Using Social Data to Build Relationships with Donors

There’s no doubt that social media presents a wealth of data about donors: their likes, dislikes, relationship ties, group affiliations, interests, professional accolades, and even their favorite flavor of ice cream. This data can be helpful in learning about a donor’s interests and determining his/her inclination and capacity to make a gift.

Sarah Bernstein recently wrote about the ethics of using social data for prospect research, drawing upon the Social Media Ethics Statement by the Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement (APRA). Following the guidelines therein will ensure that you handle social data in an ethical manner.

Once you gather data, how can you go about using this information to start conversations and strengthen connections with prospects and donors? Here are my ideas on using insights from the social web to build relationships:

Put social data into perspective.

With so much data available on social media, it can be easy to feel like you know someone well without really knowing them at all. It’s important to put social data into perspective. This data should complement, not supplant, all the traditional steps you would take in getting to know a new prospect or deepening your relationship with a donor. Social media is not a replacement for real-life conversations and traditional research.

You may see that a highly rated prospect, Frank, recently liked ten of your organization’s posts about entrepreneurship on Facebook. Does this mean that Frank is likely to support a fundraising effort focused on entrepreneurship? Maybe, maybe not.

Before jumping to conclusions, review everything else you know about Frank. Has he given to entrepreneurship initiatives in the past? Does he belong to any boards or groups emphasizing entrepreneurship? Has entrepreneurship come up in any conversations with his prospect manager? What Frank chooses to like on Facebook is just one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Use social data to start the conversation.

Social data is valuable because it gives you a place to start; it gives you an entry point. By reviewing social data, you can pick up on potential topics of interest or points of alignment—things that you can mention in an introductory message or ask about during a first meeting. It helps you to be prepared.

An important note: seeing something on social media can give you a hint about a donor’s interests, but any ideas you glean should be verified and fleshed out through substantive conversation.

A newly identified prospect, Christine, is on the radar of her alma mater after coming into a substantial windfall. She has had no interaction with her school since graduating 15 years ago. Before reaching out, her prospect manager takes a look at Christine’s public Twitter profile and sees that she tweets frequently about sustainability, women in technology, and journalism.

As a result, he is able to tailor his outreach strategy and prepare significantly for their first meeting together. Instead of going into the meeting cold, he can conduct initial research and create talking points around the university’s work in the three areas likely to resonate with Christine. The conversation will evolve and grow deeper from there, but the social data provides a solid starting point.

Be transparent.

When relying on insights gained from social data to guide your outreach, it’s best to be transparent. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that you viewed your prospect’s LinkedIn profile or that you’re following his/her tweets. In fact, if phrased appropriately, it can be a compliment! It shows you’re interested in what the person has to say and that you value the relationship.

Longtime donor, Boris, has a steady history of supporting athletic teams at his alma mater. His prospect manager was surprised to see Boris recently post several passionate comments in the university’s alumni Facebook page about the strength of the school’s symphony orchestra, and he wonders if the orchestra might be a new philanthropic interest for Boris.

During their next meeting together, this is what he says: “I’ve noticed that you have contributed a lot of really positive comments about our orchestra on the school’s Facebook page. I thought you might like to hear about the direction of the orchestra and some of its new priorities. Would that be of interest to you?”

It’s simple, it gives Boris the opportunity to verify his interest, and most importantly, it’s transparent.

What has your experience been like using social data to build relationships with prospects and donors?



Dan Klamm is a monthly contributor to the EverTrue blog. He serves as Director of Young Alumni Engagement for the NYC office of his alma mater, Syracuse University. He has six years of experience across higher education career services, alumni relations, and marketing. Feel free to connect with Dan on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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