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 Director of Interactive Communication in Bentz Whaley Flessner’s BWF_social practice. To connect with Justin to learn about how he can help your organization build a robust digital strategy, click here.

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.