Communications and Resource Development as Cornerstone of Social Media Strategy

by Jo-Ann Mort and Judith Wineman

Successful integration of communications and resource development to bring sustainability to mission-driven non-profits is becoming increasingly reliant on new media and online social networking. The tool box is changing. In order to effectively utilize new social media, communications and development professionals should not be trapped into thinking this is an “either/or” situation. The key to successful communications and resource development campaigns is an integrated plan based on both traditional expertise and new technologies.

In the last ten years, online giving has seen a sharp increase. This cannot be explained by changing strategy; rather, it reflects the increased availability of online accessibility. Online giving is easy, and social media is a great way to get people to click and give. The problem is that users are flooded with information. There’s a need to be strategic, which means worry less about the dissemination of the message and more about the nuance of framing and targeting to avoid getting lost in the constant flow of information users are exposed to every day.

Just because people use social media platforms doesn’t mean that they understand how to use them in a effective manner. True, forward thinking users are essential, but all too common is the instinct to interpret informed as qualified. An effective online campaign takes as much thought and energy as working with hard copy. Social media strategy for fundraising is only as effective as the expertise behind it. Unless the message is framed properly and the audience targeted effectively, the campaign will fail.

Consider Twitter, which is, to many people, a confusing overload of abbreviations and repetition. Convention teaches that the benefit of Twitter is the possibility of tapping into a network of involved individuals by “following” the right people. True, there is a less formal social structure to Twitter, allowing groups and individuals to approach one another directly with a greater likelihood of acceptance than Facebook or other platforms. The limit, however, is a 140 character trap. This sentence, for instance, has exactly 140 characters, and I am not able to explain in this space why that is relevant to donor relations. Twitter calls for a distillation of a message without losing meaning. Word choice, in this situation, becomes incredibly important. In a study conducted at Oxford University in 2009, the average number of words per tweet was measured at 14.98. Ours had 25, an accurate reflection of word count in general usage. Without a strong understanding of media and messaging, you risk losing the strength of a message, and worse, incorrectly framing your mission and losing a potential donor altogether. This means that for a good Twitter strategy, one must take into account changing trends in the attention span of target audiences and weigh them against traditional understanding of how to send an effective fundraising message.

The Internet is unwieldy. Anyone with enough time has the ability to spread an idea, and countering negativity is, at best, ineffective. A common suggestion is that one can apply simple algorithms to social media. X number of original tweets, Y re-tweets, and Z Facebook posts guarantee maximum exposure without annoying your audience. That may be true, but it often comes along with the suggestion that there is a minimum presence required to be effective online. While not untrue, the idea that too few posts can look unprofessional often leads to sloppy posts and has the potential for unintended consequences. For instance, if posts go unmonitored, and someone links to a page or article that conflicts with the purpose of your organization, it can seem like an endorsement. This can turn someone off to you immediately. You might only have a few seconds to hook someone with an online message. If they see something they don’t like, chances are, they’ll just click away. The bottom line is that when you are asking for money, you can’t risk offending people and this applies online just as much as anywhere else.

Success online is hard to chart. Social media is an essential tool, and, in the right hands, can bolster your image, call people to action, and earn new donors for your organization. It is important to remember that it is simply an evolved form of what we’ve been doing all along. Donor cultivation and press releases need to be translated into a whole new “online language” – which just means sped up. Traditional fundraising rules still apply. For maximum impact, social media strategy must live in the forward-looking intersection of communications and resource development.

Jo-Ann Mort is CEO of ChangeCommunications, a strategic consulting firm based in New York City with clients in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere. Before starting her company 5 years ago, Jo-Ann directed communications for the Jewish Funders Network and also for the US Programs of the Soros foundations network, OSF.

Judith Wineman, of Resource Development Consultants, works with ChangeCommunications on behalf of clients.