by Jeff Small
A recent study by Canadian researchers suggests that not all social media engagement is good engagement if your ultimate goal is to cultivate donations. The study serves as an important reminder that your ultimate goal in any donor contact should be to nurture relationships.
In this study, researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business tested how different types of online interactions with potential donors impact their future donative decisions.
Researchers offered different groups of participants different ways to show support for a cause without making a monetary contribution. Some were asked to join a group on Facebook, while others could receive a pin or magnet supporting the cause, and others were given the opportunity to sign an online petition in support of the organization.
Later, they were all given an opportunity to contribute financially to the organization.
Researchers found that those who provided a public show of support (i.e. through Facebook) were less likely to make a contribution than those whose opportunity had been more private (i.e. signing an online petition others might not see). The study’s authors speculate that when potential donors have opportunities to show support for a cause without a contribution, they feel less pull to make a statement through financial support.
In other words, if they get credit in their social group for being charitable when they “like” your organization or join a charitable sounding Facebook group, potential donors don’t feel the need to show they’re charitable with their wallets.
Organizations that ignore social media as an opportunity to engage potential supports do so at their own peril, but as this study shows, not every interaction on social media will ultimately advance your fundraising strategy – and in some cases they just might be counterproductive.
There are without a doubt success stories of organizations gaining attention, reaching new audiences, and attracting new donors through social media. This study’s findings, however, should remind us that just like direct mail, phone solicitations, or in-person fundraising, our goal with any fundraising technique should be to nurture relationships that will support an organization over the long-term, not merely to chalk up another contact.