Social Media and Fundraising

Social Media and Fundraising


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Last week I attended the Pennsylvania Land Conservation Conference about an hour up into the Poconos from Scranton. (Gorgeous spot!) One of the rules I live by is to always attend a workshop on social media and fundraising if I possibly can. For the most part, I am an idiot when it comes to social, and I have a lot to learn.

The workshop PALTA offered was one of the better ones I’ve seen. I learned some new stuff and had several of my current opinions reinforced also.

The new stuff is worth briefly sharing:

  • The presenters did not recommend a YouTube channel because it is expensive and time-consuming to set up and maintain. Got someone who wants to make it their life? Go for it.
  • They did recommend Facebook (because of the sheer numbers of users), Twitter (because of its intimacy), Instagram (because of its immediacy), and LinkedIn (because of its connection to the business world).
  • They recommended managing multiple channels as a hedge against slides into irrelevancy (think MySpace).
  • They recommended Hootsuite to help manage the various platforms – to help organizations use social media as a communications campaign instead of merely posting to post. The presenters were strategically planning social media a year in advance.


OK, so that’s all good stuff.

I am very aware that sometimes I listen for things that just reinforce my existing opinions and hear only what I’m listening for.

So, with that as a qualifier, this is what I also heard:

  • Social media can be used effectively to raise money for specific projects with short windows and great urgency. It is not as useful for building long-term relationships with donors.
  • Social media can be used effectively to reach new audiences – audiences that may not have even been aware of your organization previously. Success in fundraising from these new audiences and especially securing their long-term philanthropic interest is another question.
  • Social media is not cheap if you consider that part of the cost is staff. The organizations doing really well in social media have staff dedicated to the effort. (There is an opportunity cost to this as well – could we have hired a major gifts officer with the same money and ended up raising more money?)


In other words, social media is not a replacement for building relationships with donors. It’s a complement.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been writing a series about recruitment strategies. I was looking for something new I could share about using social media to recruit new members and donors, and frankly, I didn’t find it. Again, the bottom line is that it doesn’t work very well. (Again, Sorry!)

I have written before about how one organization is doing it (See Using Social Media to Recruit New Members), so I won’t rehash that material here. But I will leave you with these three thoughts:

Social media should not be seen as a cheap alternative to more traditional fundraising tools like direct mail, newsletters, major gift prospects development, and planned giving. Organizations looking to do fundraising on the cheap will end up paying the price. At best social media’s relationship to fundraising is related to urgency. A conserved property near me in Wisconsin was devastated by flooding several years ago. The land trust has experienced an outpouring of community support, much of it driven by social media. Keeping those donors will require more traditional fundraising strategies.

In my study of five-year values, (see 5Yr Value: The Metric that Tells You the Most About Your Fundraising), the median five-year value (2014 donors) was $1,100. The range was enormous – $200-$6,000! And I took a look at the organizations getting less than $1,100 looking for lessons learned and common denominators. Not entirely surprisingly, many of those organizations had abandoned paper in favor of social media for their fundraising. I suspect that much of this is related to donors who make a first gift and never end up making another gift. Renewal rates from social media campaigns are notoriously low. The ice-bucket challenge caught lightning in a bottle, but the success could neither be repeated nor replicated. couldn’t renew its donors a year later.

One of the phenomena in current fundraising news is that whereas charitable giving continues to increase (now topping $400 billion), the number of donors is steadily decreasing. There are multiple factors at play to be sure, but it’s more than a little concerning that this is occurring at the same time that crowdfunding and social media campaigns are both on the rise.

Or maybe I’m just finding information that reinforces my existing opinions.


Cheers, and Have a great week.




PS: Social media fundraising should not be confused with online giving. Many people choose to give online regardless of how they were informed or solicited.


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  • Jill Boullion
    Posted at 09:57h, 21 May

    We’ve decided that social media best supports our community conservation and advocacy programs. I doubt there’s a lot over overlap in our donor base and our social media followers, frankly. What worries me is the report that came out this past week that the US Postal service could shut down operations within five years. I know it’s easy to say “that would never happen”, but I’m not so sure. 🙁

  • reneecarey
    Posted at 06:48h, 21 May

    Thanks for making the trip to PA!! It’s always great to see you and hear more about what you’re thinking. We’ll be talking about source codes later today. : – ) Exciting Tuesday stuff at NPC!!