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Using social media for major gifts fundraising

Guest Blogger | 27 September 2016 | Blogs

After working for years developing major gift fundraising programmes with charities worldwide, I.G. Advisors knows success relies on building great personal relationships with donors. I.G.’s sister company, Social Misfits Media, works to demonstrate how powerful social media can be in building such relationships, and empowers charities to use it effectively.

Whilst both teams know social media is used to great effect by individual giving and campaigns teams, they find many organisations often overlook, or do not systematise, the important role it can play for major gifts fundraising.
Whilst it can’t replace the important individual engagement needed to cultivate major donors, social media is widely used by High Net Worth Individuals, and can provide important head-starts and short-cuts in the various stages of securing major gifts for your organisation. If used consistently, this approach can ultimately lead to better relationships, more donations, and a greater social impact for your organisation, which is what I.G. and Social Misfits Media are all about!

To help you begin, Erin Niimi Longhurst (Communications & Social Media Advisor at Social Misfits Media) and Emily Collins (Fundraising & Philanthropy Advisor at I.G.) have put together this insider’s introduction to using social for major gifts fundraising.


Why your supporters are wealthier than you think... Course by Catherine Miles. Background photo of two sides of a terraced street of houses.


When prospecting for major gifts donors, deciding whether and how to approach someone requires information that can be tricky to find. Background on their business, any mutual contacts who might be able to introduce you, and their interests can be the difference between a shot in the dark, and a warm relationship. Using LinkedIn to build a full picture of a prospect can be invaluable. In the UK alone there are 1.8 million High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) using LinkedIn, and over 300,000 ‘affluent millenials’.

LinkedIn users are, on average, 44.4% more likely to donate to a charity, and the people who work with, and for, major donor prospects are also using the platform. So much potential!

We like to use LinkedIn to get to know someone’s career history, and business experience, and professional interests. Often times we will be surprised by a shared connection, or a common educational background, that might lead to a better introduction or an easier conversation with a donor. It can also be incredibly useful to see the type of people they surround themselves with professionally, to understand the type of skills, interests and experience they value and respect, and therefore how you can present yourself, and your organisation, to make a great first impression.

Joining groups on LinkedIn, especially some of those focussed on philanthropy, social impact, and charities, can help you find and engage with potential major donors too.


Once you begin your approaches to your well-researched prospects, you might need a bit more than their career history to build a friendly rapport. This is where more personal social media like Twitter and Facebook can come into play. According to Social Media London, 70% of HNWIs in the UK use social media, and Facebook and Twitter are the platforms where users prioritise ‘personal’ rather than ‘business’ use: sharing updates about their life, connecting with friends and promoting causes or products they care about.

Public personal posts can provide invaluable conversation topics, and even gift ideas. Being able to open a call or meeting by congratulating a donor on their sport team’s win, or their daughter’s graduation, adds a great personal touch, and sharing your interest in their comments on current affairs can help to find common ground. If you know them already, you could even reply directly to certain things with a friendly comment to warm the relationship a bit, provided this is in keeping with your organisation’s tone of voice.

You can also add current, and prospective donors (and their companies or foundations) to Twitter lists, like this one from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, so you can keep up to date with everything important to them.


We cannot stress enough that major donors should never be asked for donations through social media, but at the point you’re making ‘the ask’, social can still be important. HNWIs, especially those who are used to operating in the business world, are likely to use digital means to research potential investment, or donation, opportunities.
If you’re at solicitation-point with a donor, odds are they will be checking out your online presence, so make sure it is kept updated, engaging and consistent across platforms. You can check your progress by using your Twitter analytics Audience page: look at the ‘household income’ and ‘net worth’ categories. If they’re looking a little low, you might do well to tailor your feed to high-level donors a bit more, by creating and sharing content that speaks to a business, investment or wealth mind-set.

For example, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is good at speaking about their work in terms of investments, and global politics:

at the same time as associating with the luxury brands that support them, all of which will attract the attention of wealthy users.


Acknowledgement & Stewardship

Once a donor has invested in your organisation, they need to feel appreciated and part of the family.

Making use of every appropriate platform (with their permission) to thank them for, and celebrate, their donation in a creative way can encourage future donations, and greater engagement with your work. They are also likely to share your thanks, and some information about your work, which can then lead to support from their networks.

There are so many innovative ways to acknowledge and steward donors on social. You can create personalised ‘thank you’ videos on Instagram or Vine (like charity:water and Diabetes UK)


credit them on promotions of projects they helped to fund (like the The Doctors Without Borders’ 2014 ‘Thank You’ video),

send them resources you think they might enjoy, and engage with the Twitter and Facebook pages of their companies and foundations. Taco Bell do this so well we wrote a JustGiving piece about it, and Afrikids do a great job of engaging with their donors, fundraisers and partners on Twitter.

Promoting your donor’s gifts as ‘matched funds’ for online donations (with their permission) can also be a great way to credit them whilst still fundraising from others, like War Child UK have done here:

Some organisations even form private groups on Facebook or LinkedIn for their high level donors to connect with each other – like the Australian Women Donor’s Network – and The Hunger Project offered an exclusive Google Hangout with their CEO, which is a fantastic idea that can be offered exclusively to major donors. High profile donors can also be fantastic social media ambassadors for your cause, or campaigns, if engaged in the right way.

These are just a few examples of how social media can make a big difference to major gifts fundraising, and this is a significantly under-used approach in this context. Many of our clients now ensure members of their major gifts fundraising team have a digital component to their job description, and build social into their engagement planning for prospects, so the time is ripe to get ahead of the game!

What do you do to engage major donors digitally? And how has it worked for you so far? We would love to hear your success stories in the comments.
Emily Collins, I.G. Advisors
Erin Niimi Longhurst, Social Misfits Media