Online = Big Donors: Why Your Major Gift Program Needs Social Media

Quick question for you: where should your organization apply online and social media to realize the best results from digital engagement?

A. The annual fund
B. The communication strategy
C. Young donor engagement
D. The major gift program

While a good argument could be made for “E. All of the above,” the best answer is “D. The major gift program.”

And here’s why. According to a growing number of studies, 85% of all millionaires use social media, and 1/3 of those millionaires use social media professionally.

Additionally, online donors:

And if that weren’t enough, big donors absolutely love online giving days. (No study. This is from our experience with BWF_social’s clients.)

Once thought of as a tool fit only for annual giving or millennial engagement, online and social media has proven itself to be a significant source of new major gift donors and an excellent stewardship suite of tools for your biggest, current donors. At least, that’s the case for those organizations and institutions that have focused on using digital media to connect with their highest-capacity supporters.

Consider this: three organizations in the past two years (two academic health centers and one prominent veterinary school) have reported receiving seven-figure gifts from previously unknown donors. How? In each case, the donor saw a Facebook post from a friend about the work the institutions were producing and wanted to make a transformative gift to the programs.

Again, gifts of a million dollars or more from three donors,entirely because of Facebook posts, and all three donors were previously unknown to the institutions.

Time to get started using social media for your major gift program, right? Here are a few recommendations for using online and social media to find, engage, and steward major gift donors:

  • Train your gift officers on using social media. Whether it’s connecting with a venture capitalist on LinkedIn or staying up-to-date on a donor’s kids’ accomplishments via Facebook, gift officers should be using multiple social media networks to do their jobs. If they’re not, those gift officers are ignoring one of the most well-traveled communication channels for those with wealth.
  • Use social media data to prospect for new donors and learn more about current major gift donors. For your major gift officers and your prospect research teams, there is far too much data available via social media to ignore this abundant resource. Some of it can be gathered manually, but to really leverage the mountains of data available through social media, consider one of a growing number of software options to mine and organize the information.
  • Plan a giving day and get your major donors involved. As stated above, there is a certain breed of major gift donor who LOVES it when your conduct a big online giving event. Giving days are all the rage and many of your biggest donors want to know what your institution is doing to capitalize on this trend. So when planning, get those major donors involved. Ask them their thoughts about the how the giving day should be structured, if they want to be online ambassadors for the event, and—most importantly—how much they’re willing to contribute to financial challenges throughout the giving day.

When run well,  giving days are an enormous source of pride for big gift donors who, when they see all the buzz around the event on their social media feeds, are reassured in knowing it’s more than just their wallet supporting your institution.

And when the giving day goes well, they give even more. When Columbia enjoyed it’s first giving day ($6.8 million raised in 24 hours), a donor stood up at a Dean’s luncheon a few days after the event, made a seven-figure pledge on the spot, and encouraged their fellow alumni to do the same—all because of how thrilled they were that Columbia had pulled off such a successful, innovative (nation-leading at the time) giving day.

Of course, social media and online fundraising are still great for the annual fund. No other channel is more effective at acquiring new donors than social media. But pigeonholing social media as a small-gift-only tool will end up costing your institution millions of dollars in gifts from very capable donors in the very near future.

Looking to learn more about how social media can help with your donor research? Read this post from Syracuse University’s Dan Klamm.


At BWF_social, Justin Ware has helped plan six- and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns with clients. An Emmy-winning video producer, Justin also helps nonprofits build comprehensive social media and content marketing strategies for donor engagement. You can reach Justin on LinkedIn and Twitter.


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments