Social Development: Turning Prospects into Followers and Friends into Donors

by Ken Gordon

Jewish day school development lives or dies on the strength of an institution’s philanthropic kehillah. If you create robust, honest relationships with donors and prospective donors, you have a viable development program. If not, not.

Social media functions precisely the same way: great relationships create success. Interact well in the online world, and you’ll project a vital digital presence. And if you don’t, you won’t.

So it’s no secret that smart schools intentionally build social media into their development strategy. They employ these virtual bridges to construct and maintain the long-term connections that ultimately lead to a successful fundraising program. Let’s call this shidduch of social media and day school development, social development.

Bulldozing the Hierarchy

Social media is a wonderful development tool people because it bulldozes social hierarchies. It provides access. It removes barriers. It encourages like-minded individuals to talk to each other, no matter what their status. Compare this to the offline world, in which many donor prospects are extremely insulated.

The social universe cares nothing for org charts, protective private assistants, tax brackets, and all the rest… and (good news) there are some donors and prospects who love mixing it up online. Some blog. Some post videos. Others love answering LinkedIn Questions or dropping pithy Status Updates on Facebook. But everyone in this world has agreed, in some way, to be part of its interactive communication system, and that’s to your advantage.

Explore the Universe

Question: What’s the best social media tool for development pros? Actually, that’s a trick question; there is no “best” way to practice social development. Social choice varies by the individual, and some people will simply opt out entirely. A smart development pro will explore as many social outlets as time and common sense allow. Let your research be your social media guide and learn where your people live online. Here’s how:

  • Print out your list of prospects – and your list of current donors – and search the major social media sites to see who has an active account. Plug some names into the Facebook and Twitter search boxes and see what comes up.
  • Enter the salient data in a “Preferred Social Media Tool(s)” folder on your computer or database.
  • Begin basic engagement. If you learn that a certain prospect is a manic tweeter, Follow away; if another prospect digs Facebook, Like her page.
  • Study the posts carefully, in preparation for future conversations.

Beyond prospecting leads and nurturing donors, you’ll probably want to join whatever local Jewish conversations are taking place online. Let’s say your school is in New Hampshire. You might search on Google for, say, “popular Jewish NH hashtags.” Like the FB pages for the local Jewish orgs (your local Federation, JCCs, etc.). Set up Google Alerts for your school’s name, “Jewish education in New Hampshire,” “New Hampshire Jewish day school,” and such.

Also: Social media is great for professional development. You might want to join – if you haven’t already – PEJE’s Development Community of Practice Google Group. This is a private conversation in which day school development people can share best practices, questions, and concerns. It’s run by our superb Jennifer Weinstock and is full of honest and helpful information.

What Do You Say

Let’s imagine that you have found a great prospect with an active online profile: now what? You’ll want to spend time studying his posts. In social media, the best connections come from an authentic overlapping in interest. If, from your reading, you deduce that a prospect is very interested in Tikkun Olam, and T.O. is a core part of your school’s mission, for example, then you’ll have much to talk about.

Subtlety is key in social interactions. For instance, this kind of thing will never fly:

Hi, @richperson! I’m a development officer at Eric Jacobowitz Jewish Day School. Would you give us $?

Instead, use social media as a way to develop a real conversation for both parties.

@richperson Loved your piece on teaching Tikkun Olam. That’s why my kids are @Jacobowitz Day School, whose mission is all about repairing the world.

Personal connections can sometimes be used as well. Let’s say that you want to start talking to a prospective donor who spends a lot of time yakking about the major arts center she recently funded. You just happen to be in a choir that’s singing there at a Hanukkah concert. Why not bring it up? A few tweets can lead to a cup of coffee, which can lead to her seeing you perform, which might – eventually – lead to the establishment of a legacy gift to your school.

Think Before You Post

Before you hit the “update” button, stop and think. Not for an hour, not for a minute, but long enough to review what you’re about to say and see if what you’re saying is useful or – if replying to someone – truly responsive.

Empty messages won’t help you online.

Instead, show that you’ve read what the other person wrote. How do you accomplish this? You employ the classical Jewish techniques of quotation and commentary. Don’t just say “Great article about Jewish ed and Shabbat,” but rather, “I think your point about Jewish education and Shabbat is well taken; have you read Heschel on the subject?” That is, pick a specific point your prospect has made and respond with a specific one of your own.

Of course, you’ll have to experiment, and see what you can fit into, say, a tweet-space or a comment box.

In the meantime, here are a few things to keep in mind about social media behavior:

  • Post links to relevant articles. Study the links your Friends and Followers post, and quote when necessary.
  • Answer questions. Ensure that your answer is clear and directly addresses the query.
  • Share content. Facebook makes it easy to share all kinds of content; be sure to add a meaningful comment for your Friends.
  • Retweet worthwhile information. If you need to learn about Retweeting, see our Twitter tutorial.

A few things to avoid:

  • Do not use social channels merely to sell your school.
  • If someone resists your online friendship, do not keep trying. That is called stalking, and it’s the opposite of social development.
  • Do not forget that social media is a public forum. Know when a face-to-face meeting, phone call, or email are necessary. Social media should be one of many avenues you travel on the path of development.

And finally: whatever you do online, always strive to be a social media mentsh. Be attentive, civil, and helpful online and you’re well on the way to true social development. And if you can’t – oh, of course you can.

Ken Gordon is the Social Media Manager of PEJE. He cordially invites you to friend their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on PEJE’s webzine Sustained!