Social Media Etiquette: Can a Donor and Fundraiser Be Facebook Friends?

Imagine this:

You’ve just had a successful meeting with a prospect. They are engaged with your institution, and your ask didn’t fall on deaf ears. They seem on board to give a major gift via the payment plan you’ve proposed.  

And then it comes in: a Facebook friend request from said prospect. The paperwork hasn’t been signed, and you feel that if you politely decline the request, the funds will also politely disappear.

What do you do?

Ah, 2016. As much as I’d like to say that this situation is so 2009 (just wait until you get a Snapchat request!), the reality is that this dilemma faces fundraisers daily. And not just on Facebook—you’ve also got requests to connect on LinkedIn, Instagram follows… some people even ask for personal cell phone numbers. It can get dodgy fast.


Like with anything else related to social media and technology, the law hasn’t caught up to the speed of the Internet. Most institutions haven’t drafted a list of “social media do’s and don’ts” for development officers like they have when it comes to ethical dilemmas (“if I give a gift of $100,000, my son will get in, right?”).

I’m going to take a stance on this: This is a fundamental ethical issue that development officers and fundraisers will face going forward…

…and leadership can’t avoid it forever. Your institution needs to put social media guidelines in place.

Unfortunately, these guidelines can’t be “grey” because—if they are—confusion will happen. They need to be set in stone and clearly communicated to staff. If your institution believes friending on Facebook is inappropriate, set that rule. You don’t want to let a good fundraiser go because no one was clear on what the line in the sand was.

So, are you allowed to connect with a potential donor and develop a (potential giving) relationship with them online? Well, there’s LinkedIn… and then there’s everything else.

Here are some thoughts to help you and your institution navigate the issue.

Think Like a Salesperson (Especially on LinkedIn)

Should you accept a LinkedIn request from a prospect? Absolutely.

This is a no brainer. LinkedIn is a professional space, and it’s where people go to network. You are networking with your prospects. Connect with them.

Courtesy Joe the Goat Farmer

Keep this in mind: People will update their LinkedIn profiles before they let the advancement office know of changes. Being connected with a prospect on LinkedIn means you’ll be the first to hear about job changes and relocations. (“Oh, you’re not in New York anymore? Let me send you information about events in Chicago.”)

It also means you’ll be able to stay up-to-date on what your prospects are “liking” and posting on LinkedIn so that you can either a) engage with their posts or b) customize a message to them and refer back to the post. LinkedIn is a great tool for assessing what your prospect might be interested in.

In sum, by connecting with prospects on LinkedIn, you’ll be able to further your professional relationships with them and you’ll have another forum on which to stay in touch.

Should I Connect with Prospects on Facebook?

Facebook is a bit trickier. Despite its reign as the king of social media, it’s still the one I get the most questions on.

Traditionally, Facebook is a space where you connect with your friends. From the company’s own page, Facebook writes:

The Facebook page celebrates how our friends inspire us, support us, and help us discover the world when we connect.

This was its original intention. Now, Facebook has become a place where we begrudgingly connect with our parents, stalk our exes, and convince ourselves that we are doing better than the people we went to high school with.

My instinct is this: If your prospect initiated the contact on Facebook, they are comfortable with having the connection. Because they were proactive, the ball is in your court.

So, rather than ask, “Should I connect with prospects on Facebook?,” ask yourself this: “What do I use my Facebook for?”

Are you connected with acquaintances (so it’s not a big deal)? Are you a private person who keeps it to family and friends only? Are you trying to get more friends than Justin Bieber?

If you are not comfortable with “friend-ing” a prospect, just say it. A simple email to them can read:

Thanks for the Facebook request. I use my Facebook account so my parents can see pictures of my children. It’s not that exciting and I hardly check it. I’d be happy to connect with you on LinkedIn – I check that more regularly.

I’ve been in this situation, too. While working as the Boston College social media manager for University Advancement, I regularly received LinkedIn requests from alumni and accepted those without thinking twice. Then, slowly but surely, people started to follow my personal Twitter account.

And then came the Facebook requests.

Those feelings of “um, should I be doing this?” or “but that’s my personal account—I don’t know you. You don’t need to see what I post!” washed over me.

It’s the same grey area everyone faces when a coworker wants to “friend” you on Facebook. Suddenly, you can’t exactly let your freak flag fly anymore. Or, what’s more likely, you stop following them during the election season.


If I developed a real, authentic relationship with an alumnus/a and felt comfortable having that Facebook connection, I made it. It was my choice. If I wasn’t comfortable, I wouldn’t accept it.

Do: Appreciate the connection. 

Don’t: Treat it as an obligation to “like” every one of their posts.

If I feel like the relationship is more of an obligation, I won’t accept the request. It is and will always be that simple for me.

The Do’s and Don’ts

People prefer different ways of connecting. To some, a Snapchat request is absolutely normal between fundraiser and prospect. To others, giving a personal home number is a big stretch.

We were all taught the Golden Rule: Treat others how you want to be treated. In the world of fundraising, it’s better to go platinum and remember the Platinum Rule: Treat others how they want to be treated.

This is how customer-centric marketing works. Someone may be labeled as a “Do Not Contact” for email solicitations, but they are more than happy to follow the institution on Facebook. It’s on their terms. It’s how they prefer to be treated.

If you take the plunge and connect with prospects on social media, keep these things in mind:

  • DON’T post anything you aren’t comfortable with your prospects seeing. Be intelligent about your rants or the pictures you post. Ask yourself, “Would I want my current or future supervisor to read this?” before you press the button.
  • DO follow industry laws and guidelines. Posting “I know you are really close to making your one million dollar gift—let me know if I can help” on their wall probably isn’t a good idea.
  • DON’T forget the world is watching. Staff, volunteers, prospects, board members, etc., will take note of what and when you post, especially if it’s during work hours. Despite privacy settings, things can be traced back to you.
  • DO be positive. If you disagree with something a prospect posts, there’s this beautiful notion where you can just walk away from your computer and not comment. Try it. You’ll like it.
  • DON’T become the Facebook police. It’s really easy to take offense when someone insults your institution on Facebook. Maybe they’re unhappy with how a situation was handled. You don’t need to go in and defuse the situation. Let them vent (that’s what Facebook is for!), and if it warrants a conversation during a face-to-face meeting, do it then.
  • DO keep it professional regardless of the forum. It’s easy to get swept up in “we have so much in common” or using a thumbs-up emoji in conversations on Facebook. Remember to talk to prospects like you would from your work email; it helps keeps the line in place and the language consistent.

The reality is that social media offers us yet another way to connect with one another. As the world continues to latch onto new platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn, our communication strategies will need to evolve. To keep up and stay connected with prospects, find a way that works for you, them, and your institution.

For more on this topic, check out “How Social Media Is Influencing Prospect Management.” 

Have other do’s and don’ts? Leave them in the comments below.

Stephanie St. Martin is the marketing content manager at The Ariel Group. Prior to this, she was the social media manager for Boston College University Advancement, i.e. the person behind @BCAlumni on social media. When she’s not in the digital marketing trenches, Steph can be found writing, playing/hosting trivia, and driving around the USA in hopes of seeing all 50 state capitol buildings. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter if you dare.

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