Just about every organization has social media as part of the engagement process and many use mobile giving to raise funds. Together, the two barely register in the giving scale, unless there is a natural disaster.
The question that requires an answer is whether engagement results in fundraising that isn’t immediately tracked. Clearly, the hope is that it does. The other challenge is expanding mobile giving to include more than just emergencies, given the capabilities of new phones. These issues were put to fundraising and communications specialists during an NPT Executive Session roundtable discussion.
Participants in the session were Carrie Martin Munk, vice president, communication and marketing at the American Lung Association; Ann Andrews Morris, vice president for communications and outreach, World Food Program USA; and, Jenifer Snyder, executive director, The mGive Foundation.
The discussion was facilitated by Paul Clolery, vice president and editorial director of The NonProfit Times and Rick Christ, vice president at NPAdvisors.com, a division of Amergent, in Peabody, Mass.
Paul Clolery: Back in high school when they were first teaching us to drive we saw the video Speed Kills. Is that the same thing in the nonprofit mobile world?
The speed at which donors can now react, can that really hurt a charity if its message isn’t clear from the very start?
Jenifer Snyder: I think it can. What we really try to do is two-way communication. This was after Haiti. It was between Japan and then last year some really bad spring storms in the Southwest. You would text Red Cross at 90999. The organization would want to convert that donation from just a text to respond with yes. As soon as you responded with yes, we’d send another message like where would you like your funds to go? Press 1 for Japan, or 2 for spring storms.
We can give choices through text. Donors feel a lot of power to do designations. This contributes to hyper-transparency and it’s turning everyone into a philanthropist. If you think of philanthropist, it’s not a (Warren) Buffett anymore. You have major donors but anyone could be a philanthropist now because they can give 10 bucks.
Because of hyper-transparency you have more people giving so maybe you have more people out there looking to see where their funds are going. In my mind, sunlight is the best disinfectant. If you use social media proactively to really control the brand and you use social media to direct the discussion and you use mobile to actually participate, it’s a whole new group of donors. A lot of them are Millennials. Social media and Twitter is where they get their news.
Clolery: Can you make the argument in that small period of time in a finite delivery system?
Snyder: The Pew Report showed that almost none of the Haiti donors for the most part even looked to see where their funds went. They just gave $10. So maybe there’s a difference in accountability when you’re talking about giving $10 to an organization.
Clolery: Is there a difference between the $10 mobile donor and the person who picks up a pack of gum at the checkout counter?
Snyder: I think it’s the same person.
Rick Christ: Maybe it’s the impulse gift.
Clolery: It’s an impulse gift and is there as much thought behind it? And is the value of that donor who gives at that point really worth worrying about?
Snyder: Yes, you have to worry about those donors. What we see is that mobile’s a channel for recurring gifts. If you send a text message to that donor and then you re-solicit every month, 4 percent of everyone you ask is going to give you money back.
Christ: I think the Red Cross did a great job after Haiti. I was one of those 4 million people who gave and one of the smaller percentage or donors who opted back in, apparently, to get more communication. I thought that was going very well. In fact, I think it was underused. A few weeks later I got a message that said, “it’s been one month since the hurricane and we’re sending a new shipment of materials and food to Haiti” and I should click to learn more about it or maybe follow them Twitter, which I thought was a good certain next step.
Anyone who is going to give $10 via mobile probably has a Twitter account and then you can use the opportunity to reach out. I thought it was very well done. I think it’s really fallen off. I can’t think of the last time I’ve gotten a text message from the Red Cross.
Snyder: Do you know if you’re still opted in? Did you ever respond to stop?
Christ: No. I would never respond to stop.
Snyder: Because they sent a two-year report a few months ago.
Christ: Yes, right, but I would expect that I would hear from them once a month or twice a month from that channel.
Ann Andrews Morris: We check in with our constituents – donors and advocates – sparingly but informatively every month.
Christ: This is an example of a heightened sense of awareness that comes from the donor. It drives not just the fundraising messages but all the stewardship messages that are under control of the fundraising people. Maybe you would speak to your current experience at American Lung where you’re involved in responding to expectations that you think are out there or helping to manage those expectations with respect to donor intent?
Carrie Munk: We’re in the midst of a CRM (constituent relationship management software) conversion. We’re going from an old proprietary custom database for managing our millions of direct mail donors to a new system that will synchronize with our online constituent relationship platform. We’re really making an effort to understand the constituents’ wants and needs and to give them choices.
We’re a 100-plus-year-old public health charity. We started direct mail with the Christmas Seals campaign. But we are a little late to the online game and we’re hoping that this new customer relationship management database will really help us be able to analyze patterns and track what donors want.
We do a lot of things and we’re a lot of different things to people. Your interests might lie in the work we do in smoke-free air policy, or you might have a loved one affected by lung cancer. You might not be interested in both those things at the same time so we’re really making an effort to understand what our constituents are interested in and then to communicate with them appropriately.
We are working to understand the frequency issues that you were talking about with mobile and how often to communicate with people. And, interestingly, the mobile industry really sets the standard for responding to what customers want and reacting to that because if you don’t know what your customers want they’re going to walk away in the mobile industry. I think nonprofits can really learn a lot from managing those constituent relationships.
Clolery: We get a lot of merchandise at the house, like Caribou Coffee by mail. There’s a customer relationship there. But I’ve gone out to a real store because I’ve wanted a different coffee or I wanted this or I wanted that.
You’re reaching out because you need help in a specific area. Is that really a customer relationship?
Munk: We’re trying to frame the way we think about, how we work with our donors and people who are involved in the organization to know not how you can help us but how we can help you. Nonprofits do need to shift their thinking to be more competitive and to be able to say what can we do for you and ask what services can we provide to the person. If we are providing that information we are providing a value and so in turn, we’ll be supported as an organization.
Clolery: Isn’t that two different questions — what can we do for you in terms of here’s some information on lung cancer, versus a court ruling just outlawed smoking; isn’t this a great thing? Is that two separate groups of people you’re talking to and how is the constituent relationship different in terms of the transaction? I want the coffee but I might not be interested in the coffee growers in South America.
Munk: It’s about finding links between our various missions. If you have a loved one who died of lung cancer and never smoked but was around second-hand smoke for 50 years, then clearly you should be concerned about smoke-free air laws in your state. It’s finding links and being able to communicate with people in a way that resonates so that they understand the relevance of our organization.
Snyder: Who’s behind banning cigarette smoking on airplanes? Was that you guys? And, that was like 22 years ago right?
Munk: I don’t know how many of you live in smoke-free states, but only 27 states across the country have comprehensive smoke-free air laws.
Snyder: That’s one of my biggest gripes with nonprofit communications. You need to brag about that more to new constituents because if you just say – did you know you used to be able to smoke on a plane — that’s huge and people don’t comprehend it.
Christ: Gandhi said first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they argue with you, then you win. When you want to put forth something that’s a bit audacious, it’s good to remind the donors and supporters that banning smoking on airplanes was an audacious thought, a ridiculous thought 30 years ago. Now it’s a forgotten concern. Of all the things that bother me about flying, that one I forget about. Now, can you do something about lost luggage?
Clolery: I think your point is very valid. The speed with which compliance can go viral on this is exactly the speed at which the right message can go wrong. I know there’s a tendency in all organizations at first to sort of deny that there’s a problem, then to close ranks and to ponder over the issue. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading.
Have you any examples, either in your own organizations or elsewhere, where an organization has jumped on a concern very early, very boldly, try to get a message out of this is what really happened, using the same viral media that are used to spread the initial rumor that you think was a good bold move?
Munk: During my time at the American Red Cross, you might remember Johnson & Johnson sued the Red Cross for using the red cross.
Christ: Talk about bold moves. Chutzpah.
Munk: The CEO wasn’t going to back down, which was pretty remarkable at the time. Obviously, corporations have deep pockets when it comes to legal fees and public relations support. But, we were concerned about what the public reaction would be to the Red Cross standing up for its right to use a red cross.
Fortunately, the Red Cross had a pretty sophisticated public inquiry system so we were able to monitor emails that came into the organization and were able to monitor what the public was thinking about it. The day that Johnson & Johnson decided to file suit, we were ready and went out immediately with our defense and why we weren’t backing down from using a red cross and why we were in the right. We also did some extensive blogger outreach. And I think it was really an effective way to get our side of the story across.
We came here to talk about crisis communication and this was a potentially big crisis. J&J had their side of the story. We had our side of the story and we really wanted to get the Red Cross message out there. I think we really did that effectively in a really quick turnaround time.
Christ: Their messages go out through the mass media, the paid media. They can even buy space. But, that’s all they can do. They don’t have much blogger support to change anything. I’m a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell. In his book Tipping Point, he talked about the power of many and what they have on their side and the power of the few. The influencers don’t think of the Red Cross as your mission; it’s their mission. You’re merely empowering them, informing them, enabling them to get their message out to their constituents and that’s what blogging is. And that’s why cultivating those people, those influencers, is really something you need to do all the time so that when you got something urgent A, they are covering you and B, they’re prepared to back you up.
Clolery: In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen the Susan G. Komen blowup. They put a survey out to their donors. They asked, basically, “we’re correcting our message and we’re dealing with the crisis. Would you like to see Melissa Etheridge do a spot or that person or that person or that person?” It just blew up. They went after their donors and said what do you want and they waved back without using all five fingers.
Christ: What the donors wanted was leadership and that’s not leadership. That’s a “we’re not sure if we should grovel; you tell us.” That organization needed leadership to say here’s what we did, here’s what we meant and we’re sorry. When you start asking who donors think would best be the one to apologize, you’re saying we have no clue what to do. In this case you had one nonprofit (Planned Parenthood) move its bloggers, and its power of the few going against another nonprofit (Komen) with its bloggers and its power of the few. It was kind of fun to watch.
Clolery: Is this a transparency issue? Is it the policy that people don’t like or is it the way you delivered the message? If the policy is really abhorrent to a lot of people but you deliver it well, can you still get away with it? Or the other way around — if it’s a decent message and you deliver it badly can you get clubbed?
Christ: I’m more with character counts, as someone who has made lots of bad decisions.
Clolery: In just the past 24 hours.
Christ: Making a bad decision with integrity is always less painful. It still might be a bad decision. But I think that it’s absolutely right to be able to explain yourself because if there are a lot of false words, it embarrasses the few on your side who probably felt pretty darn awkward. See that’s the other thing. When you’ve got people who are supporting you, now the fertilizer hits the ventilator so to speak. Those constituents are on with their blog, not yours, to see what you have to say. Now these people are saying: “Wow, I really wish that so-and-so would’ve told me what this thing is.”
So, be out there ahead of time and say, “Here’s what we’re going to do. We think this might be a little nasty but we made this decision.”
Morris: One of the first rules of crisis communication — you tell it quickly and you tell it frequently and you’re transparent so you cop to the mistake. But I would guess that if they had a crisis communications or a crisis preparedness and response plan, they didn’t follow it. And I saw, what was it two weeks or a week later, they were advertising for a vice president of communications.
The American public is incredibly forgiving and likes giving second chances so if you cop to a mistake and come out about it, it will dissipate. But they made that decision in December and it just sort of came out in drips and drabs and that was the mistake they made.
Christ: A surprisingly large number of surprisingly unsophisticated people have a surprisingly large following on social media. And so the need to be able to get out there in the forefront is urgent. We can talk comfortably about mistakes that the PR Department makes. But at what point does the fundraising department have to say we’ve got to get a message out to our donors or our Facebook fans or whoever, that isn’t the fundraising message. Or maybe it is.
My understanding is Planned Parenthood brought in an awful lot of money after the Komen decision. I heard about the whole story from one of our mutual friends on Facebook who said, “I can’t believe what just happened. I just made a $10 gift to Planned Parenthood in honor of Susan G. Komen, and gave that address.” The thought would be “Let’s flood this organization with thank you cards from Planned Parenthood from all these gifts we gave.”
Morris: That was a whole campaign on Facebook.
Christ: I hadn’t caught the initial story. I heard about the backlash first.
Snyder: That’s why community managers are so critical. You need a community manager who can manage your social media, can actually stay abreast of it all.
Clolery: You’ve got Facebook. You’ve got Twitter. Now you have Pinterest. At what point do you stop building on one and on another or do you continuously build on them all? Tell us about the transition from MySpace to Facebook to Twitter to whatever. How do you decide: okay this is dead?
Snyder: I think you move in the direction of your donors. You can’t decide not to do anything they are doing. You have to do it all. Major commercial brands don’t stop advertising.
Morris: You just have to prioritize. We have one person doing online for us. She monitors through Google alerts and keeps her finger on the pulse of all things social media. She’s in constant contact with our public policy and development departments. As far as our donors and our advocates, we know where they go. They go to Facebook and Twitter. We’re looking at Pinterest to see how we might optimize that.
Snyder: It really doesn’t take that much time to run through social media. And if you use your time as an excuse, then I don’t think that’s responsible as an organization, like it’s “I’m not going to worry about this because I just don’t have time to do it.” Sorry but you need to find five minutes to just go through.
Morris: You have to prioritize. We do one online survey each year because that’s all we can manage. We drill down and see where they hang out, where are they spending their time. It’s a question of knowing your donors and advocates and knowing how to reach out to them. If next year they tell us they want Pinterest, then we’re going to use Pinterest.
Snyder: The new group of philanthropists, they are spreaders. As soon as they agree to give a donation they are immediately going to evangelize this, spread to their friends.
Christ: Did you see the soldier in Afghanistan and his video about HP? He couldn’t get service for his HP printer. This is an Army printer and he’s running into problems. He finally gets a hold of them and it is a call from Afghanistan. We have no idea where HP might have answered it. It might have been close to Afghanistan, but he finally was told that if he had like $10.95 an hour, he could do it if he only had a credit card. So he’s standing there in full battle dress and said, “HP, let me tell you what I think about your printer and your customer service,” and he turns around and unloads his M4 on the printer and blows it to smithereens. I imagine it won’t conform to military regulations, but I have a lot of friends in the military, with kids in the military. This went viral in the military community.
Snyder: And that’s the risk of social media; you lose control of your brand.
Morris: The key is communication. You work with your internal stakeholders. You work with your external stakeholders. I work hand-in-glove with our public policy and development teams so that they know exactly what’s going on in our social media world, so we can contact constituents as needed.
Also, we started doing things that are sort of organic. We get these really nice letters, handwritten letters, shakey hand from some nice little old lady, and she puts in five bucks, and says, “I’ve watched you on CNN, and it looks like you’re helping feed hungry children. This is all I can afford.”
I’ve got that one up in my office. We scanned it. We posted it on our Facebook page, and we said, “Look what Ms. Ada sent to us. Isn’t this wonderful?” You know, “Everyone can have a role in the fight against hunger.” And we get dozens of likes. For us, that’s big because we’re still growing.
It is just making that connection. I doubt that Ada’s online and saw that we did it, much less is following us on Facebook.
Clolery: I know how to punk you now.
Morris: It started as an anecdote with Miss Ada and then a couple in Hawaii raised, I think, $5,000 for the Christmas fund because they said, “We don’t want you giving to us. Give to World Food Program USA.” We scanned that Christmas card and put it up. And so when we’re meeting with development, I said, “We want to hear more of these stories. Even if we call it Heartwarming Wednesday.” We’ve been doing that now every week.
Clolery: What happens if one of your major donors gets into media trouble? Let’s say corporate sponsor X does something truly stupid. How do you handle that in the social media area?
Snyder: You’ve got to own the relationship. That’s where partnerships can really help. You have to help your partners at times. If it is the right time to walk away, walk away, but own it, defend it, walk away from it, and explain it through social media.
Munk: A lot of times it comes down to clarifying the relationship you have with the donor. It could be a cause marketing relationship with your logo on the products, or it could be a substantial donor featured in the spotlight because they gave a $50,000 donation. A lot of times it is about clarifying what the relationship is with the donor to clear up any misperceptions.
Morris: The trick is to have a donor evaluation policy in place so you know at the outset with whom who you will and whom you will not do business.
Christ: Who is going to hang that note from Ada on the wall? The next time we’re in a tight public relations spot, I can envision turning to that letter to Ada, and saying, "How do I explain this to Ada?"
Morris: I do. That’s why I have it in my office.
Christ: Look at that letter and say, “I owe her an explanation for what’s going on,” because her five bucks is the widow’s mite. It is as valuable as some corporation’s million dollars.
Morris: Here’s another one. In Ohio, it must have been a senior group at a church, we got anonymous donations with no return address. It was the same exact wording in each greeting card, and it said “just a little bit to help.” We probably got 15 of them, and it was, like, $2, $1, $5. And, again, it is as much about Ada.
Clolery: Does mobile giving and the ability of the social network make the $5 donor more valuable these days? I remember going to conferences 10 to 15 years ago, and they’d say, "Oh, man, we’ve got another $5 donor. It is going to cost us money to say ‘thank you.’"
Snyder: Lifetime-balance, the total money. We have an organization that, the past year and a half received $1,000 from one, individual mobile donor. When they have more money to give, they probably would.
Munk: The American Lung Association has not gotten into the text-to-give game. We see there being more value in texting to give with organizations that have a high urgency factor, like disaster relief, things that are really crisis driven.
But we are looking to invest more heavily in making all of our websites mobile friendly. We know that people want to interact with us through mobile technology and it’s up to us to find the resource to make it easier for people to engage with the Lung Association. Mobile is definitely on top of people’s minds right now.
Snyder: That’s one misconception I don’t know how to resolve. Disaster campaigns definitely make a lot of money through mobile. But our biggest winners, the organizations that are making the most in text donations, aren’t disaster programs.
Morris: I think the trick is you pick the right tools for your organization. In addition to focusing on Facebook and Twitter outreach, we are leveraging the mobile giving tool to reach how and when they want or need to hear from us. NPT