When most millennials think of Buzzfeed, their initial vision is probably of silly pictures of cats and three-letter chat acronyms. That’s why we were so impressed when the McDonogh School used a hilarious Buzzfeed post to help raise money for its annual fund.
In just one day, the post generated over 200 likes on Facebook and saw 25 young alumni give to the school. That success came down to following a few Buzzfeed best practices for advancement, including:
Frequent (but not excessive) use of humor
References to things that only members of the school community would understand (teachers, clubs, etc.)
Consistent messaging throughout, keeping the focus about what the school gives to its students and how alumni can help further that mission.
For example, many of the pictures were a part of a pair, with one photo referencing a funny inside joke or silly pose from a yearbook, and the other reminding the viewer more professionally about all the things that McDonogh does for its community.McDonogh used consecutive, related photos to provide nostalgia, humor, and a direct appeal all at once.
The Buzzfeed post came as a part of a larger social media push led by our friends Katie Blaha, Alumni and Special Events Coordinator, and Lindsay Young, Assistant Director of The McDonogh Fund, who are both 2005 graduates of the school.
To create the post, Young dug through old yearbook pictures and asked alums for permission to use photos relating to McDonogh on their Facebook pages (and not a single one had any problem with having the pictures used). The motivation for the post came from many sources, but above all, Young and Blaha wanted to establish the school as one that is savvy in terms of how young alumni interact.
“The inspiration [for the Buzzfeed post] came from Eagle Day,” said Young, referring to the school’s social media event on May 9th that was designed to boost young alumni donations. “We had made a list of all the reasons to give back to McDonogh, and as millennials ourselves, we know all the inside jokes and the fun and exciting things on campus. We just wanted to pull it all together and give young alumni a visual in a way that they would understand, rather than a traditional mailing or email.”McDonogh changed all of its social media profile pictures for “Eagle Day”.
Eagle Day garnered 90 online donations and raised over $6,800, but most importantly, it boosted young alumni participation to 20% (from 15% at the end of March). And looking back on both Eagle Day and the Buzzfeed post, Blaha and Young said that any doubts they had at the value of social media engagement were swept away.
“We were a little hesitant that we might lose followers, but across the board we gained,” said Young, with Blaha noting that the school’s Instagram following alone nearly doubled on Eagle Day. “For Eagle Day, alumni knew it was only one day, because we built momentum and let people what was coming. The bottom line is, if it’s good, post it…alumni really understand that.”
McDonogh’s social media efforts have not been without obstacles, and Blaha and Young would like to see young alumni fund participation be much higher. However, as the school has learned, the only way to build a successful social media presence is to persevere with the knowledge that millennials will respond to consistent outreach.
“It’s been a lot of trial and error and experimentation, and we’ve had our failures for sure, like hashtags that nobody uses,” Young said. “But by keeping our content relevant and using platforms that young alumni use, I think we’ve really tapped into how to reach that group.”