fundraising. So instead of leaving them out of the giving day process to avoid interrupting a process, here are four tips to involve your biggest donors in your big online giving day:

At a minimum, let major donors know the giving day is coming up.

Work with your gift officers and relationship reps so they clearly understand the goals of the giving day. Be sure gift officers are able to answer simple questions such as “how do I make an online gift?” Ask gift officers to share news of the day with their donors and prospects well in advance. Your major gift donors should be the first to know about and clearly understand the goals for the giving day.

Mention challenge opportunities and ask if the donors would be interested in giving a large challenge gift.

This shouldn’t interfere with other asks — it should help gift officers make an ask. Develop challenge opportunities that connect with the donor’s goals. Are you looking for a $1 million gift for a new performance arts building? Do you have a donor who wants to see that building become a reality? Let your donor know you’ll use their $1 million gift to acquire 100 new donors for the performance arts program. This approach should help you secure the gift, not jeopardize it.

Develop a “large gift protocol” for big, unexpected gifts during the giving day.

Establish what amount constitutes a “large gift.” Then develop a coordinated plan for contacting and thanking the donors who give those large gifts. This is something that should take place throughout the year, not just during a giving day. An approach to recognizing large gift online donors will help you steward current major donors and find new major donors. (It did both several times over during WSU’s #CougsGive125)

Perhaps the most important tip? Don’t wait for the giving day to involve your biggest donors online.

Be sure your gift officers are online and social media savvy. This should now be a requirement for the role of gift officer. If they’re not up to speed, provide training. (It’s not hard, it just takes willingness) Build digital events into your major gift program and build a major gift program with a strong digital element. If you’re not using online to engage current and prospective major gift donors, you are leaving a significant number of donors out of your fundraising efforts. With the increasingly competitive major giving environment we now work in, that’s a risk you shouldn’t be willing to take.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social. To learn more about how he helps organizations produce digital fundraising plans that include major gift elements, click here.

Online Ambassadors and the “Death of Organic Reach” on Facebook

Facebook_LogoFacebook’s ever changing algorithm now means that, unless you have a paid ad strategy driving content, the vast majority of your followers will never see the posts you share from your organization’s Facebook page(s).

The “Death of Organic Reach,” as some call it, is detailed in this post from SocialToaster’s Brian Razzaque. In the post, Razzaque highlights just how low your Facebook reach can go, while also offering some tips on how to combat the decline in eyeballs on your posts.

So is Facebook worth the effort if you’re not laying down enormous ad buys every month? Yes, but it depends on your strategy.

First, there are the basics of good content marketing – be valuable to your audience, not overly promotional, and connect with current events and other issues the Internet is talking about at the point in time when you’re publishing. That approach still helps, but truth be told, good content isn’t enough for Facebook anymore. Just take a look at your page’s posts over the past two years. On average, Bentz Whaley Flessner’s page sees roughly 10 percent the organic reach of content shared just one year ago.

But there is one other option if you still want to avoid Facebook Ads — and it will help drive reach and engagement on all your digital and social media channels, not just on Facebook alone. When people like, comment on, and/or share your posts, Facebook rewards those posts with a higher ranking value on your followers’ Newsfeeds. In other words, more of your fans will see the content you post when you post it if some of your fans are sharing that content. Which means, online ambassadors are the option B for anyone who wants to avoid Ad spends.

If you want to beat Facebook’s tightening Newsfeed algorithms without big ad spends, find ambassadors and work with them to share your content. That requires more than simply asking your online ambassadors to like and share content. For the best results, find out what your ambassadors want from you and what they like to share. Always be analyzing this data to inform your content marketing strategy. If you ask ambassadors to share content that matters to them, they will share enthusiastically and your organization will enjoy much greater reach on Facebook. (Plus, you’ll have more effective content for email and other social networks like Twitter and Instagram)

As effective as ambassadors can be at driving content, laying ads on top of the content ambassadors share does significantly increase reach and engagement. BWF_social client Santa Clara University began social media marketing with ambassadors in late 2012. They quickly discovered ambassador-led Facebook posts typically brought in about three times the engagement as those posts in which ambassadors were not leveraged. However, when Facebook Ads + ambassadors were deployed to share content, the reach was often as much as 40 times higher than average and engagement was 10 times higher than average. Staggering numbers that might be even more severe in 2015 as they were in 2014 when those numbers were recorded.

So yes, Facebook is still valuable. There are simply too many active users on the network to ignore Facebook if you’re truly interested in a multi-channel communication strategy (and you should be). To make your investment in Facebook and Facebook Ads worthwhile, be sure you have a healthy group of online ambassadors ready to help your content reach the masses like it did in 2012.

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at BWF_social where he helps nonprofit clients produce online and social media communication and fundraising strategies.

4 Things You Need to Know About Online Giving Platforms

We’ve seen it happen — a great deal of communication planning, online ambassador work, and major donor involvement takes place, but the organization’s online giving day is a struggle due to not having an solid platform in place to host the giving day and manage gift transactions.

We can’t say it enough — without solid tech, you’re sunk. It doesn’t matter how well you do all the other things (of course, the other things matter, too). Simply put, if donors can’t access or navigate the online giving process, they won’t give.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of competent online giving options and platforms to fit just about any budget. But before you latch on to a vendor, there are a few things to consider. So here is what you should be contemplating as you select a vendor or platform to host an online giving event:

Real time updating of donor and dollar activity

Challenges drive online giving days. The ability to structure a challenge around a certain number of gifts, donors, or dollars given creates excitement and gamifies a campaign. The “we just need 27 more gifts this hour and we’ll receive an additional $25,000!” messaging line is a tried and true trick that is familiar to any of us who listen to public radio. And it works wonders for online giving days, as well. Of course, if your online giving site doesn’t provide for real-time updating – in other words, doesn’t accurately reflect the number of donors and dollars given up to the minute – the donor activity tracking that is required for this type of challenge isn’t possible. If your giving day microsite or homepage doesn’t accurately reflect the acitivity around challenges in a dynamic, real-time way, how are your donors supposed to follow the “game?” And if they can’t follow it, they won’t be enticed to give.

In addition to a dynamic challenge environment, real time updating also allows for real-time stewardship. The record breaking Columbia University giving day team monitored real time giving activity for two things – big gifts and big donors making big gifts. This allowed Columbia to connect the donors with gift officers who could provide real-time thank yous to these most important donors.

Finally, real-time updating allows you to know when there’s a lull in giving activity, so you can insert a new Facebook post, email, or challenge to reignite the giving activity.

User-friendly, image-driven design

You’ve probably read some of the absurd statistics that show how important images are in catching someone’s attention. Some studies suggest the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. If that’s even remotely accurate, you should consider an online giving page that is almost entirely image-driven with the bare minimum in text. And don’t forget, according to a recent Google study, 57 percent of those who watch a video from a nonprofit will eventually make a gift to that nonprofit. Images and videos should always take priority over text on your giving pages and microsites.

The University of Sydney's "Pave the Way" campaign was successful in part due to its image and video-drive landing page.

The University of Sydney’s “Pave the Way” campaign was successful in part due to it’s image and video-drive landing page.

An easy path to your donor database

This is probably the toughest obstacle for many organizations. Truth be told, you’re almost always going to have to burden your gift processing team with a little extra work after a successful online giving event. Most of the leading platforms don’t come with their own databases or with turnkey data uploading processes for leading databases (Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge, for example). So, you need to be sure whichever platform you choose is able to cooperate with your database in the best way possible and has staff who are willing to work with your gift processing team to make their lives a little easier.

Verify your gateway

Gateways and vendors don’t always get along. Before signing any contracts, verify – in writing – that the vendor can work with your organization’s chosen payment gateway. Don’t just take the sales rep’s word that their platform plays well with your gateway. Verify it. In writing. (As you can probably tell, we’ve had some fairly negative experience with this…)

Again, there’s a lot that goes into a successful giving day. Before you land on a theme for the day, hash out a communication plan, or start talking with major gift donors about the effort, get your technological house in order to ensure your giving day is built on a solid foundation.

Have other questions about your upcoming giving day? BWF_social has planned more than a dozen six- and seven-figure online giving events. To learn more about our services, contact BWF_social’s Justin Ware.

HOW TO Produce More (Cheap) Video for Your Nonprofit

This could finally be the year.

Thanks to a seemingly endless stream of posts touting the life or death cruciality of video content, 2015 might finally be the year we video producers have been waiting for – the point in time when organizations and companies make investing in video content their top communications priority. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

There’s this recent Ad Age piece that says users are posting 75 percent more videos to Facebook than they were one year ago.

More importantly for those of us who make our livings working in communications is this Guardian piece that, among other things, highlights an Axonn Research study that tells us seven in 10 people view brands in a more positive light after watching a video produced by those brands.

And finally this post by Recode that lays out the magnitude of the whole thing – Facebook users watch about 3 BILLION videos on Facebook everyday.

Among other amazing video stats, a recent Google study tells us 57 percent of those who view a nonprofit's video will go on to make a gift to that nonprofit.

Among other amazing video stats, a recent Google study tells us 57 percent of those who view a nonprofit’s video will go on to make a gift to that nonprofit.

Simply put, an investment in producing your own video might be the most important decision you make this year. And the good news is, with amazingly high quality video cameras built into everyday items like the phones in our pockets, that investment doesn’t have to break the bank.

The following are a few tips to help your organization create more quality, engaging video content without pushing your organization’s budget into the red…

Hire a social media manager with video experience

Social media managers should do more than sit in front of a social network dashboard all day. They should be involved in strategic planning, help train staff and volunteers on using social media to advocate for your cause, and they should be content producers. And because video is quickly emerging as the top form of content, they should be video content producers.

Work with internal and external (volunteer) content producers

In higher ed, this is a no brainer. There are students on your campus who know how to do video and will do it at a small cost or no cost at all if they can add it to their nascent resumes. Find them and work with them.

For other organizations, the volunteers might be difficult to find, but they are out there. Do you know any board members who love talking about their beautifully produced videos of a weekend at the family lake cabin? How about a video blogger who often links to your organization’s website? …or a local video production company employee who also happens to be a repeat donor? There are video producers out there in your supporter base. Find them and work with them.

Select willing staff and provide them with video training

Again, thanks to inventions like the iPhone, most of us are carrying high quality cameras with us everywhere we go. So put those cameras to use! There’s a good chance a small handful of your staff would welcome the opportunity to receive (free) video production training. Thankfully (SHAMELESS PLUG AHEAD) organizations like BWF_social provide our clients with video training workshops and services. Regardless of the approach you take, find your willing staff and provide them with the training they need to become video evangelists for your cause.

Justin Ware is a Emmy-winning and Webby-nominated video producer who helps BWF_social‘s clients produce transformational online and social media (and video) strategies.

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Impact on ALS Association’s Year-end Giving

Millions of user-generated videos generated a buzz storm of awareness for the ALS Association in 2014 during the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Millions of videos generated a buzz storm of awareness for the ALS Association in 2014 during the Ice Bucket Challenge.

The “Ice Bucket Challenge” led to a $115 million infusion of fundraising support for the ALS Association in late summer 2014. And those robust fundraising numbers are only part of the story.

According to the a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article, end-of-year fundraising for the ALS Association is up three fold over the numbers from the year prior. In December 2013, the ALS Association processed 9,618 gifts for $1.6 million. In December 2014, those numbers jumped to approximately 44,000 gifts for $4.8 million.

Volunteer and event fundraising was also up in a big way. According to the same article, revenue from the charity’s fundraising walks brought in $32 million in 2014, up from $22 million in 2013.

According to the ALS Association, the reason for the big numbers beyond those raised during the Ice Bucket Challenge, is the buzz and awareness generated for the Association by the Challenge. Also from the Chronicle of Philanthropy article, here is what Lance Slaughter, chief chapter relations and development officer at the ALS Association had to say about communications success driven by the Ice Bucket Challenge…

“No ad campaign, no public relations push, no news coverage, no celebrity endorsement – nothing could have raised the specter of the ALS Association more dramatically than the Ice Bucket Challenge. And the result is much wider, energized, and healthy base of donor support.”

And that is why nearly every nonprofit organization needs a strong digital strategy coupled with well-promoted digital events. Sure, online fundraising events raise a lot of gifts from new donors (that should be reason enough to invest in digital strategy).  But more importantly, online is often the most powerful communication tool a nonprofit has at its disposal. Which is why now is time to invest in this channel appropriately – not just for your annual fund, but for the long-term survival of your organization. Here’s how:

Draft and implement a digital strategy

Email, social media posts, content on your website, location based activity during live events – all of this activity should be purposeful. When a strategy is produced and implemented, when everyone knows why you’re doing social media, it leads to significant boosts in several measurable categories. Dollars raised and donor acquisition are just the tip of the iceberg when a strong and coherent digital strategy is guiding the effort.

Develop an online ambassador program

It’s not just about leveraging your biggest online supporters as volunteer fundraisers – online ambassador programs are at their best when helping to communicate your organization’s message throughout the year. Stories of impact, thank you messages, information about new programs and initiatives – just like a fundraising ask, all of this content reaches a larger audience and is more effective when it is being distributed virally by online ambassadors. Remember, the Ice Bucket Challenge happened because of an unofficial online ambassador’s concept for supporting ALS research.

Invest in the best technology you can afford

Your website is your organization’s most visible (digital) facade … Your online giving form’s ease of use (or lack there of) is often the first impression your organization makes on new donors … Your digital content captures the interest of the world and tells your story to new audiences … Good online infrastructure and technology is not cheap, but can pay for itself quickly. Investment in this area is often something a major gift donor would gladly support (because the companies they own are already having success with digital). Donors expect functional, attractive online properties – don’t disappoint them.

Do the above three things. Do them now and do them well. If you’re not sure where to start, find a partner with experience (there are a growing number of us out there) and make 2015 the year you transformed your organization’s digital presence and positioned it for success in the decades ahead.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social, where he helps clients implement digital strategies that lead to successful online fundraising.



HOW TO Make Content Go Viral with Great Headlines

The key to attracting viewers to your content is, well, mostly just producing good content. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tricks to help drive eyeballs to your blog posts, videos, and photo galleries. And one of those tricks is all about ingenious headline writing.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out this awesome infographic on how Upworthy has become so successful in such a short amount of time. The infographic lays out the thought process behind what constitutes an engaging, eye-catching, traffic-driving headline.

Upworth Infograhic

Did you like that infograhic? There’s a lot more where that came from… Check out this list of the 10 best infographics of 2014. But fair warning, this top 10 list is an enormously awesome time suck (and worth every second!)

The Author of this post – Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he helps clients develop online and social media strategies.

Top 5 Stories of 2014

It’s that time of year! …when bloggers seize the opportunity to be lazy and write a post that is nothing more than a list of the first five items on the analytics report.

Of course, posts make a top five list for a reason – readers just like you see value in the posts and often share those posts with their communities. So, in case you missed some of these items, here are the top five posts you and your colleagues read the most from 2014 on the Social Side of Giving blog:

  1. 10 of the Best Higher Ed Online Giving Days – An overview of 10 of the most successful giving days in higher education with notes and descriptions for many of the events.
  2. ASU Raises more than $3 Million During 2-day Online Campaign – A more detailed look at one of those leading online giving days.
  3. How to Have a $1 Million+ Giving Day at Your School – Are you sensing a theme here? Yes, giving days are a big deal. Not just because of the new dollars and donors earned through the effort, but also because online giving days are very public celebrations of philanthropy for you institution. In fact, an argument could be made that there is no better communication tool for your development program than a giving day.
  4. Colgate Raises $5.1 Million in 24 Hours with Online (Radio) – The Colgate case might be the best example of what can happen when major gift donors are included in a giving day.
  5. 3 Thoughts on the Ice Bucket Challenge and Slacktivism – Hey, a non higher ed story! Which makes sense, because the Ice Bucket Challenge was probably the biggest New Year Calendarstory in all of fundraising during 2014.

The success of 2014 in online fundraising has generated a TON of excitement here at BWF_social. It’s invigorating working in an industry where most of our clients and potential clients have barely scratched the surface on what is possible using digital to engage, cultivate, and steward donors at all levels. If you’ve not yet invested significantly in online development at your organization, great news – it’s a new year and you can still make up for lost time! So make 2015 the year where you transform your operation into a modern shop that enjoys immediate and significant success. And of course, don’t hesitate to reach out if you need a little help along the way.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he helps clients develop online and social media strategies that lead to real fundraising success.

Creating Targeted Direct (Digital) Marketing for Major Gift Donors

According to Google, 57 percent of those who watch a video go on to make a gift to the org featured in that video. Imagine if you had one tool that could guarantee half your major gift prospects would make a gift?

Imagine if you had one tool that could guarantee half your major gift prospects would make a gift?

Direct response is key for donors at all levels. That notion was recently reinforced in this blog post that suggests you keep your biggest givers in the mass marketing program unless they specifically ask to be removed.

But that doesn’t mean your major gift donors and prospects should be receiving the same email and print pieces your annual fund donors receive. Major gift donors deserve the resources necessary for highly targeted direct marketing based on how they support your organization and which components of your work matter most to them.

Fortunately, this targeted approach is easier than ever to accomplish, thanks both to better technology and a better understanding of how to deliver personalized stewardship and solicitation experiences to our donors. As you embark on a more targeted content marketing strategy for your biggest donors, here are a few things to consider:

  • First, know your audience. Create content profiles. A content profile is a donor file that is focused on what content the donor shares and interacts with online. It’s a record of the emails they responded to, the Facebook posts they liked, the blog posts they shared — anything that helps you understand what matters to them. As a development operation, you can either track this manually by recording data as you come across it, or work with any number of software programs, such as EverTrue, that capture and organize information from social networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn. But all the data doesn’t have to come from technology, either. Like most things, the best content profiles are combination of new tech and traditional development work. A content profile can also be informed by the gift officer’s knowledge based on their relationship with the donor. In the end, a content profile is just a richer set of attributes recorded in your donor database.
  • Next, dedicate resources to creating beautiful content. 57 percent of people who watch a video eventually go on to make a gift to the nonprofit featured in that video (click here for more stats and the study). Let’s read that again: MORE THAN HALF OF THE PEOPLE WHO WATCH YOUR NONPROFIT’S VIDEO WILL MAKE A GIFT TO YOUR NONPROFIT. Based on that statistic from the very reputable Google, it might make sense that you drop all other expenses until you’ve adequately resourced a video content program. Especially for your major gift donors and prospects. Just imagine, what if you had one tool that would likely lead to half of them making a gift? Video appears to be that tool. Whether thanking, asking, or showing impact, great content is important at all levels of the fundraising game. But especially for your major gift program where one donor can change everything for your organization.
  • Train your MGOs to use social media! For a major gift officer, not being active on at least LinkedIn and Twitter is no longer excusable. From Bill Gates, to Elon Musk, to your average millionaire down the street, the more money a person has, the more likely it is they are active on social media. And that trend is only gaining steam. If you’re a major gift officer, ignoring social media is like ignoring the telephone …maybe worse.

It seems that just about every new year in the past half decade has ushered in a new trend in online fundraising. Ambassador programs, online giving days, crowdfunding …in 2015, let’s make it the year nonprofits started using digital communication — and specifically direct marketing through great, targeted content — to engage, cultivate, and steward major gift donors and prospects.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner’s BWF_social practice where he helps clients build online and social media strategies for fundraising.


BWF_social’s 2014 Higher Education Giving Day Survey Results

  • Columbia’s Giving Days raised $6.8 million from 4,940 donors in 2012, $7.8 million from nearly 9,700 donors in 2013, and $11 million+ from 10,400 donors in 2014.
  • The University of Sydney’s September 2014 “Pave the Way” Campaign raised $932,000 from more than 1,000 donors.
  • Santa Clara University’s April 2014 “Power of One Day” raised $795,000 from almost 3,000 donors.

The numbers are clear—when planned well, online giving days can be enormous fundraising tools. In higher education, colleges and universities are leveraging giving days to acquire new donors, meet fundraising goals, and engage major gift supporters. But you don’t have to take our word for it…

BWF_social recently concluded a survey of 45 higher education institutions. The respondents included schools of all size and scope—from public universities to liberal arts colleges. Much like the schools, the scale of the giving days varied, but the numbers are clear—giving days equal big fundraising for nearly every school that put resources toward the effort.

To view a summary of the survey’s highlights, click on the infographic below. For the full results of the survey, click here. Wanna join the list of institutions that have conducted leading giving days? Click here to learn more about how BWF_social can help ensure a big online fundraising event for your school.

2014 BWF_social Online Giving Day Survey


4 Components to Big Online Giving Days

Columbia Giving Day 2014 TotalsWell, they did it again. Columbia University just wrapped up their third annual online giving day. And once again, it looks to be a record breaker, bringing in more than $11 million from more than 10,000 gifts.

As we’ve written about in the past, successful online giving days like Columbia’s annual efforts are rarely a happy accident. The best (million dollar+) efforts are the result of careful planning around four main areas:

  1. Top of the line online infrastructure (your giving day homepage, apps, related widgets, email programs, etc)
  2. A smart, well-communicated online and social media content marketing strategy.
  3. Online ambassadors.
  4. Major donor involvement for challenge and matching gifts.

Do all of those things well, and you will reach your goals. That’s been true of every single BWF_social client we’ve helped plan an online giving day. Cut corners on any on the above and you go from planning for success to banking on luck.

As our soon-to-be-released survey tells us, most of you are planning on conducting a giving day in 2015. And you want to make a serious investment in your giving day, because giving days are about more than the sudden and often massive influx of dollars and donors they add to your organization.

Wabash's giving day created so much digital buzz around the College that they were a trending item on Twitter for a short period of time.

Thanks to all the digital buzz around their giving day, Wabash College was trending on Twitter during their event.

First of all, online campaigns are tremendously social, well-publicized events. They often lead to higher rates of engagement than traditional, on-campus alumni reunions. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Listen to Wabash College’s Joe Klen talk about his school’s amazing online giving day/buzz building event by clicking here.

Second, major gift donors love online campaigns. They love to see the schools and organizations they support take innovative approaches to fundraising. They love telling their friends about the huge influx of dollars and donors. They love to be involved. That’s right – asking big donors to be involved by offering up large challenge and matching gifts is more stewardship than it is cultivation. And finally, major donors love seeing all the new donors online giving days accumulate (especially if they helped make it happnen through a challenge gift).

Third, online giving days are the most effective donor acquisition tool available. A recent BWF_social study found that 40 percent of the donors who give during online ambassador-led giving days are new donors. And not just any new donors – multiple studies show us that online-acquired donors have more wealth, give bigger gifts, and give more over their lifetimes than donors acquired via direct mail. So if you’d like to acquire more major donors, online is your best bet.

And finally, a bonus fourth point. We now have evidence that tells us online-acquired donors have higher retention rates than any other channel. Yes, you read that right. (More on those stats coming soon)

Knowing all of the above, if you’re not investing at last as much in your online and social media approach as you are direct mail, the phone program, or any other direct response or communication channel, you’re doing it wrong. The good news is, you have a chance to get it right, starting with your first well-resourced giving day in 2015.

Justin Ware is Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he helps clients plan six- and seven-figure online giving days.

HOW TO Manufacture Viral Fundraising Campaigns on Social Media

A few weeks back, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to record a podcast for Iris Creative. The subject? Using online ambassadors to bring about the viral spread of your organization’s message and fundraising asks.

During the roughly 40-minute podcast we touch on a number of items, including:

  • Ambassador Podcast GraphicWhy online ambassadors are so successful in driving campaigns to become viral.
  • How can you create a dynamic online ambassador program for your organization?
  • Tools you can use to gauge influence on social media and enhance it.
  • How can you cater to multichannel donors?
  • What types of content are people excited about sharing?
  • How do you deliver content to your ambassadors in a way that makes it easy to share?
  • What are the benefits of having a toolkit with prewritten social media posts and images that users can share on their networks? What are the consequences?
  • Is it worth it to advertise on Facebook?

Sound interesting? Click here to listen to the podcast in its entirety.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he helps clients build online ambassador programs that drive fundraising and communication results.

Include “Trending Topics” in Your Facebook Posts for Bigger Audiences

A little while back, I blogged about the importance of meshing your social media content with pop culture and current events. As it turns out, that’s not just a communications strategy – it’s a technical approach to boosting your FNFO (Facebook Newsfeed optimization …patent pending on that acronym).

Facebook now rewards posts with Newsfeed prominence when those posts include a trending topic.

Facebook Trending ListTrending topics are those topics listed on the right hand column of your Facebook profile. They’re often predictable and, for those organizations with a news savvy social media manager, are items you can leverage to help get more eyeballs on your content by mixing those topics into your content. Not just because people like seeing content that gels with the news of the day, but because Facebook’s algorithms are searching for content that connects with current events.

So how do you make the most of Facebook’s leaning toward the popular posts of the day? Below are a few suggestions:

  • Building current events into your content marketing will boost your FNFO (Facebook NewsFeed Optimization).

    Building current events into your content marketing will boost your FNFO (Facebook NewsFeed Optimization).

    Hire well. Whenever we’ve been involved in the hiring process for a social media manager, I always recommend placing former journalists’ resumes on the top of the pile. Journalists do everything you need a social media manager to do – they think quickly, produce massive amounts of content at rapid speeds, and they understand the news cycle and what an audience wants. With a former journo leading your social media charge, you’ve taken a big step towards establishing a timely and relevant content marketing strategy.

  • Budget time to react nimbly to breaking news. Everyone should have a content calendar that extends at least 12 months out to cover the big events and campaigns. But sometimes, your audience (or, more accurately, the news cycle) doesn’t care about your calendar. You need to plan for the unexpeted and be ready to jump on the news of the day so that you can integrate it with your organization’s message when appropriate.
  • Consider Facebook Ads. Let’s face it, Facebook wins – they’ve forced us to pay for exposure on their social network. Which, in the general history of how advertising works, makes perfect sense. For this and all your Facebook content, consider paying for Ads and promoted posts to get the greatest exposure.

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communications at BWF_social where he helps clients build online and social media strategies for fundraising.

Online = Big Donors: Why Your Major Gift Program Needs Social Media

Business Man LaptopOnline donors…

We know online fundraising is a strong tool for the annual fund. New donor acquisition, especially during ambasssador-led giving days, is staggering when the campaign is done right. But for all that online fundraising does for your annual fund, digital philanthropy is even more effective in your major gift program.

Check out this guest post I recently wrote for EverTrue. In the piece, I provide recommendations for using online and social media to find, engage, and steward major gift donors.

Short story short, don’t pigeonhole online and social media as a small gifts only tool. Just this past week, a single $143,000 gift came in during one of our higher ed client’s giving day. A well-run, well-resourced online strategy can do more for your  major gift program than you ever thought possible.

Justin Ware is the Vice President for Digital Fundraising Strategy at ScaleFunder. ScaleFunder provides innovative digital fundraising tools to help your organization reinvent fundraising 365 days a year.

Best Nonprofit Websites – Children’s National Health System

Children's National Health System has created a user-friendly website that has led to more and larger online gifts.

Children’s National Health System has created a user-friendly website that has led to more and larger online gifts.

The Children’s National Health System website is one of the best I’ve seen. In any nonprofit vertical.

The main homepage and Foundation homepage were redesigned last fall with a focus on simplicity and content. The design is clean and user-friendly, the content is fresh (thanks to being directly fed from institutional blogs), and the online giving form is flawless. Whether you’re in the healthcare, higher education, environmental, social services, arts, community foundation …really just about any type of nonprofit organization, this design and design process (more on that process in the video below) is one worth emulating.

But it’s not just pretty. This online pageant queen would also win most spelling bees. The smart design behind the new Children’s National website has delivered results. Since making the shift from the older design in November 2013, the Children’s National Foundation has seen three times as many online gifts made and the average size of an online gift double to roughly $275 per gift.

So you want to know how to design a website that triples your donor participation and doubles the size of gifts? Then check out the video below featuring Children’s National Foundation AVP for Communications, Mark Miller and Associate Director of Interactive Communications, Jon Thompson.

Justin Ware is director of interactive communications at BWF_social where he helps clients build a digital presence that leads to real fundraising results.

2 Keys to Giving Day Success – a Great Theme and a Major Donor

A lot goes into planning a giving day for higher education. There’s the online giving page, the ambassadors, communicating with colleagues across many different units and departments – all of it crucially important.

Two specific tactics that have been attached to many of the success stories are based on big donors and big events:

  • Connecting an online giving day to a well-known, excitement-inducing event in pop culture.
  • Working with the major gift program to provide challenge grant opportunities from major gift donors.
Ohio Wesleyan University connected pop culture with their alumni base for online giving day success.

Ohio Wesleyan University connected pop culture with their alumni base for online giving day success.

Ohio Wesleyan University, a relatively small school, enjoyed big success thanks to those two factors.

In May 2013, Ohio Wesleyan was looking for a campaign to boost alumni donor participation. Around the same time, “42,” a film based on the Jackie Robinson story, was set to hit theaters.

If you’re not familiar, Jackie Robinson was the first major league baseball player to break the racial barrier and play in the big leagues. Robinson’s rise to MLB was due, in large part, to Branch Rickey – the innovative MLB executive who pushed to bring Robinson into baseball’s top level. Rickey – and subsequently several of his family members – was an Ohio Wesleyan alumnus.

And there’s the hook – a huge, international pop culture event with a prominent alumnus at the center of the story.

So the campaign was set for May 17 and the goal was to reach 360 donors. To help guarantee that would happen, Ohio Wesleyan’s development team worked with a major gift donor who would offer up $25,000 if they could reach the 360 donor goal. This major gift donor often gives a large amount every year and is interested in doing whatever she can to help Ohio Wesleyan increase donor participation. The 42 giving day campaign was used to ensure that donor would make her annual big gift. At the same time, the tactic created an incentive for alumni to give in order to “secure” the big gift in a challenge environment.

In the end, over the course of 42 hours (a time frame set to correspond with the film theme) 377 donors made a gift for a total of $112,965 given during Ohio Wesleyan’s first-time effort toward conducting an online giving day.

And this is just one of many examples of smart, successful online giving days. It’s to the point of being formulaic. From finding an theme that connects with your alumni base, to engaging major gift donors, to all the other aspects of planning an effective event – giving days have gone from guesswork to science. If you’re planning a giving day in the near future, study what works and/or partner with someone with experience in planning giving days that work. You, your annual fund, AND your major gift program will be glad you did!

Justin Ware is Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social where he leads online giving day planning for clients.

3 Thoughts on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and “Slacktivism”

Ice Bucket Challenge

One of the many thousands willing to douse themselves in ice water for the ALS Association.

You’ve probably seen it at least once in your Facebook News Feed – one of your friends dumping a bucket of water on themselves and asking that you either do the same OR make a gift to the ALS Association.

It’s called the “Ice Bucket Challenge” and from a pure fundraising standpoint,  it’s been wildly successful. The campaign kicked off in late July and has, so far, directly led to $2.3 million in fundraising. More over, from July 29 to August 12, the ALS Association says they’ve raised more than $4 million. During the same time last year, the Association raised $1.12 million. So, the #IceBucketChallenge is working both from the fundraising and awareness perspectives.

But the campaign has its fair share of detractors who say the #IceBucketChallenge is classic “slacktivism” (though the initial numbers suggest that’s far from true).

So is the effort worthwhile? Are the 70,000+ donors who participated (so far) going to become long-time supporters of the ALS Association? Or does the #IceBucketChallenge provide an easy out for supporters who would give financially but instead take a video of themselves and post it on Facebook (that’s slacktivism, in case you were wondering).

Well, first off, it’s not really slacktivism if the effort leads to 7-figure fundraising hauls. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that slacktivism, if it leads to 7-figure fundraising hauls, is far from a bad thing.

But the ALS Association still has the “problem” of retaining all these new donors.

Fortunately, that’s the easy part. Most successful online campaigns include a rush of new donors. To retain those donors and move them up the pipeline, consider the following:

  • Deploy a strong, well-resourced content marketing strategy. These new donors gave to you because they saw a post online, right? Then focus your stewardship efforts on that channel. Invest in great video, photography, and infographics. Repeatedly show the impact of giving through mission-related stories posted online. Remind the new donors of how close you are to a cure and/or what it will take to reach that cure. Use digital content delievered via email, social networks, and online ambassadors (the so-called “slacktivists” in this case) to reinforce giving and prime donors for the next ask.
  • Thank them profusely. Surprisingly, many organizations still drop the ball when it comes to effectively showing their gratitude for a donor’s gift. After the donor makes a gift, have two emails ready to go – one to thank current donors for their continued support and another to welcome new donors to your cause. In each case, detail the impact of their gift. For new donors, it’s about education and retention. Focus this effort on how their gift is changing the world and helping them understand the crux of your organization’s mission. For repeat donors, it’s an update on campaign progress, a call to action that asks them to share the news of their gift online and via social media, and something that highlights the impact of this specific gift.
  • Don’t forget about mail! Especially for your new donors, send them a beautiful new donor package in the mail that thanks them for their support and tells the story of your organization. Then track both their response to mail and digital outreach. If they continue to engage online, but not via mail, think about moving more resources to your online programs to support your donors’ desired form of connectivity to your organization. But first, start with a good mail piece.

From what this author knows about them, the ALS Association is a smart organization that is five steps ahead of the tips in this blog post. Which means the ALS Association is probably prepared to enjoy long relationships with their new donors from the #IceBucketChallenge. And your organization can enjoy the same retention success with online donors, if you follow their gifts with a multi-channel, content-driven engagement and stewardship strategy.

Justin Ware is Director Interactive Communications at BWF_social where he helps clients build world-leading online fundraising programs.

Wabash Expands Culture of Philanthropy with Online Ambassadors

The Wabash College Day of Giving was a big win in donors and dollars AND in raising the culture of philanthropy to support the school.

The Wabash College Day of Giving was a big win in donors and dollars AND in raising the culture of philanthropy to support the school.

Online ambassadors lead to big fundraising results when their efforts are applied to short duration online giving events (a.k.a. “money bombs”). This was certainly true for Wabash College during the school’s inaugural “Day of Giving” online fundraising campaign, when 2,200 donors joined forces to raise $465,000 in just 24 hours. The thing is, those big numbers for little Wabash aren’t the main reason why school leaders are so excited about their first giving day. It’s all the attention and enthusiasm around fundraising that has Wabash officials celebrating well into the new fiscal year.

“That’s what I think’s been talked about more than anything after the day, beyond the numbers, is this sense of excitement and the fun that was happening that day surrounding giving back to the institution,” said Wabash Associate Dean for College Advancment, Joe Klen. “We had our reunion weekend in June and many people were still congratulating the president of the College on a great day of giving.”

Klen said Wabash’s Day of Giving had the feel of an extremely well-attended online reunion. As mentioned above, online ambassadors had a LOT to do with the success of Day of Giving. To learn more about Wabash’s Day of Giving, check out the video below…

Want to hear a lot more of the details from Joe Klen himself? We’ve included the full length interview on the BWF YouTube channel. You can link to the longer interview by clicking here.

Justin Ware helps organizations and institutions build peer-to-peer fundraising programs that lead to real, quantifiable success. Want to learn more about how Justin can help your organization? Click here.

Facebook for Development Pros – Get Personal

Last month, we wrote on tips to help fundraising professionals get in the game on LinkedIn. In that post, we suggested (implored) gift officers – or anyone with a donor facing role – establish a strong presence on LinkedIn. If LinkedIn is the bare minimum, there are other social networks that can open your fundraising work up to new and highly-capable-of-giving audiences.

Facebook is the most popular social network in the world. According to a recent Pew study, a whopping 71 percent of Americans have a Facebook account. And while this social network is highly personal for some – for others, it’s yet another platform to share their lives with the world. In fact, millionaires are disproportionately more active on Facebook than the general public at large.

So, if you really want to expand your reach as a gift officer, alumni relations pro, grateful patient manager, or annual giving director, you might want to consider putting a professional effort toward Facebook. Here are some tips…


Facebook friend lists allow you to organize your professional and personal friends. A benefit for you and them.

Create lists to separate your personal connections from professional. (Click here for a link with instructions for creating lists of your friends) This will allow you to communicate with your professional friends while not driving your personal friends nuts. It will also keep silly pictures of your dog and kids from clogging your professional friends’ News Feeds.

Connect your personal Facebook content strategy with your organization’s content strategy. (Your organization does have a content strategy, right?) Content marketing is best through a multi-channel approach. This means a great YouTube video gets the most traction when it is shared on Facebook, through email, on Twitter, at events, and through the personal social networks of your staff. Just as is the case with online ambassadors, sharing via the personal accounts of your staff greatly increases the reach of the powerful content you put so much effort into producing to tell your organization’s story.

Be responsive and engaged. It should be obvious, but when people comment on or share something you post to Facebook, respond to them! Thank them, answer their questions, provide more information …use Facebook as a virtual coffee shop to meet your donors.

Ask your Facebook friends questions. While images are hugely important for getting your content noticed on Facebook, sometimes the highest engagement comes from a question. It could be something fun – “Who is your favorite actor to play Batman?” for example. Or, you could ask something about your work – “Which childhood disease would you most want to see cured in the next 10 years?” Either way, a simple question that sparks conversation goes a long way toward building online relationships with your supporters, which ultimately leads to stronger relationships overall that leads to gifts.

I know, I know …for some people Facebook is a deeply personal space that you absolutely wouldn’t want to share with the world. That’s more than fine. Unlike LinkedIn and to a lesser degree blogs and Twitter, Facebook – in part due to its highly personal nature – is far from mandatory. That doesn’t mean it’s not also an enormous opportunity for those willing to jump in professionally. Consider this – do you want a personal relationship with some of your organization’s biggest donors? If you answered yes, then you should consider using Facebook to engage them.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social and helps clients build online and social media strategies that lead to fundraising success.

LinkedIn for Development Pros – Get Personal

Would you rather keep your Facebook profile private? So would most people.

How about Twitter …not your bag? No big deal! Not a fan of photography? (Yours or other people’s?) Then Instagram probably isn’t the place for you.

But if you’re a gift officer, work in alumni relations, have contact with grateful patients, or have any other role in fundraising that involves connecting with donors, then you must have a personal LinkedIn profile. If not, you’re short changing your organization and missing out on significant and impactful connection opportunities with supporters. Seriously, it’s the equivalent of not having a telephone (and we all know telephones are still crucially important).

So what do you do with your LinkedIn profile? First, update it. Make sure you have:

  • A recent and professional profile picture.
  • A succinct summary that speaks clearly about your role in your organization.
  • An updated work history (at least the relevant stuff to your current role).
  • Your volunteer work listed (especially that related to your org, because it will help prospective donors find you in their searches).

Next, post information that matters to your community. It could be networking opportunities, fundraising events, big gift news …really, whatever matters to your donors.


Help keep your supporters and donor community in the loop with timely LinkedIn updates.

Help keep your supporters and donor community in the loop with timely LinkedIn updates.

Use LinkedIn to find new donors and learn more about current donors. Where they work, if they just got promoted, what volunteer work they’ve completed, which additional social networks are they active on …all of this is information you can find on most people’s public LinkedIn profiles. It’s a treasure trove, it’s free, and it’s as simple as a Google search.

Finally, use LinkedIn to connect with your supporters and donors. In a lot of cases, LinkedIn’s message system will connect you with a donor more effectively than the email address you have on file.

Our donors are more segmented than ever before when it comes to the communication channels they use. For some, the phone is still king. For others, print matters most. For many, face to face interaction is the necessary ingredient to seal the deal. But online is now just as crucial as all those aforementioned channels (with the possible exception of face to face). Don’t believe me? Did you know that 74 percent of ALL consumers now use social media to make purchase decisions? (Klout, 2014 Study) How about that 71 percent of American adults are on Facebook? (Pew, 2014 study) Social media is too ubiquitous in our daily lives to be ignored and LinkedIn is the professional network where many people expect other accomplished professionals to be active. Don’t disappoint this segment of your supporters. Beef up your LinkedIn presence today.

Justin Ware is the author of this post and Director of Interactive Communication at BWF_social. To learn more about Justin’s work, click here.

For Social Media Fundraising Success, Make Your Donors Feel Something

In fundraising, the ultimate metric is donors acquired or retained and dollars raised. The question is, how do we get there? What steps do we need to take in order to secure that final conversion or gift from a donor?

One option is sharing a bundle of statistics that numerically demonstrate the impact your organization has on the world. While that pie-chart packed annual report is important for the CFO types in the crowd, the vast majority of donors (including those CFO types) make a gift, not because of numbers, but because they feel moved to support your cause. Something about the work you do touches a nerve deep inside the donor to the point where they can’t stand the problem you’re addressing and will give everything they can, including money, to end that problem.

In other words, if you want to expand support for your organization, you need to create content that makes people feel something.

As is often the case, we have plenty of examples of this emotional content marketing from the for-profit world. From Steve Jobs to Dove, the best marketers – specifically content marketers – have been pulling money out of our wallets for decades, not by appealing to our heads, but to our hearts. Take, for example, the most recent viral content marketing hit distributed by Dove:

The sense of  yearning to love your kid endlessly that comes with being a parent; the want to be a unique, cutting edge individual that Apple so deftly communicated while Jobs was at the helm; the drive to compete and win that shoemakers like Nike have conveyed; those aren’t appeals that require a calculator to ingest – they go straight to the heart and they make people do things a million times faster than any logic-based approach.

Tugging at the heart strings opens the purse strings. It's true in the consumer and nonprofit worlds.

Tugging at the heart strings opens the purse strings. It’s true in the consumer and nonprofit worlds.

Of course, for fundraisers, this should be easy. Your work changes the world and you have countless stories to tell as a result. And now, thanks to social media, you have unprecedented access directly to enormous audiences. When you create amazing content, people take notice and you raise a LOT of money. The key is:

  • Having a smart, data-driven content marketing strategy.
  • Dedicating or reallocating resources to produce amazing written, photographic, and (especially) video content.
  • Hiring creative content producers to create posts that simply can’t be ignored.

The third item is the most crucial and the most difficult to come by. Creative content geniuses are not easy to find, but if you have them, give them the resources they need. Allow them creative license to produce amazing, heart-wrenching, and awe-inspring content. Doing that (with a strategic vision in mind) is one of the quickest and most effective paths you can take to reaching that ultimate metric of more donors and dollars raised.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner and an Emmy-winning content creator who has produced several viral YouTube videos. To learn more about how Justin can help you take content marketing to the next level, click here.

10 of the Best Higher Ed Online Giving Days

In case you haven’t noticed, online giving days have become kind of a big deal in higher ed. The million dollar+ day is no longer the miracle campaign only the best and most prestigious schools can accomplish. Nope, seven-figure online campaigns are becoming common place. Assuming, of course, the organization planning the campaign knows what they’re doing.

We’ve said on this blog many times – to have a successful online giving day, you need three things:

  1. Good online infrastructure (campaign landing page and giving forms).
  2. A solid, established, and consistent online and social media strategy driven by good content.
  3. A coordinated online ambassador effort.

Below are 10 of the best campaigns of the past three years. Seven of them had a version of an ambassador program, nine of them had elaborate and long-running social media strategies behind them (the only one that didn’t have a long-running strategy did have a powerful ambassador effort), and every single one had excellent online infrastructure. So without further adieu, 10 higher ed online giving days or fundraising campaigns to model your efforts after… (And I’d love to know which campaigns you think I missed. Please let me know in the comments)

Georgetown City Challenge – 2013

Purpose: Scholarship support and regional alumni engagement.

Duration: 27 hours.

  • Donors: 1,514
  • Dollars: $529,000
Gamification was the driving force behind Georgetown's successful City Challenge campaigns.

Gamification was the driving force behind Georgetown’s successful City Challenge campaigns.

Notre Dame Day – 2014

Purpose: Scholarship support.

Duration: 24 hours.

  • Donors: 4,049
  • Dollars: $918,518

UMass Amherst’s UMassGives – 2013

Purpose: Increase student giving and the overall culture of philanthropy in support of UMass Amherst.

Duration 36 hours.

  • Donors: 1,588
    • 626 students gave over the 36 hours.
      • In the entire year prior, 529 students gave.
  • Dollars: $84,000

For a blog post recap of UMassGives, click here.

Washington and Lee’s Give Day — 2014

Purpose: Online giving event.

Duration: 24 hours.

  • Donors: 4,300+
  • Dollars: $1.4 million.
Major gift donors played a huge role in Washington and Lee's Give Day's success by giving $650,000 in challenge grants to drive participation.

Major gift donors played a huge role in Washington and Lee’s Give Day’s success by giving $650,000 in challenge grants to drive participation.

For a blog post recap of Give Day, click here.

University of Texas at Austin 40 for Forty – 2014

Purpose: Student engagement and annual giving.

Duration: 40 hours.

  • Donors: 2,104
  • Dollars: $128,000

Boston University Giving Day – 2014

Purpose: Annual giving online campaign.

Duration: 24 hours.

  • Donors: 2,872
  • Dollars: $1.11 million

Arizona State University – 2014

Purpose: Donor engagement and annual giving.

Duration: 36 hours.

  • Donors: 908
  • Dollars: $3.059 million

For a blog post recap of ASU’s campaign, click here.

Colgate’s WRCU Radio campaign – 2013

Purpose: Raise money for the school’s communication program.

Duration: 24 hours.

  • Donors: 5,683
  • Dollars: $5.1 million

For a blog post recap of Colgate’s campaign, click here.

Columbia University’s Giving Day – 2012 and 2013

Purpose: Online fundraising campaign for annual and major giving programs.

Duration: 24 hours.

  • Donors:
    • 2012: 4,940
    • 2013: 9,700
  • Dollars:
    • 2012: $6.8 million
    • 2013: $7.8 million

For a blog post recap of Columbia’s 2012 campaign, click here.

Average numbers for all schools:

Average donor number: 3,423

Average dollars raised: $2.69 million

Average duration: 29.5 hours

Are you ready to celebrate a successful online giving day? At BWF_social, we have experience building giving days and a consulting package to ensure success for your school. Learn more by clicking here.

How to have a $1 million+ online giving day at your school

Seems like every week… shoot, almost every DAY now we’re hearing about another $1 million+ online fundraising campaign or giving day in higher education. From Arizona State to Boston University, these seven-figure giving days are becoming the norm rather than anomalies.

But how, right? What is it these schools are doing differently or better than other institutions who are having mixed results?

To get to the bottom of planning a successful giving day, we asked Washington and Lee’s Annual Giving Director, Skylar Beaver, what’s the secret sauce? By answering three short questions in the video below on W&L’s $1.4 million “Give Day” on April 24, Skylar provides an overview for how you might go about planning your giving day in 2015:

A few things jump out from the Washington and Lee Give Day that are common among many successful giving days:

  • Like most successful giving days, Washington and Lee enjoyed significant participation success along with a big fundraising total.
    Like most successful giving days, Washington and Lee enjoyed significant participation success along with a big fundraising total.

    Significant lead or challenge gifts to encourage participation and boost overall giving.

  • A strong strategy led by a interdepartmental team.
  • Social media.

We’d also add good, easy-to-use online infrastructure (in other words, a campaign page and giving form that more donors describe as “fun” rather than “maddening”) and a robust online ambassador program. Really, when you do that combined with the above items, it’s tough to fail.

Are you ready to start the planning for your giving day in 2015? BWF_social has a package to help our higher education partners succeed with online giving days. To find out more, contact our Director of Interactive Communication, Justin Ware, by clicking here or here.


Higher Ed Online Fundraising and the Rise of “Money Bombs”

Arizona State: $3.059 million in 36 hours … Columbia University: $7.8 million in 24 hours (after raising $6.8 million just one year earlier) … Santa Clara University: 2,600+ donors in 24 hours – by far their biggest day for donor participation ever.

Thanks, in part, to a strong social media strategy, Santa Clara University saw record-breaking donor participation during their first ever "money bomb" online campaign.

Thanks, in part, to a strong social media strategy, Santa Clara University saw record-breaking donor participation during their first ever “money bomb” online campaign.

Short duration, online fundraising campaigns or “money bombs” are taking over higher education. But it’s not as easy as sending out an email and posting a few things on Facebook. The institutions that have had success have invested tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in three main areas to prepare for these online events:

  • Well-designed, donor-centric online infrastructure (campaign landing pages, giving forms, mobile sites, etc).
  • A long-term online and social media strategy (not just for the campaign, but throughout the year).
  • Peer-to-peer or online ambassador programs.

If you’re interested in learning much more about the above suggestions, check out the following web chat from the Chronicle of Philanthropy (full-length chat posted below). In it, I’m joined by Georgetown’s Joannah Pickett (chief architect and strategist behind GU’s perfectly executed City Challenge online campaigns), Ohio State’s Chad Warren (one of the best online campaign planners in the business who has both Florida State’s Great Give and Dayton’s I Love UD campaigns under his belt), and the Chronicle’s Cody Switzer:


Are you ready to plan an online fundraising campaign for your institution? We have plenty of experience helping our clients achieve online fundraising success during these money bomb efforts. Click here for my BWF contact info or here for my LinkedIn to connect with me (Justin Ware) and learn more about how we might work together.


Donors Sweet on University of Michigan’s Victors Valentines

Michigan themed candy hearts drew new supporters toward Michigan's $4 billion campaign during Valentine's Day.

Michigan themed candy hearts drew new supporters toward Michigan’s $4 billion campaign during Valentine’s Day.

Content, content, content… In some ways, it’s the simplest concept: produce lots of good content and you’ll have more supporters and more goodwill among those supporters (not to mention online hooks that catch new supporters).

The thing is, creating good content – especially on a consistent basis – is anything but simple. You need at least one brilliantly creative mind, plus a firm grasp of what it is that your audience wants. In other words, good content is one part art form (the creative component) and one part science (the data that details your audiences’ preferences). Fortunately, there are some leaders in this space who are showing us the way. One of them is Shannon Riffe, the assistant director of marketing and online engagement at the University of Michigan.

In the video below, Riffe talks about the recently completed Victors Valentine online engagement campaign, and how the campaign introduced nearly 1,000 potential donors to the homepage of Michigan’s current $4 billion campaign:

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Justin helps clients achieve results through content marketing. To learn more, connect with Justin by clicking here.

How the Dalai Lama Helped Santa Clara University Prove Social Media ROI

When you’re selling shoes, the metric to prove social media ROI is relatively easy. Ultimately, it boils down to …how many shoes you’ve sold. (A lot of quantifiable engagement metrics lead to that end result, but ultimately, shoe sales trump all else).

Using the #DalaiLamaSCU hashtag, Santa Clara's social media team arranged an amazing online event around His Holiness' visit to campus.

Using the #DalaiLamaSCU hashtag, Santa Clara’s social media team arranged an amazing online event around His Holiness’ visit to campus.

For many of us working in the nonprofit world – higher education, in particular – there is no sale-of-shoes metric that easily tells us what’s working and what’s not. Sure, there’s fundraising, event attendance, number of applicants, and other quantifiable objectives, but there’s also the far less tangible goals of improving the reputation of and sentiment toward your institution. At a very high level, those are the goals Santa Clara University’s marketing and communication pros are chasing and – thanks, in part, to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama – SCU (a BWF client) has an excellent case study on how to prove the value of a strong social media strategy.

“Santa Clara University is the Jesuit University in Silicon Valley and the theme of the talk ‘Business, Ethics and Compassion’ played into much of our key messaging,” said Marika Krause, Assistant Director of Media Relations at SCU.

On February 24, the Dalai Lama spoke to about 5,000 people on the Santa Clara campus, providing SCU with a daunting challenge, but also a tremendous opportunity.

Ultimately, SCU’s MarComm team is working to drive home the institution’s strategic priorities which include excellence in Jesuit education, the promotion of global understanding, justice, academic community, and engagement with Silicon Valley (where SCU is located). For nearly two years, Santa Clara’s communication pros have been building and implementing a strong social media strategy and presence. So when the Dalai Lama visit was announced for late winter, the SCU MarComm team knew they had an opportunity to make big things happen online.

“He is one of the biggest names to visit SCU,” said Stephanie Bravo, Assistant Director of Social Media. “His message of peace, compassion, and social justice naturally fit with SCU’s message.”

Bravo says, in addition to the strategic priorities, her team’s goals also include growing SCU’s online and social media communities. Then, using those communities to clearly communicate the message and priorities of the institution.

“Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and BuzzFeed. We also used Storify to pull it all together after the event. The key to tying it all together was one unifying hashtag the we put on all the programs, press releases – even banners outside the event.” said Krause.

SCU's timely and consistent conversation management helped ensure mostly positive online discourse around the Dalai Lama's visit.

SCU’s timely and consistent conversation management helped ensure mostly positive online discourse around the Dalai Lama’s visit.

“The hashtag was the main tool that kept us organized. It kept the public informed before the event and engaged during the event. It worked so well to generate content that we were able to create photo albums from hundreds of people’s photos from the event,” said Bravo. “A team of 5 student interns were instrumental in helping me post live at the event, which led to our trending on Twitter throughout the day.”

SCU's efforts placed their event on the international stage via Twitter's "trending topics" board.

SCU’s efforts placed their event on the international stage via Twitter’s “trending topics” board.

That’s right, the relatively tiny Santa Clara University was sharing space on Twitter’s nationally trending topics list with big hitters such as Netflix and the news of Hollywood comedic legend Harold Ramis’ passing.

Again, a large contributing factor to SCU’s success, was the work put towards strategic planning since mid 2012.

“We had less than two months to pull off more than a year’s worth of logistical planning for the Dalai Lama’s visit. I’m pretty glad we’re all still standing!” said Krause. “I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise that we did so well on social media, because I think we had the groundwork in place for it to happen, but I’m grateful. Social Media is far from an exact science.”

As for advice on managing an event like this? Santa Clara Communications Director Deepa Arora offers the following…

“Be adventurous, try new things, be prepared for the unexpected. On the Live Twitter Feed during the event, some of the tweets were considered inappropriate,” said Arora. “Some students who tweeted the Dalai Lama were inviting him for a drink or asking about rumors, such as if Beyonce was in the audience. We monitored the Twitter feed, but did not delete any tweets. We had to do some hand holding to prepare senior administrators for the tone of the feed, but reminded everyone that SCU is a college campus and sometimes students say silly things. There’s no reason to turn off the Twitter feed for that.”

In the end, Santa Clara’s savviness with regards to managing internal and external forces, led to an amazingly well orchestrated event. And it wasn’t an accident. It’s the product of dedicating staff and resources to creating a sound social media strategy that’s ready for anything or, in this case, anyone.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Justin has been working with Santa Clara University since fall 2012. To learn more about Justin and his work, click here.

What is a social media strategy for fundraising?

When I ask clients “do you have a social media strategy?” they will often point me to a list of guidelines for best practices on using social media. Make no mistake, establishing guidelines for your organization’s use of social media is smart …but it’s far from a strategy.

A good social media strategy starts with a statement of goals, tactics, tools, and metrics.

A good social media strategy starts with a statement of goals, tactics, tools, and metrics.

An online and social media strategy – a document that helps you effectively manage your presence and accomplish fundraising goals – consists of two parts.

  1. First, on online and social media strategy should be a statement of goals, tactics for accomplishing those goals, resources that will be deployed, and a system for measuring the effectiveness of all that online activity.
  2. Second, should be a timeline that extends out over at least the next 12 months. On this timeline should be all the major events, milestones, campaigns, and other opportunities for fundraising and/or donor engagement. For each event/opportunity on this timeline, there should be a detailed set of tactics that will be deployed for accomplishing the associated goals. And because it’s a timeline, there will likely be items several months in advance that are imperative to the success of each event or opportunity. This second portion of the strategy is key to ensuring nothing falls through the cracks.

The two components of your strategy should work together. For example, the first portion (the goals/tactics/resources/metrics piece) should be applied to the timeline to help planners create a cohesive, on-message, and consistent approach for managing homecoming …or for the communication plan around a hospital gala …or the one-day fundraising effort for your small nonprofit around #GivingTuesday.

Why does this matter? Think about your organization’s online activity. Is it a series of one off posts that have no interconnectivity? When you post something on Facebook or Twitter, are you thinking about how that post will impact your audience’s sense of philanthropy around a specific initiative, say a scholarship drive? If you’re planning an online fundraising campaign in support of scholarships in five months, you should be posting content that (however subtly and cleverly) reinforces that audience’s understanding of the importance of supporting scholarship-related fundraising activity over the next five months (among other good content aimed at other strategic goals, of course).

Unfortunately, too many content decisions are made based on “what’s happening right now?” or “what do we need to immediately accomplish?” or “what’s hot in the news?” Not to say those things don’t matter. In fact, a portion of your social media activity needs to be reactive to provide adequate customer service. The best content is audience-focused and timely. But that doesn’t mean strategic messaging can’t be baked into the content. Not to mention, advanced planning actually frees your staff up to be more reactive, because they’ve already completed some of the work needed to reach those long-term goals.

To do the big things requires a long-term strategy that everyone on your team supports and understands. So what does this look like in real life?

In April 2013, a smart charted plotted out over a timeline led to huge donor acquisition numbers for UMass Amherst.

In April 2013, a smart strategy plotted out over a timeline led to huge donor acquisition numbers for UMass Amherst.

When you plan in advance, produce a timeline, and have a strategy to guide it all, you’re positioning your organization for success. And with how important online communication has become for nonprofits, it’s imperative your organization or institution finds the resources to enact this strategic approach.

Justin Ware is the Director Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. If you’d like to learn more about how Justin helps clients build strategies that lead to six- and seven-figure online fundraising success, click here.

ASU Raises More Than $3 Million During 2-day Online Campaign

There’s nothing like the feeling after an intense fundraising campaign ends with all the goals met. And of course, it’s great when your organization blows past its goals. But how about when you beat your goals by more than 3,800 percent?

That was the glorious experience Arizona State University development pros enjoyed after ASU recorded an awe-inspiring $3,059,265 during the second annual, two-day, Mark It Day online fundraising campaign. That $3 million haul vastly exceeded the modest goal they had set of $76,611. (ASU had raised roughly $170,000 during the first Mark It Day one year earlier)

So… HOW?!?! Well, to begin with, ASU had solid online infrastructure built on the iModules platform. An attractive landing page for the campaign had a nice mix of fundraising asks, updates, and engaging content…

ASU's Mark It Day started with an attractive, engaging campaign home page.

ASU’s Mark It Day started with an attractive, engaging campaign home page.


The campaign page also had clever, interactive content to add to the notion of this campaign being a major event.

The campaign page also had clever, interactive content to add to the notion of this campaign being a major event.

Markie - the Mark It Day mascot

Markie – the Mark It Day mascot

Beyond the basics, Arizona State’s annual giving and interactive marketing teams got together to assemble a strategy built around smart, fun, engaging content. The very idea of the campaign is both cute and engaging. Markie – essentially a map pin mascot – encourages ASU alumni to mark their place on the map with a gift. It’s the type of campaign where donors contribute almost involuntarily, because taking part is so much fun thanks to the technology.

Another key to ASU’s success were the efforts at bringing the entire campus community on board with the campaign.

“Mark It Day 2014 had increased partner participation with colleges, programs, faculty, staff, and students all helping spread our message and encouraging people to support ASU,” said Stacy Holmstedt, Senior Director of Internet Marketing.

Holmstedt and fellow campaign planner, Senior Director of Annual Giving Shad Hanselman, worked diligently to get their colleagues on board by providing them with the resources they needed to successfully contribute to the effort.

“We created a lot of custom prepared social media messaging and art for each of the colleges so they could just plug it in and go,” said Holmstedt. “We’ve found that the easier you make it for your colleagues, the higher amount of success you’ll have in getting your message out to a wide audience.”

Markie Day Graphic

Markie Day Graphic 2









ASU also didn’t let the enthusiasm from the first Mark It Day in 2013 die after the campaign closed. Instead, they used Markie to keep the idea of philanthropy alive and thriving throughout the year.

“Markie has his own social media presence and thousands of followers, and he kept them engaged throughout the year, not just in the weeks building up to the campaign,” said Holmstedt. “He did some fun things like leading a Fight Song Sing-Along video and constantly posted shout-outs to students who were being philanthropic, even if they weren’t giving directly to ASU. Building a culture of philanthropy has been of great importance here.”

As for advice, Holmstedt and Hanselman say “start planning early” and learn what it is about your audience that will motivate them to give during the campaign.

“Ours like seeing their names appear on a map in real-time; both the individual recognition and the instant gratification are motivational to our audience,” said Holmstedt.

But perhaps most important, don’t go it alone.

“Getting buy-in from the whole university is also key. This can’t just be a foundation effort, it has to be ‘everyone in.'”

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients produce six- and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. To contact Justin, click here.



Stop Telling Nonprofits They Can’t Raise Money Using Social Media

A message to social media managers, consultants, gurus, experts, etc – STOP TELLING NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS YOU CAN’T RAISE MONEY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s cliche and it’s not true. But you don’t have to take my word for it…

In October 2012, Columbia University launched their inaugural Giving Day. By all accounts, Giving Day 2012 was a monstrous success raising more than $6.8 million from 4,940 donors. How did so many thousands of donors decide to jump on board? Primarily, because those donors learned of the campaign via social media and made their gifts directly after seeing a post on social media. 55 percent of all referral traffic to Columbia’s online giving page during the campaign came via social media. In other words, social media led directly to a lot of giving activity during Columbia’s Giving Day.


Yes, you can raise money using Facebook. It takes a smart strategy and it’s not free, but it can be enormously effective.

Still not convinced? Think about the online ambassador programs that we at BWF have helped multiple clients build. During ambassador-led fundraising campaigns, on average, those institutions saw 40 percent of all giving come from new donors. 40 percent. That flurry of new donor activity happened because dozens, in some cases hundreds, of passionate supporters were sharing the message of the campaign with their friends via social media networks. Again, this peer-to-peer social media activity was a direct driver of fundraising activity.

I get it – when someone says “you can’t raise money on social media” they’re referring to the approach of an organization or institution sending out bland fundraising asks via their official Facebook or Twitter accounts. It’s true that approach rarely works. The carpet-bombing-your-audience-with-posts-begging-for-money method is an unimaginative approach that applies old marketing principals (push messaging) to new channels (social media networks). But we know better than that now. We know how to strategically engage influential social media users and work with them to build wildly successful six- and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns.

So yes, you can use social media to raise money online. In fact, when the following three things are done and done well, I don’t know of a single organization that has fallen short of its online fundraising goals:

  • Build good online infrastructure (campaign landing page, apps, widgets, mobile responsiveness, etc)
  • Develop a robust online ambassador program
  • Implement a smart content marketing strategy to drive buzz

Doing the above is not free. It’s takes significant staff time and probably an investment in outside counsel and a tech vendor (Columbia had both). But when the investment is made, you absolutely can use social media to raise (a lot of) money.

Bentz Whaley Flessner’s Justin Ware helps clients build online ambassador programs that lead to successful online fundraising campaigns. If you’d like to have online fundraising success, connect with Justin by clicking here.


3 Things to Guarantee Your New Platform Leads to Online Fundraising Success

Finally, you get the green light to purchase that fundraising or crowdfunding platform that gives you all the tools you need to start raising real money online.

  • Personal fundraising pages for your biggest advocates? Check.
  • Seamless integration with your database? Check.
  • Beautiful, content-rich campaign landing pages? Check.

Maybe you’ve had these online platforms in place for a few months or years now. And if you’re like many nonprofits, you’re not having the fundraising success you envisioned when signing the dotted line to purchase that shiny new software.

A good online giving or crowdfunding is only 1/3 of what you  need for online fundraising success.

A good online giving or crowdfunding platform is only 1/3 of what you need for online fundraising success. Without online ambassadors and a smart strategy, it’s not likely you’ll meet your goals.

What happened? Why is it that your fundraising campaigns continue to fall short of their goals? Chances are, it’s not the platform’s fault (and you probably know that).

Without a single exception, every online fundraising campaign this author can think of was successful when the organization did the following three things (and did them well):

  1. Invested in attractive, user-friendly online giving infrastructure (that’s the shiny new platform your org just purchased).
  2. A robust online ambassador program.
  3. A content strategy led by smart staff.

When the above three things are done well, the organization running the campaign has always met or exceeded its goals. Every. Single. Time. When the organization cuts corners on strategy or doesn’t have an online ambassador program, the success rate drops significantly.

So, when investing in a good online giving or crowdfunding platform (and you should, campaigns are rarely successful without good infrastructure) make sure you’re saving budget to build a strategy that includes online ambassadors and content production so those ambassadors have something to share.

Justin Ware helps nonprofit clients build online and social media fundraising strategies that lead to six- and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. On Thursday, March 20, he’ll be hosting a FREE webinar on the topic. To register, click here.

Smartphones are Powerful Major Gift Donor Engagement Tools

Facebook Mobile

Facebook Mobile

Attention major gift crowd: what’s your mobile strategy? According to this BBC World News study, you need one.

The BBC World News and study surveyed 6,000 smartphone owners from the US, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, India, and Sweden and found that:

  • 39 percent of affluent individuals access their smartphone at least once per hour (18 percent higher than the general population).
  • Affluent smartphone users are 18 percent more likely to share their location than the general population.
  • Affluent smartphone users are 4 times more influenced by mobile ads than they are by desktop ads.

For quite some time, we at BWF_social have been suggesting clients look at online as a major gift tool, in addition to something to strengthen the annual fund. Additional studies tell us that online-acquired donors give larger gifts, give more of their lifetimes, and have greater capacity to give. That established data combined with this most recent smartphone study and it’s clear – no major gift program is as effective as it could be it doesn’t use online and social media for lead generation and stewardship (at a minimum).

And really, this mobile news should come as no surprise. Click here for a 23-year-old Radio Shack ad that shows just how powerful of an all-in-one tool our smartphones have become…

Your smartphone is essentially 80 percent of everything Radio Shack carried in 1991.

Your smartphone is essentially 80 percent of everything Radio Shack carried in 1991.

Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Now get to work on a strategy that leverages these amazing tools!

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps nonprofit clients build comprehensive online and social media fundraising strategies.

Colgate Raises $5.1 Million in 24 Hours with Online (Radio)

Online fundraising and crowdfunding can do more for your major gift program than it can for your annual fund.

No, really. I’m serious. Here’s my evidence – Colgate University raised $5.1 million – the majority of the dollars coming from major donors – during a campaign that was broadcast via their radio station WRCU …which is streamed online. The bulk of the dollars came in via major donors who wanted to drive up participation during the campaign (The focus of this campaign was a more annual fund-centric, participation-centered goal …but several six and seven figure gifts were the end result, along with a lot of donors).

For the full story, check out the article on For a brief summary, here’s a few bullets:

  • An anonymous donor pledged a $1 million gift if the campaign could produce gifts from 1,300 donors (13 is a significant number in Colgate’s history)
  • WRCU rolled out a day of programming including prominent alumni such as music producer Bernie Reznick, long-time Boston Red Sox announcer Jim Castiglione, and Green Bay Packers President Mark Murphy.
  • Word of the campaign grew (because it was online, the whole world had access – not just those within the 25-mile broadcast radius of the radio station) and soon, other prominent alumni we’re adding millions of dollars to up the participation challenge.
  • When all was said and done, $5.1 million was raised from 5,683 donors.
Colgate's WRCU radio station was the online hub for an impressive fundraising effort.

Colgate’s WRCU radio station was the online hub for an impressive fundraising effort.

OK …so what’s the takeaway and how does this relate to online fundraising and/or crowdfunding? There are multiple ways…

  • Online campaigns have massive reach (this would not have happened if WRCU was not broadcast over the Internet) and create an enormous amount of buzz when done right. This leads to high donor acquisition numbers, including major gift donors.
  • Because of all that buzz, getting involved in this campaign was a way for major gift donors to:
    • Receive instant recognition for their gifts which were announced in a very public manner as part of the campaign.
    • See the impact of their gifts by all the donors who gave to reach the new and increasing participation goals.
  • The best campaigns – online or off – are intimately connected to what makes your institution special. In this case, that’s a strong communications program with many prominent alumni who care about and still listen to Colgate’s radio station.

Crowdfunding is a social event that creates buzz. If you have a major gift donor who likes the spotlight, consider inviting them to participate by offering a similar challenge. It’s the naming rights concept translated to the digital space.

Of course, while we’re at it, why restrict this approach to just major gift donors? Corporate and foundation support is increasingly important in the philanthropic space. Given the exposure a solid crowdfunding or online fundraising campaign offers, corporate partners would likely be champing at the bit to get involved with an effort like this and all the related marketing appeal.

The potential for connecting your online and crowdfunding efforts to your major gift and corporate development programs are immense. So what are you waiting for? Multi-million dollar fundraising efforts that bring about impressive donor acquisition at all levels are there to be had for those who can build a smart strategy.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. On February 27, Justin will be in Washington, DC leading a full-day crowdfunding workshop. To register, click here

Building a Strategy for Crowdfunding [DC BOOT CAMP]

Build a crowdfunding strategy for your organization at the BWF boot camp in Washington, D.C.

Build a crowdfunding strategy for your organization at the BWF boot camp in Washington, D.C.

Crowdfunding is a great for small gifts and donor acquisition. It’s also a powerful tool for major donor prospecting and corporate foundation relations. Don’t believe us? Well then, you’ll just have to attend our Crowdfunding Boot Camp in Washington, D.C. on February 27th! We’ll share examples that prove those points. Then, we’ll help your organization develop a strategy to achieve those results through a successful online and social media strategy.

Having an advanced online fundraising and/or crowdfunding strategy is one of the best things your organization can do to raise money and (especially) acquire more new donors in 2014. We say this because…

So join us on the Georgetown campus on Thursday, February 27th from 9am to 4:30pm for this full-day event. Along with sharing lots of online fundraising success stories, we’ll show you how to set up a successful program for your nonprofit organization or institution.

Click here to sign up now and we’ll see you next month in the Nation’s Capital!

The BWF Crowdfunding Boot Camp will be led by BWF’s Director of Communication, Justin Ware. Feel free to send any questions Justin’s way by clicking here for his contact info or by connecting with Justin here on LinkedIn.

Raising a Blizzard of Money Using Twitter

Hijacking a Blizzard for Twitter Fundraising Success

Hijacking a Blizzard for Twitter Fundraising Success

Wanna raise a blizzard of money online? Well then, tie your online fundraising in with a snowstorm!

That’s exactly what a single online ambassador did for Indiana nonprofit Wheeler Mission Ministries. The result? $41,000 raised through Twitter. That’s right – using ONLY Twitter, a single online ambassador raised more than $40,000 during one single snowstorm. For more on that story, check out the full post from SocialMedia Today by clicking here.

Hijacking Current Events = Fundraising Success

The snowstorm Twitter surge mentioned above happened when a smart supporter of Wheeler Mission decided he’d ask his connections to pledge a dollar amount for each inch of snow that fell during the storm. The end total was $3,700 per inch, which led to the $41,000 total for the 11+ inch storm.

The strategy above is known as “hijacking” a current event. Super Bowls, weather events, the Oscars, holidays …all can be leveraged to boost online fundraising in a big way. For another example, look at the first Tweetsgiving.

The up-and-coming-at-the-time Epic Change organization wanted to fund a school in Tanzania. To do so, they needed $10,000.

TweetsgivingDuring Thanksgiving 2009, the fledgling Epic Change group started sending out tweets with the hashtag #Tweetsgiving. Using that hashtag, Epic Change tweeters starting posting about what they were thankful for during the season of thanks. The hashtag caught on and soon thousands of people were tweeting their thanks using the hashtag #tweetsgiving.

Periodically, the Epic Change team would include a link to the online fundraising page in a tweet using the #Tweetsgiving tag. After just 48 hours, the buzz around the campaign led to the easy fulfillment of their goal, with more than $11,000 being raised. Epic change reached their funding goal by “hijacking” the Thanksgiving holiday by adding a clever twist in hashtag form.

What current events can your organization hijack for similar success?

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients build online engagement and fundraising strategies.

Double Your Fundraising By Asking Donors NOT to Give [STUDY]

Make 2013 the year online giving takes off for your nonprofit.Want to double your online giving results? Simple …just make it easy for your donors not to give.

As counterintuitive as that sounds, a recent study highlighted in this John Haydon blog post tells us that giving donors an option to give and NOT to give actually doubles the likelihood they will donate.

It’s called the “But You Are Free” approach to a giving ask. In other words, along with saying “Please donate by clicking here” you would also want an adjacent button that says “You are free not to give by clicking here.” (The approach worked best face-to-face, but also worked well when done via email)

So NOW what??

From an online giving standpoint, the next logical question is …if someone clicks on the “But you are free not to give” option, where does that link take them? Do you ask them to instead share some content via a social network or email? Ask them to ask their friends to support the cause? …redirect the to a homepage? …or end of story, do nothing at all? I think this makes for a great conversation, so I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or online at Twitter or LinkedIn.

Justin Ware is the Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner where he helps clients build online engagement and fundraising strategies.

Content Marketing for Universities Using Hashtags

User generated content – it’s the holy grail of content marketing. But as many who have tried can tell you, it’s not as simple as asking your audience to “submit your favorite photos of (fill in the blank).” LogoFirst, it needs to be easy on the user. I mean, REALLY easy …like including a simple hashtag in a post is all they should need to do. Which is the case for students, alumni, and supporters of the University of San Francisco, thanks to the institution’s use of – an online application that builds audiences through publishing by curation. helps the University of San Francisco’s e-communications team track content tagged with the #USFCA hashtag on leading social networks such as Instagram, Twitter, and blogs. After a post using the #usfca hashtag is discovered, that content is then reviewed. If it passes muster, the USF e-comm team features that content on the website. The result is a conglomeration of photos, videos, and stories about life at and around the University of San Francisco.

The University of San Francisco's content marketing hub,

The University of San Francisco’s content marketing hub,

“ fits perfectly into how we work towards the strategic goals,” said Thomas Listerman, Director of E-Communications at USF. “We curate content as a part of our regular monitoring – morning, noon, and afternoon.”

And it’s working. The project has led to a spike in visitors to USF’s web presence.

“We launched in March 2013 and after 9 months, we have now reached 130,000 views and 960 unique contributing sources,” said Listerman.

The page has also led to extensive use of the #usfca hashtag.

“We also measure (through radian6) the social media footprint in terms of social media conversations that mention the university name, and specifically conversations that include #USFCA,” said Listerman. “Compared to the same month last year, we have seen an average 168% increase in USF-relevant conversations overall and a 573% increase for the use of #USFCA.”

Like most universities, the University of San Francisco has few staff resources assigned to social media.

“Three full-time staff manage both email marketing and social media for the university, so we have to use our time efficiently,” said Listerman. “The monitoring and review process of #USFCA has been a way for us to generate more social media content, and more engagement with our content, with much less effort compared to creating the social media content ourselves.”

The site is authentic while also remaining on brand, thanks to the review process. Since it’s easy to use, there’s no shortage of user-generated submissions. And, because it’s user-generated, it’s helping USF understand what matters to its constituents, which shapes overall content marketing.

“The data from is playing an increasingly important role for our content marketing strategy,” said Listerman. “We use metrics from and our other social media venues as a live ‘Litmus test’ for which stories to develop further through other channels.”

Interested in conducting your own content marketing campaign similar to what the University of San Francisco has done using Listerman has the following list of tips to offer:

  • Consistently monitor your content – Look at what your community is already talking about and how your curation can make a difference. Respond daily to questions and comments that deserve response.
  • Get students involved with developing the concept for the project, either as student workers or as a focus group.
  • Give the community one common hashtag to identify themselves when they refer to the university in their social media conversations.
  • Use your brand messaging platform to create curation standards for your team.
  • Make sure that your platform of choice…
    • Links back each curated piece to the original item.
    • Gives each curated content item a URL of its own.
    • Allows for sharing through other social media channels.
    • Allows for metrics both on a site-wide and item-specific level.
  • Implement a procedure for circling back with every contributor you curate and publish, to let them know you’ve published their content.
  • Swag doesn’t hurt. USF used postcards and stickers for the back of laptops or smart phones to create extra attention in the student population.
  • Re-launch your project every semester with a focus on incoming students, in order to get them into the habit of using the right hashtag when they discover the university and throughout their student experience.

Justin Ware helps higher ed institutions, healthcare organizations, environmental organizations, and other nonprofits develop content marketing strategies. To connect with Justin to learn more, click here.

Facebook Ads Strategy for 2014

Facebook Ads LogoOnline communicators tend to harbor love/hate relationships with Facebook Ads. On one hand, no other form of online advertising – quite possibly no other form of advertising, period – allows a marketer to hyper target their message to the precise audience they’re looking to reach for such a small investment. In other words, Facebook Ads are efficient.

On the other hand, Facebook has changed its News Feed algorithm so that posts you make from your page that aren’t “promoted” (read: Ads you pay for) have very little chance of being seen by your fans. In other words, if you don’t have cash to spend, Facebook may no longer be a worthwhile investment of resources.

The latter, more negative, “hate” view of Facebook brought about by its recent focus on selling Ads is a gut reaction by many of us. But to ignore Facebook and its more than 1 billion users is a recipe for disaster. If you want to grow your nonprofit base while staying connected with your current supporters, Facebook is a must. So, knowing that, here are two things you can do in 2014 to make the most of the world’s leading social network:

Unlike this Facebook News Feed Ad, your Ads should be image driven and look like content a person's friend would ordinarily share.

Unlike this Facebook News Feed Ad, your Ads should be image driven and look like content a person’s friend would ordinarily share.

Content is (still) King: Facebook Ads are most effective when they’re set up to appear in a user’s News Feed. To optimize clicks and impressions, you should create content that looks like it belongs in the News Feed…

  • Images and/or video are a must.
  • Something that hooks into pop culture and the news of the day is very helpful.
  • Donor-centric is always best.

Really, all the rules that apply to good content also apply to Facebook Ads, because Facebook Ads are set up to look like content people share on a daily basis.

Leverage Online Ambassadors: As we’ve written about in the past, there is a way around Facebook’s increasingly restrictive algorithms – don’t rely solely on your page to share content about your organization. Instead, work with your online ambassadors to deliver content to their networks. Content means more when it comes from a trusted peer …which online ambassadors are to a large number of people. More importantly, Facebook’s page algorithms don’t apply to individuals. So, when online ambassadors share your content, far more people will see it. Use ambassadors to either directly post content from their profiles or share content posted on your org’s page.

Facebook is too intertwined in the daily lives of your donors to be ignored and Facebook Ads too effective to forego. Be sure when you’re making the investment in Ads, you’re doing so in a strategic, content-driven fashion to help ensure your dollars are well spent.

Justin Ware helps nonprofits develop online and social media strategies for fundraising. To connect with Justin, click here.

The Brilliance of SCU’s BuzzFeed Content Marketing

BuzzFeed is the embodiment of the move toward visual that has consumed social media in recent months. You’ve probably seen a few yourself – BuzzFeeds are those lists of images and gifs such as “21 Reasons Why Exercising is a Terrible Idea” and “The 40 Most Important Corgis of 2013.” They’re funny, heart-warming, and the safest bet of just about any content to go viral.

So it makes sense that Santa Clara University (a BWF client) decided to leverage BuzzFeed for their online and social media engagement and content marketing activity.

“The idea to use BuzzFeed really came from vigilant monitoring of social media,” said Marika Krause, Assistant Director of Media Relations at Santa Clara. “I noticed how many people were liking and sharing BuzzFeed links in my newsfeed.”

Krause is part of social media team at Santa Clara led by Assistant Director of Social Media Stephanie Bravo and Communications Director Deepa Arora. Bravo and Arora have been focused on using online and social media to connect with SCU alumni and supporters who might not otherwise be connected to the institution (in addition to serving those with a high degree of connection already). BuzzFeed, the team found, fits that need perfectly.

“It is vital to have a strong presence on multiple social media platforms, because the communities are in constant transition – anyone remember Friendster or when MySpace was the biggest player?” said Krause. “As social networks evolve, each site serves a different purpose, with different levels of popularity, and means different things to the unique population using them.”

The result is a series of BuzzFeeds – some created by students and alumni, others by the Office of Marketing and Communication at Santa Clara – that capture what it means to be a student at Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley. All the while, keeping a strategic message there for everyone to see in the best, least-intrusive way possible.

“The content is engaging with subtle nods to Santa Clara University,” said Krause. “We’re not banging people over the head with a message, but instead inviting them to enjoy some easily digestible content with a little Santa Clara flavor.”

Maybe the best example is this BuzzFeed – Top 7 Reasons You’re Addicted to BuzzFeed. In the visually-driven spirit of BuzzFeed, here’s a breakdown of why this particular Feed is such an awesome example of content marketing…

Top 4 Reasons Why SCU’s BuzzFeed Rocks Content Marketing’s Socks

  1. The “Top 7 Reasons You’re Addicted to BuzzFeed” post is about BuzzFeed (social media loves talking about itself).SCU BuzzFeed Title
  2. SCU’s own Instagram and Facebook posts are featured in the Feed. Strategic content placement, anyone?Screen Shot 2013-12-06 at 10.46.41 PM
  3. It’s about the psychology of BuzzFeed and why we like the silly things we like. Who doesn’t love learning about that?SCU BuzzFeed Item - Content Marketing
  4. The information in this post comes from an SCU expert. Strategic placement of an expert in engaging social media content, anyone?SCU BuzzFeed Expert

For more on content marketing and how it helps your achieve online fundraising success, connect with BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware by clicking here.

3 Tips for AFTER #GivingTuesday

GivingTuesday Logo 2013It’s the day after #GivingTuesday and your organization is flush with first-time donors. You had a strategy to boost participation and acquire new donors. That strategy worked great, but now what? After a big online fundraising rush comes the real work of retaining those new donors. The following are a few tips to help you turn someone’s online impulse to give into a lifetime of support for your mission.

Thank first time donors: They’re online donors and so far, that’s the only way they’ve supported your organization. So be sure you thank them in a clever, engaging, and (most importantly) online way. Be ready with a brief, funny or heartwarming, and shareable video that reinforces their gift and makes them want to give more. Produce an infographic you can share with these new donors …a top ten list of why their support is so important …an email from someone who’s benefitted from your mission. Something, anything online that catches their attention and thanks them in a way that leaves them wanting more.

…but don’t forget about mail. Studies tell us dual channel (online and mail) donors give more money per gift and over time. That’s especially true when the donor receives follow up information from the nonprofit via both mail and online. So send them a welcome packet in the mail. Then study their response. Is online the only way they continue to interact? If so, significantly reduce the amount of mail they receive going forward. Then, reallocate those savings from reducing your mail program to add more staff and technology to support your online stewardship. Obviously, you should thank all your donors who give on #GivingTuesday. Be sure to have a unique plan for the first-timers who’ve come to support your organization via the web.

Steward through great content marketing: With all we know about the power of good content and how it moves donors to give more often and acquires new donors, you should have a solid content marketing strategy in place already. With an influx of new donors from #GivingTuesday, it’s especially important you’re producing and/or sharing good content to tell your story and reinforce their intent to support your organization.

This is another component of retention. New online donors will often visit your website, Facebook page, or blog to learn more about what you do. It’s imperative you have a rich set of content ready to greet those new, curious donors and steward them toward becoming more entrenched supporters.

Online ambassadors help drive interest during crowdfunding campaigns.

Online ambassadors help drive interest during crowdfunding campaigns. Use #GivingTuesday to find more of these ambassadors who will support your mission in future online campaigns.

Find new online ambassadors: Chances are, some influential social media users gave to your organization on #GivingTuesday. In your thank you message(s), ask for the donors’ Twitter handles, Facebook profile URL, blog URLs, website links, etc. Then, review their submissions to find social media users with large online followings. There’s a decent chance many of these social media savvy new donors wield influence online and can help you raise more money during upcoming giving days and online campaigns. Identify these potential online ambassadors and build them into your online fundraising and stewardship strategies.

Justin Ware helps nonprofits build successful online fundraising and stewardship programs. To learn more about Justin’s work at Bentz Whaley Flessner, click here.

Three Reasons Why You Want to Do More Online in 2014

It’s never too early to start planning, especially when it comes to next year’s budget. As for that budget, it should include money for online and social media under the communications heading. If it already does include budget for online and social, unless you’re beating all your fundraising goals (online and off line), it should include more money this year.

Why? I’m glad you asked. The following are three, statistically-backed reasons why you want to be doing more online to boost your fundraising in the next 12 months and beyond…

New donor acquisition: Well-run online fundraising campaigns are absolute juggernauts when it comes to acquiring new donors. A recent, informal BWF survey of mostly higher education institutions found that, on average, 40 percent of the donors who give during online ambassador-driven campaigns are new donors. While we haven’t crunched the numbers yet, when it comes to the healthcare examples we know of, that number is even higher.

Online Donors Give Bigger Gifts Than Those Acquired Via Mail

Online Donors Give Bigger Gifts Than Those Acquired Via Mail – Blackbaud, 2011

And here’s the thing – we’re not talking about 22-year-old donors who can barely make ends meet …online-acquired donors have higher household incomes, are more educated, and give larger gifts than donors acquired via mail. And, they’re not just kids. For everyone under age 65, online is now the primary method they use to make their first gift.

Stewardship: A good social media content marketing strategy helps donors understand how their gifts make a difference. The more you share that story online, the more their decision to give and give again is reinforced. That’s true for donors at all levels. Good social media content marketing is a major component of modern donor stewardship.

But what about stewarding major donors? Online and social media are just too impersonal, right? Not if you don’t want it to be. Check out this wonderful thank you video from Cornell to a generous supporter. Not only does content like this recognize the donor it honors, but that donor can easily share this video with their connections – many of whom are potential major donor prospects themselves. Content marketing is just as, if not more powerful in your major donor stewardship programs as it is for the annual fund.

Dayton's "I Love UD" campaign raised $1.7 million from more than 3,000 donors in one month.

Dayton’s “I Love UD” campaign raised $1.7 million from more than 3,000 donors in one month.

You’ll raise money! By now, you’ve probably heard about Columbia University’s back-to-back $6.9 million and $7.8 million 24-hour campaigns. But have you also heard about how the University of Dayton raised $1.7 million in one month through an online ambassador program? …or how Georgetown used gamification to raise more than $500,000 in 27 hours? …or how the University of Massachusetts Amherst exceeded the entire previous year’s worth of student giving in a day and a half? You don’t have to be an Ivy League school to raise big money online. All you need is a smart online and social media strategy that’s connected to a well-planned online fundraising campaign.

Now that you know you should must increase your investment in online and social media for fundraising, where should you allocate that investment? Below are three tips that will help you raise more money now and long-term.

An online ambassador program: Identify, engage, steward, and leverage your most influential online supporters to boost your online fundraising and awareness-building activity. Use smart tech, dedicated personnel to managing the program, and treat your ambassadors like the valuable volunteers they are… ALL YEAR LONG. Not just leading up to a fundraising campaign.

Better online infrastructure: Ease of use is enormous. You must be sure that your online giving process is as attractive, trusthworthy-seeming, and effortless as possible. Give donors the ability to make a gift from where ever they feel comfortable online – from email, on a mobile device, or via social networks like Facebook. Good tech (when coupled with a good communications strategy) is always worth the investment.

Personnel to create and manage an online strategy: You need a detailed social media strategy that delineates how your online and social media is going to help you reach your goals. This is not guesswork anymore. There are experienced professionals (and consultants!) who know what it takes to raise more money online. Hire them and build a strategy to help you increase online and social media fundraising in 2014 and beyond!

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. Learn more about how he helps clients raise more money online by clicking here.

6 Case Studies on Using Social Media in Fundraising and Alumni Relations

CASE, BWF, and mStoner combined to write a white paper on social media for advancement.

CASE, BWF, and mStoner combined to write a white paper on social media for advancement.

If you’re looking for a step-by-step recounting of how to use social media for advancement, check out this recent white paper assembled by mStoner and CASE. (BWF contributed two of the case studies to this effort)

How did UMass Amherst boost it’s culture of philanthropy by acquiring more than 1,000 new donors in 36 hours (half of them students)?

What allowed Georgetown to pull in more than a half million dollars from donors across the country during its 24-hour City Challenge online campaign?

And how in the world did Columbia University raise $6.8 million from 4,400 donors in just a single day? …most of it online?

Those stories plus three more case studies are included in the white paper “#SocialMedia, Advancement, and Fundraising in Education.” Download it,  have a read, and then apply the lessons learned to your own online fundraising and advancement initiatives. No matter your size or goals, the tactics can be scaled to meet your institution’s needs.

Would you like to learn more about using social media to raise more money? Connect with BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication, and co-author of the aforementioned white paper, Justin Ware by clicking here.

Columbia’s Second Annual Giving Day – Another Huge Online Ambassador Success


Columbia University Giving Day 2013

They did it again. This time, it was even bigger.

On October 23, Columbia University hosted its second annual Giving Day. An almost entirely online, ambassador-driven fundraising campaign that ranks among the most successful in history. In just 24 hours, Columbia raised more than $7.8 million dollars from 9,759 donors. Those who gave represent 53 countries and all 50 states.

Giving Day 2013 was a huge success with nearly 10,000 donors giving $7.8 million over 24 hours.

Giving Day 2013 was a huge success with nearly 10,000 donors giving $7.8 million over 24 hours.

The logical question is, “how?” We’ll get to the specifics on that in a later post, but here’s what we already know about Giving Day 2013 and what made it successful (which are the same things that can make your online fundraising campaigns successful, albeit at scale):

  • A robust online ambassador program: Online ambassadors worked well for Columbia in 2012, so they knew they needed another strong peer-to-peer effort in 2013. With this in mind, Columbia worked hard at identifying, engaging, and coaching a team of online ambassadors who would help them have even more success in 2013. Part of this ambassador effort was the know-how and great work done by Columbia’s staff. Another part was the smart use of software like SocialToaster – all of it came together to double the number of donors from 2012 to 2013.
  • Great infrastructure: Websites, online giving pages, Facebook apps, embeddable widgets – all across the Columbia online ecosystem, donors could find easy-to-use tools that allowed them to participate in Giving Day.
  • Brilliant staff: Columbia knew after 2012 that smart, strategic planning was key to a successful campaign. Internal staff and external vendors combined to make 2012 a hit. A similar mix of talent was assembled to cement 2013’s Giving Day as a tradition.

And that is probably the most impressive thing that we can glean (so far) from Giving Day 2012 – well-run online giving days are not fads. When smart strategy, experienced personnel, innovative tech, and enthusiastic ambassadors come together, online giving days become tradition.

Justin Ware is the director of interactive communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To learn more about BWF’s work in planning online fundraising campaigns, visit

Is Your Nonprofit Ready for Crowdfunding?

A lot of smart institutions and organizations have come to BWF in recent months with the following question – “what do we need to do to be ready for a crowdfunding campaign?” That’s a smart question, because it indicates the leaders of that organization know there’s more to crowdfunding than having an online giving page on your website.

So what do you need to be ready for crowdfunding? Allow us to show you via the visually-pleasing approach of the infographic! Below is a flow chart that lays out the prerequisites to hosting a successful, peer-to-peer, online ambassador, or crowdfunding campaign:

Flow chart to help you know whether your nonprofit is ready for crowdfunding.

Flow chart to help you know whether your nonprofit is ready for crowdfunding.

BWF’s Director of Interactive Communication Justin Ware helps clients plan and execute online crowdfunding campaigns. To learn more about BWF’s services, click here.