You Want ROI? You Can’t Handle the ROI!

The end of another fiscal year is upon us and for most advancement shops that means it’s time to count the money! How much money did we raise? How many donors? How many lapsed/non-donors became donors? Did our participation rate increase? Are we all losing our jobs?

This can be an uncomfortable time for advancement community managers and/or digital communications folks.  This is the time of year the ROI question can really feel like a burden sitting on our shoulders, making it hard to focus on anything else but how we fit into our division’s development success.  Well, fear not friends, for I have good news to share:  the prospects are on social, and they’re ready to talk with you.

I have written/spoken about prospect discovery in social media before, so this is a little bit of beating a dead horse…wow, that’s a really uncomfortable phrase. My apologies to the equestrian enthusiasts. However, we just reviewed our nomination results for FY14, and they are vastly improved from previous years. I wanted to share them in hopes it will further inspire community managers, content experts, and digital dynamos to not only design killer content but to take the extra step of getting to know the people you engage and presenting it to your superiors, so they may see that the power of social media goes far beyond “vanity metrics” and “casual engagement.”

Below you’ll see a breakdown for the capacity ratings our researchers gave our nominations. For clarity, our social media team nominates people that are NOT currently tracked by our development office. These are “fresh leads.” The dollar amount is based on how much the person is able to give over a 5-year period.

Let’s jump to the results:


So why the “A Few Good Men” Jack Nicholson reference? Because the question should not be “What’s the ROI of social media?” but rather “What are we prepared to do with the ROI of social media?” Do we have digital gift officers developing relationships with our prospects? Are we developing a team of alumni social ambassadors who can introduce us to our prospects via Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.?

I’m guessing most advancement shops are so dismissive of the potential social media offers to their development goals that there’s no plan in place for how to cultivate a relationship strictly through social media/online communities.  So you want ROI? Okay, but can you HANDLE the ROI? I’m not convinced higher ed can at this juncture.

[Can’t use the phrase “at this juncture” without thinking of Dana Carvey impersonating the first George Bush…]

These numbers have had a good reception for us internally, and they have opened the door to many new initiatives. However, in the broader advancement landscape, there still seems to be resistance to the notion that we can build/create relationships through our social communities.

Regardless, the first step is bringing awareness to the fact that there ARE major gift and leadership gift-level donors engaging with your institutional brand via social media, and that’s information that MUST be collected, analyzed, and shared. This process is not easily streamlined at this point, but a little manual labor in the short-term could pay huge dividends for you and your institution in the future.

As competition from other nonprofits, crowdfunding projects, and local organizations continues to heat up and flying gift officers around the world becomes more expensive, it’s imperative we find ways to communicate and build relationships with our donors frequently and in real-time.

Few things offer that opportunity like social media.

Go to work.

Still incredulous that big donors and prospects are on social media? Read about how University of Cincinnati President Santa Ono raised one million dollars by engaging donors on Twitter.


Today’s guest post comes by way of Keith Hannon, Associate Director of Social Media at Cornell University. For more of his thoughts on social media, advancement, and Saturday Night Live, follow Keith on Tumblr and Twitter.  

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