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Kathy Cain

Communications planning

Friendraising before fundraising: do more than ask via social media

February 1, 2016   //   Kathy Cain

Fundraising online can be tricky. You ask potential donors to take their money and give it to an abstract cause or organization instead of spending it on themselves. You appeal to their better natures, but with so many things competing for attention, your message can easily get lost in a sea of information.

This only gets more difficult if your message is a reminder that your institution needs money. In today’s online world, your job is no longer just asking for money but putting your audience into a receptive mood for donating — you need to friendraise before you can fundraise.

But how can you do that?

An offer they can’t refuse

The solution to this problem is offering something to your audience and attracting advocates for your cause. Make your development campaign about giving value whether this is in the form of community, information or entertainment. Offer something that will reinforce that connection with your institution before you ask for a donation. After you have developed this connection, your donors will be more disposed to give.

Create community

Some causes lend themselves more than others to developing communities. If a few vocal donors care deeply about the cause, they spread the message to their own friends and networks. What many fundraisers do is to create a forum for the discussion and communication. By creating the forum and starting the conversation, you can create social buy-in that leads to increased involvement. The community will be able to give resources beyond the monetary and can become quite resilient.

Example: Livestrong and surviving the scandal

In the wake of Lance Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing drugs, the Livestrong foundation had a public relations crisis. Its public image was tied strongly to his image, and the scandal threatened the success of it’s mission. However, with the continued support of its community, Livestrong received more higher than average donations from individuals and continued strong (pun intended). Its community developed around a support system of cancer survivors and their families that was tied to the cause. The connection between the community members and the drive for the mission trumped the public scandal.

Provide information

Sometimes, individuals don’t form as cohesive communities right away. One way to jumpstart this is to provide useful information early on. Essentially, you start the community with the effort yourself. By providing valuable information, you give incentive to like a page, follow the feed or check in regularly, and soon comments and interaction will follow.

Example: Universities using LinkedIn as a job resource for alumni

Some universities have started using social media to engage alumni after graduation, particularly as a way to help alumni get jobs. By providing a resource for alumni to search for potential employment, it provides value when they are particularly needed. This resource shows why continued support helps them and will put donors in a better position to donate down the line and with further incentive to return the favor.


One other way to incite followers is to provide entertainment. This could have high rewards, but you must keep in mind your brand image to be sure that the entertainment you provide fits. A tongue-in-cheek joke might go over your followers’ heads if they are expecting a serious institution to stay formal. However, providing a few laughs, games and some glimmers of creativity can go a long way.

Example: Scavenger Hunt at Texas A&M

Some universities have attempted games that combine online tools like Twitter and Foursquare with real-life locations. For instance, one scavenger hunt at Texas A&M used four different social networks to encourage more than 223 participants to scour their entire campus for prizes. The whole event increased their presence online by over 10 percent and pushed their Twitter followers up to 8,700.

The Gentle Nudge

After you have the followers and have built the initial buy-in, you can prompt your followers for donations and support. Having a quick and easy way for them to give will be essential, so always have a link in the sidebar or social media profile. Monitor how much it is being used to find out if it is prominent enough or if it needs streamlining.

Every now and then, you can prompt your followers for a donation via social media content, but be sure to do this sparingly enough so that when they see it, they will be glad to give.

Connor Dismer is the online media manager of Connect + Trade, a partner to Zehno for social media initiatives.

Learn more

Read more about our development campaigns.

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