Warning: Use These Surefire Social Media Research Tips at Your Own Risk

By Emily Davis

Facebook. Twitter. Tumblr. Instagram. Twenty years ago, these words would have sounded like gibberish. Today, they are integral parts of our everyday lives.

We use them to keep updated on the latest news, celebrity gossip, and updates from organizations and individuals that we admire and are connected to.

Their importance to fundraising, especially as it is related to connecting with Millennials and conducting research, cannot be overvalued.

Connecting to Prospects via Social Media

An organization can connect with its prospects via social media in a variety of ways. One way, which has gained popularity in recent years, is a day of giving, generally online and focused on Millennials. In addition to university-specific days-of-giving, such as those at Butler University, Indiana University, Purdue University, and Cornell University, a national day-of-giving, known as Giving Tuesday, exists to encourage others to give back.

Not only are these days-of-giving fundraising powerhouses for nonprofits, but they also provide useful information to prospect researchers. During these campaigns, prospects self-identity areas in which they are interested. This information can be recorded in a nonprofit’s database and then used by researchers to determine which prospects should be cultivated for future major gifts based on interest to particular programs.

In addition to these days-of-giving, social media connections can also be used by researchers to locate new prospects to an organization. Any time a potential prospect likes or retweets a post by an organization, he or she is telling the world that he or she supports the values, missions, goals, and message of that particular organization. The more focused the message or the more often such a message is liked or spread, the more likely the prospect might be interested in learning more about, and possibly supporting financially, that particular program.

One method used by Andrew Shaindlin, now a vice president at Grenzebach Glier and Associates, that Cornell University developed, and he utilized while the head of alumni relations and annual giving at Carnegie Mellon University, was as follows:

When alumni ask[ed] to join the official LinkedIn group, they [were] screened to verify their eligibility to join the group. At the same time, their LinkedIn profiles [were] scanned for key words that might indicate their potential as a donor at a higher level. For example, C-level executives or partners in large firms, certain job titles, particular professions, expertise or interests can all indicate development potential. Advancement researchers can explore these candidates more thoroughly and check to see whether they are donors, whether they have a gift officer assigned, and so on.

Coupling the connections that your social media staff and frontline fundraisers create with the information compiled and analyzed by your organization’s researchers can be invaluable to your mission and fundraising initiatives.

Conducting Research Utilizing Social Media

Social media is also a wonderful venue to locate new prospects who are not actively engaged in your content matter, but have shown an interest by following your posts or liking your page. To this end, several companies, including EverTrue’s platform,* provide services aimed at screening social media followers to provide you with basic biographic and wealth information on potential prospects.

These screening services can also be used to screen lists of day of giving donors. While screening prospects is the quickest method to use to determine whether any of your followers might be that hidden gemstone you are looking for, you can also manually search your donors, looking for keywords, such as doctor, dentist, physician, CEO, president, owner, or principal, that might indicate additional wealth.

Once you have located a new prospect, whether via social media or through traditional means, social media profiles can often provide you with a wealth of information, including family background, employment and educational history, interests, hobbies, indications of a second or third home, indications of a yacht or airplane, or high level connections to other potential or current prospects. All of this information is invaluable during the research process when attempting to determine if the prospect being researched should be further cultivated by your organization.

However, one key that development officers and researchers alike should remember is that, as stated by Shaindlin:

Donors don’t join social media thinking, “I hope a non-profit finds me and solicits me for a gift here!” They join for personal reasons (share photos, keep in touch with friends and family, follow a sports team) and for professional reasons (network for professional connections, keep up on news about their colleagues and their industry).

As such, social media should be used carefully and respectfully. Remember to always follow your organization’s rules and policies on connecting with and soliciting prospects via social media!

*NOTE: I am a paid blogger for EverTrue.

About Guest Blogger

Emily Davis began as a research associate at the Indiana University Foundation and was promoted to development analyst in 2011. In addition to assisting her science- and health-related clients with research, she has completed research for the IU and IU Foundation presidents as well as on international prospects. She is also a freelance blogger for EverTrue and a freelance editor. She received her undergraduate degrees from Ball State University and her master’s degree from Indiana University Bloomington. In her free time, she enjoys completing freelance editing and formatting work when not watching Thomas the Train with her toddler.