Why Social Listening is Essential in Fundraising

Prioritizing a donor database is critical to any successful fundraising campaign. And yet, the data provided to fundraisers is often lacking. While fundraisers typically know if their donor base own homes, vacation homes, and even boats, the data never provides an all-encapsulating-detailed-view of donors’ and prospects’ profiles.

Why? Most of the time, the information provided to fundraisers is historical in nature (meaning it’s information previously collected by the institution). There are few updates except minor ones. And no one knows how accurate the information is. I think we last updated this in 2012? Maybe?!?

Nowadays, researchers must turn to social media to “listen” for new data; how prospects and donors engage with their institution. Are they tweeting about the football team? Maybe they shared a picture on Instagram with their alumni friends? Did they like a story on Facebook about the History Department?

These signs show inclination, and these signs are crucial to understanding donors’ and prospects’ behaviors. While a like on a photo doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is ready to give right now, it does show that they are positively engaging with the institution and, it’s on their mind.

What is social listening?

As a social media marketer, I’ve had my share of questions from advancement leadership about social media. What exactly is the value of a “like,” “follower,” and a “share”? And what data can we gain from watching what people tweet?

Social listening is the process of tracking conversations around specific topics, keywords, and phrases. Through this listening, a social media manager can determine what their followers like (and dislike), what content they might enjoy, and what drives their engagement. In other words, social media managers listen to conversations, respond to concerns, and spur engagement with their institution. Sprout Social gives a fantastic overview on why social listening is important in this article – it’s worth a read.

Let’s look at an example: If a college were to track likes on Twitter, they may see alumni engage with their feeds when:

  • they post alumni couples’ love stories on Valentine’s Day
  • or animals dressed in their institution’s gear
  • or a mention of sports team
  • an academic or research achievement

The data for the school’s social media may stop there, and you should still track your donor’s social media engagement beyond the university. This is an important distinction:

the school-specific engagement doesn’t give a full understanding of all the interests a donor may have.

“Listen for Inclination”

If you are looking for a more holistic view of your donors and prospects, scroll through their social media feeds. You’ll see they like, share, retweet, and engage with many more brands and things.

By listening to a certain donor’s feed, a school would be able to find ways to reengage an alumnus long before the next fundraising campaign. When an opportunity comes up, an alumnus might be more inclined to give because the opportunity clearly aligns with his passions.

Most universities (and marketers for that matter) use the wide-angled approach method: let’s invite everyone and see what happens. That’s not the best experience, especially for people who are inbox-sensitive. Rather, advancement and social media teams can partner to find the right people to target with the right events. Through holistic listening, universities can understand inclination and create stronger engagement.

Real-Time Engagement: Get Updated Data

Beyond listening, social media also has a special power: accessing donors and prospects in real-time. By engaging in a conversation, the social media manager can create opportunities to get updated data. (If you want a easy form to share with your community, check out this one from Dartmouth College.) You never know how accurate your data is, so you should always continue to nudge your community. By sharing the link on social media, you might get more people to engage in keeping their information current.

Social media plays a role in all our lives. By listening to what alumni, parents, friends, donors, and prospects are sharing, you can provide your advancement team with a more holistic profile. And that data, matched to the right opportunity, can help your institution’s reach its fundraising goals. 

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