Last week, Miami played Mecca for a group of 200 fellow social nerds from the advancement world. The 2015 CASE Social Media and Community conference, chaired by blogger extraordinaire Keith Hannon, was a nitrous boost of Will Smith references, case studies, motivational gifs, solid data, and ROI examples, and anyone who was there is probably still coming off the conference high.
In case you missed it, here’s my take on the conference’s overarching themes and highlights.
1. What We Do Matters
Digital storytellers and social managers are more important than ever. The data proves that over and over and over again.
We saw it with Cornell using a one-day email and social-driven campaign to raise more than 9,600 gifts totaling nearly $7 million, while also drowning out a fraudulent smear campaign with the help of 300 social ambassadors.
We saw it in a recap of Penn’s young alumni program, which turned over the senior class giving program to students and watched participation rates soar from 18% in 2001 to 81% in 2014.
Attention rates for email are down, while attention rates for social are up. Every day, we place ourselves in the midst of our audience.
The entire donor pyramid is now on social media. We can use social donor management best practices to see exactly who is engaging with us, determine their interests, and funnel those prospects to our annual, leadership, or even planned giving teams.
2. You Have to Spend Money to Make Money
Investment in social media requires investment of funds. Facebook earned more than $3.5 billion in ad sales in Q1 of 2015. How much of that came from your institution?
It’s not a matter of spending more, though. It’s a matter of spending smarter. You can reach 1,000 people on Facebook with $0.25 on ad spend. Through traditional print media, that number skyrockets to $32.
Where are you lacking in ROI? I can think of more than one channel (*cough* mailers *cough* brochures) that isn’t generating a sustainable rate of return. Take even a portion of that investment and direct it into social media—mainly Facebook, but also LinkedIn and Twitter—and you could very well become an ROI superstar.
As Andrew Gossen of Cornell put it, “We are in a world of perpetual beta.” That means we have both the ability and the need to continually be on a launch>test>measure>adjust>repeat cycle rather than running on the hamster wheel of “we’ve always done it this way.”
3. Data is King
You can watch Adam Miller of Stanford’s full presentation here. At #casesmc, he broke down key learnings from 10 years of monitoring alumni behavior. Harvesting data from sources across campus like event attendance, giving habits, volunteerism, and even school spirit, Stanford has been able to make analytics-driven decisions with its alumni programming.
That same data exists on every other campus. Tapping into it will help you better understand different segments of your audience and tailor content to fit what each wants from your institution.
4. The Future Lies with Those Little-Understood Millennials
And the place to engage with them is on social media.
Last year, higher ed set new records in giving: $38 billion raised. But donor rates plummeted across the board and have been in steady decline for decades. More than ever, institutions are relying on a wealthy, typically older mico-minority for the majority of their funding. Without renewed engagement with our young donors, we face a future that appears less and less secure every day. (Read Keith Hannon’s whitepaper, “Dollars Over Donors: Is Higher Ed’s Reliance on the Wealthy Minority a Sustainable Strategy?,” for more information.)
Contrary to popular beliefs (which Jen Doak of the UConn Foundation expertly dismantled in her talk, “How to Sift Through the Noise to Get the Info You Need”), millennials are looking to get involved and become donors. Only 15% of them (us) don’t give to nonprofits. The problem is that 75% would give to another nonprofit over their alma mater. We’re failing at reaching this key audience and convincing them that their support matters.
The good news is that, at most schools, we have nowhere to go but up when it comes to this age group. We can share the stories that will meet our audiences where they’re at and inspire them to give.
If you’re not following the bi-monthly #casesmc Twitter chats, you’re missing out on free learning opportunities and connecting with great people. Tune in every other Tuesday from 2-3 p.m. EST. If it’s not the best hour of your week, I’ll give you your money back.
Learn 4 ways to increase the ROI on your fundraising videos in Mike’s last post!
Mike Nagel is the Associate Director for Advancement Communications at Phillips Exeter Academy. He spends his time managing and creating stories for PEA’s social media, alumni website, email marketing campaigns, and other mostly-digital play spaces. Say hi on Twitter or LinkedIn.