Social Media Fundraising Success?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has posted a video that shows six examples of what are purported to be online and social media fundraising successes.

I work with clients regularly to shape and integrate their online and social media messages with other traditional message vehicles. However, I remain a bit concerned that we aren’t being as thoughtful as we need to be.

Look at the video and you’ll see what I mean. Emory University is cited as having increased undergraduate giving from $300 to over $9,000 in one year due to the social media campaign of “The Blue Pig.” Extremely creative, no doubt. And the execution was very well done – that’s a nice increase in giving totals. But here is the question:

Did we just teach the Emory undergraduates about values-based philanthropy, or we did raise money based on a gimmick? I fear the latter.

And here is why it matters. Having worked in the non-profit arena my entire career and for higher education institutions for the bulk of it, I have come to know that repeatable annual gifts and major gifts occur when donors become convinced that supporting your work will make a difference in something they care about. They have to care and you have to evidence making a difference.

Therefore, I view the work of development professionals more as teachers and facilitators than as “gift-getters.”  As teachers, our goal is to open the hearts and minds of donors so that they can fully appreciate and embrace a compelling vision of how whatever it is they care about could be much better. As facilitators, our goal is to shepherd donors through the giving process, enhancing the experience as robustly as possible.

My concern, then, is that “The Blue Pig” concept, although creative and well executed, teaches these young donors little about values-based giving and more about making a gift to support a gimmick. Sure, the institution received more money than last year, but how much money did they leave on the table because they failed to truly educate and then facilitate these young donors through a giving process based on values. I’m not sure I would call this a success.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the points of clarification on the educational component of Operation: Emory. The Chron. piece did not mention the broader educational component of the Blue Pig campaign (other than some faint wording that was visible on one of the flyers). Your post is very helpful.

    The core thread of my post is still valuable, I believe. Namely, that we should take great care in measuring “success” with any initiative, program, or practice – even those employing social media vehicles. Just because we increase giving year over year does not mean that we’ve been successful (which is the thrust of the Chron piece on you all). Unfortunately, I find many development professionals taking this very approach. If they are using social media and giving has increased one year over the next, they believe they have done good work. I would respectfully respond by saying, “perhaps, but perhaps not.”

    It sounds as if the good work you are doing at Emory is indeed “successful” in the most important senses of the word. Not only did you increase year over year giving from undergraduates, but, more importantly, you are doing the real heavy lifting of development professionals — you are educating and encouraging these young donors to respond to their very best instincts. Kudos and thanks for reading “The Far Edge of Promise.”

  2. The goal of “The Blue Pig” campaign is to create a culture of student philanthropy that will continue as undergraduates make the transition from students to alumni. The Blue Pig is a fun and creative way for us to capture the attention of our students as we educate them on the importance of values-based philanthropy directed toward their university community. The Blue Pig campaign includes an educational component we call “Operation: Emory,” which educates students on the importance of their gift to the university, while dispelling the myriad arguments students have against donating money to a school they are already paying tuition to attend. Through Operation: Emory we educate students about the nature of university endowments, the structures and programs that exist because of the financial support of alumni, the actual cost of educating an Emory student versus their tuition costs, the number of students that receive financial aid, the use of alumni giving rates in national higher education ranking systems, and the direct benefits student receive by giving back to the university. By simultaneously engaging and educating our students, we are not only cultivating the next generation of active Emory alumni who are deeply invested in their school, we are also preparing our students for responsible citizenship by encouraging philanthropic endeavors based on their deepest held values. Undoubtedly some students will respond just to the Blue Pig, but the number of students who buy into what the Blue Pig is all about and really get what we are trying to do continues to grow with each successive year of the Blue Pig campaign, and I would call this a success by any measure.

    Thanks for your post. You can learn more about Emory’s Blue Pig and Class Gift Campaigns at http://www.emory.edu/bluepig.

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