The Blog

social media fundraising now more than ever

August 31, 2010 |

FastCompany alerted me to a study by the Pew Foundation that has pretty amazing implications. The demographic that is adopting Social Media at the fastest rate is….ready?…you’re not going to believe it: people over 50 years old! One of the classic arguments against Social Media by nonprofit leadership is that “their” donors aren’t using Social Media (OK, Mafia Wars is another argument but that’s another blog post).

Think about your donors. Most nonprofits really don’t have great demographic data about their donors, but typically they have a good gut instinct about them. And they mostly believe their donors are over 50. If not way over 50.

Here are some interesting stats on Social Media use for you from the study (comparing changes from April 2009 to May 2010):

  • Social media use by 50+ year-olds doubled, from 22% to 42%
  • Specifically, in the 50-to 64-year-old group the jump was 25% to 47%
  • In the over 65-year-old group the increase was 13% to 26%
  • 18 to 29-year-old use rose from 76% to 86%

Take a look at the Pew Study yourself.

You can draw your own conclusions, but here are a few of mine:

  • The older crowd is moving to Social Media at a fast clip.
  • This key demographic for most nonprofits is using Social Media more and more.
  • You can’t sit on the sidelines any more. You have to jump in and get busy in Social Media.

OK, those are the easy conclusions. Now let’s talk about some of the trickier implications.

  • As much as I wish we could, this doesn’t mean you can ditch direct mail, traditional online or many of the other channels you use for raising money. Social Media use doesn’t magically turn into dollars-in-the-door for you organization. It just means you have to find the right ways to use it. And ignore (or toss out) anyone who tells you otherwise. The key is integrating Social Media with the other strategies that are currently working.
  • The growth the Pew Trust is noting represents comparatively low total numbers of people in the older age groups. If you start out with a small number of people and double it, you don’t necessarily have a ginormous number. These are growth trends, not percentages of the total population. Additionally, I strongly suspect, that this growth is in people who were already online users but who had not yet converted to Social Media. Older donors who weren’t online, didn’t jump straight to using Social Media in significant ways  (that’s my guess).
  • Many of these older Social Media adopters are probably basic users, not power users. Many of the less-than-easy Social Media strategies will miss them. You really have to do an Aunt Ruby test on any big ideas.
  • Don’t lump “online use” and “Social Media” use into big buckets in your strategies. For instance, don’t treat email like Social Media. You will probably reach more older donors with email than you will with Social Media. That’s counterintuitive to many, but it’s true. Many on the young side of the demographic divide aren’t big emailers. Many of the older people use email consistently. All “online” isn’t the same.
  • Your donors are unique. Your donors were acquired through very unique and specific strategies, that means they aren’t exactly like everyone else’s donors. Sure, there are similarities with other donors, but donor data files vary if for no other reason than they are donors who gravitated toward you. Careful with too many assumptions about what works “over there” working for you (“over there” can be geography or niche, among other things). It might. It might not. You have to know your donors.
  • Test. Test. Test. Don’t go overboard until you’re sure of what works. Online strategies and Social Media allow incredible, incremental opportunities for testing that allow you to react quickly to results.

I’m for Social Media as a fundraising strategy for most nonprofits. You cannot sit on the sidelines and wait it out. What you shouldn’t do is throw out working fundraising strategies. You have to integrate. You have to build logical campaigns that link mail, Social Media, online, events and other channels.

So what do you think? Were you surprised by the Pew study? What does it mean to your organization. And what will you do with this information. Let me hear from you, I love it when you talk back!


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity


(photo credit: dark_ghetto28)

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