Digital Body Language and the Rise of the Digital Gift Officer

Any poker player will tell you that everyone has a tell. Sleight of hand, a change in voice, something that lets other know the person’s real intentions. Are they bluffing…or not?

In business meetings, prospects and clients also have tells. You might hear an audible sigh, crossed-arms, a total change in body position. Translation: Not good.

But what if you never get a chance to have that face-to-face meeting?

Fundraising and philanthropy is experiencing a significant shift where some gift officers will never meet prospects. They, instead, must rely on nurturing messages, phone calls, fast chats via email, and even “likes” via social media. The question is:

If you can’t see a person, can you still read the tells?

What is digital body language?

In 2015, Steve Woods co-founder of, coined the term “digital body language,” which encapsulates everything a visitor does online with a brand. Each click in an email, every retweet on Twitter, a download of a white paper – all are signs that they (and potentially their organization) are interested in a business’s product and services.

By tracking an individual’s activity, you are tracking their individual digital body language. Here are some digital body language signals:

  • Each opened or clicked email
  • Each visit to the website
  • Each form that someone fills out
  • Each attended webinar
  • Each downloaded whitepaper
  • Each page viewed on the website
  • Each referral from social media
  • Each mention on social media
  • Each like or retweet on social media

Following these signals gives brands a better idea of when someone might buy. For example, if you visit a website and click on an image of a coat, you might get an email with more information about said coat. And most consumer brands use these signals to their advantage. Amazon creates product ads that seem to follow you around the Internet. Retailers send a “We think you forgot something…” email when you place items in your cart and simply “forgot” to finish the purchase.

Does it deem daunting to do something like this? Of course.

Will it have impact? Yup.

Can fundraisers turn these insights into donations?

Understanding digital body language can help institutions of all kinds have more impactful interactions with prospects and clients. By engaging with prospects on social media and paying attention to other signals, fundraisers have an opportunity to drive further capital for their institutions. This is why there’s been an uptick in jobs (and job openings!) for “Digital Gift Officers” at major universities.

More than likes…

Imagine if your institution knew who merely visited your donation page –and yet didn’t contribute. For some reason, the person chose to not make a donation and abandoned the page.

Most schools don’t have the capability to track this data and don’t operationalize the insights gained from assessing the digital body language. A digital gift officer can easily follow-up with this person and make an ask.

The results? For higher education institutions, we’ve seen on average a 30% increase in donations.

Let’s say a very desirable prospect has ignored your voicemails and calls for months. Typically, you would take them off the list and label them a “non-donor.” Thanks to digital body language (from tracking embedded on emails), you can “see” that this contact has been opening your emails and appears interested.

Rather than take them “off the list,” now you have a fundraiser monitor them closely. The next time they open your email, that gift officer instantly calls them, in real-time. The conversation unfolds something like this,

Prospect: “You won’t believe this but I was just reading your email!”

Savvy Employee: “Really? No way! That’s crazy! Which email?”

Prospect: “The one about the networking reception for alumni in NYC. My wife and I have been interested in reconnecting with the school for a while now since our reunion is a few years away. We have a son who’s a freshman in high school too.”

Data gained!

Based on that conversation, these follow-up scenarios could facilitate further engagement:

1. A savvy digital gift officer will even alert the event committee that the prospect is attending to ensure that he and his wife feel welcomed back into the community.

2. Maybe someone offers a tour of the new additions to campus for their son?

3. A personalized, follow-up email the digital gift officer sends not only includes registration link to the event but also has a PS about the fiscal year ending and the importance of giving.

Your fundraising team would miss this opportunity if someone wasn’t monitoring digital body language.

Despite the lack of a face-to-face meeting, your digital gift officer could see the tells. They saw which pages the contact visited, blogs he read, events he was interested in, thus giving your team an opportunity to have much richer conversations. Now, fundraisers won’t have to worry about reading a bluff; they can confidently go “all in” and make an ask.


Want to learn how you can use data analytics to help you go "all in"? Download our fundraising workbook today.

View our workbook: Develop a Road Map for Fundraising