Social Media and the Capital Campaign

During the recession, many institutions scaled back their campaign goals and timelines, but as donors begin to bounce back (a new study (subscription required) finds that 4 in 5 donors intend to give as much if not more to nonprofits in 2011 as they did in 2010), some institutions are considering more ambitious efforts. For example, the University of Colorado has just launched its $1.5 billion capital campaign (although without a projected finish date).

If your institution is preparing for a campaign as the economy (and donors) bounce back, it will be important to consider thoughtfully -- and as early as possible -- how you will make use of social and interactive media channels and tools to support your campaign goals. This week we interviewed Rob Moore, president of Lipman Hearne and a nationally-recognized expert on branding and marketing in higher education, to learn more about some of the opportunities and caveats in the use of social media for campaign branding and messaging.

AI: Rob, what is the first thing you would want to tell fundraisers about the use of social media in branding a capital campaign?

Rob Moore: Know where it is useful. It's important not to oversell social media. There's a lot of interest right now in social technologies generally and in online giving in particular, but the big takeaway is still the 90/10 rule: 90 percent of your funds will come from 10 percent of your donors.

Interactive or social media can provide channels for building initial awareness, but won't really assist in cultivating the deep understanding that will it take to cultivate lifelong donors. The true campaign in terms of dollars raised is still about people sitting down with people and putting forward a compelling case and asking for the commitment. That's a face-to-face activity that requires courage, training, and readiness.

AI: Given that caveat, in what cases does it make sense for institutions to look to social media when preparing a campaign?

Rob Moore: The buzz that can be created through social or interactive media is helpful in opening the door. By boosting your brand recognition and telling the story of your campaign and your goals, you can remove barriers around lack of awareness or basic understanding of who you are, what your strengths are, and what you're hoping to achieve. Secondly, use social media in your efforts to build engagement with alumni and other prospective donors throughout the campaign, and in stewarding current donors and keeping them engaged.

The most important thing is to have a strategy. "I tweet" is not a strategy. If I have 50,000 people who "Like" my Facebook page, I need to be able to say how that connects to meeting my goals. If they Like me and then ignore me and do nothing further, I haven't really accomplished anything.

You need to be intentional about what identifying the specific responses you hope to drive. Are you focusing on raising awareness of your institutional brand and the campaign, and if so, what actions do you want readers of your content to take? Or, are you further downstream, where social media might provide an additional channel for messages related to stewarding and keeping your donors engaged?

AI: Can you offer a few examples of effective uses of social media to raise awareness or maintain donor engagement throughout the campaign?

Rob Moore: The institution can provide a password-protected website such as a Ning community, either in the pre-campaign phase or during the campaign. Create a private space where people can gather and share information, and keep it interactive and engaging. The president can blog about the reactions to a recent presentation, what seemed to excite people, and ask the broader community of alumni and donors what they think. You can provide information updates, FAQs, daily progress toward the campaign goal. An interactive website can help participants to feel that they are sharing in the enterprise. They want to know: How much have we raised? Did the big gift from that big donor the president was talking with come in?

Here's another example. More college presidents are turning to online video as a channel for getting a message out there, but it's important that the video not just be a "talking head." One of the great examples is "President's Day at Macalester College," which uses humor to make that human connection, and tells the story about the institution -- its achievements, its culture, its aspirations, and its financial challenges. By following the president from the moment his alarm goes off (when he sits up in bed already dressed in his suit) through various encounters with students, faculty, and staff (at one point the president is actually on the street with a tin cup in his hand), the video creates a narrative that people want to watch. The video received a very strong response at Macalester. Alumni liked it, they forwarded it, and Macalester saw an increase in annual giving. It was an inventive way for the president to build a "campaign spirit" and pride in the institution among alumni.

AI: Rob, amid these efforts, what do institutions need to be careful of?

Rob Moore: As institutions adopt social media channels, they'll be producing a lot of content that is not centralized. It will be important that the campaign brand is handled consistently across different channels, and that you are integrating blog content and releases across different departments.

Let's take one example. A large research institution recently launched a campaign, and if you Google that institution's name and "campaign," the first relevant entry will take you to a blog managed by the institution's College of Music. There's a video talking about the campaign from the College of Music's perspective, but the campaign brand is not clearly visible, and it will take a few clicks and a little head-scratching to navigate your way to the Web page for the campaign. You don't want this to happen. You want to leverage the SEO power of blogs to bring people in to the campaign page, and that means you need to make it very easy for the visitor to see what the campaign is about and how to find more information, on the very first university blog they land on. Wherever your university generates campaign-related content, you need to ensure that the master brand -- the university's campaign brand -- appears prominently and has the pride of place, not the brand of a subset of the university.

AI: Rob, thank you for joining us for this interview and for sharing your insights. We look forward to our next conversation.