Social Media and Money: A Pre-Annual Meeting Chat

Three association professionals discuss how an association can use social media to raise funds without alienating its members.

Several of this year's ASAE & The Center Annual Meeting & Expo learning lab sessions are focused on the ever-popular topic of social media. A growing number of associations are trying to figure out how to use social media to bring in money, and many are finding it difficult to walk the fine line between reaching out for support and annoying members. Associations Now had a chat with two of this year's Learning Lab speakers and another association professional to figure out how an association can traverse that line successfully.

How can associations use social media to raise money without upsetting or alienating members?

Lindy Dreyer, SocialFish, LLC: I think it's a good question. It's easy to annoy members by constantly asking for money—especially since we've already asked them to pay dues. So, we were going to start with stories of what we've seen work well. Sarah—would you like to start?

Sarah Sears, CAE, National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors: We set up a Twitter account for our convention last year. Our Young Advisors Team was encouraged to make use of the account, and while onsite, our group committee chair decided to challenge our board to match a percentage of contributions to the PAC if we hit 90 percent participation of the Young Advisors Team that were at the convention. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and it was quite successful.

Lindy Dreyer: Sarah's experience combines Twitter, a live event, and a little healthy competition.

Sarah Sears: Competition is key with my group—it's in their nature anyway, and this just helped spur it on.

Lindy Dreyer: Getting back to the question about how to avoid alienating members ...

Steve Drake, Drake & Company: One of my groups—the Christmas SPIRIT Foundation—experimented with a TweetUp4Troops around Veterans Day last year. It was a good experience with lots of lessons learned. First, we made a big mistake. I was so excited about the name TweetUp4Troops that we created a Twitter account with that name and started inviting participants. Well, that meant the first thing they heard from TweetUp4Troops was a request to participate. No community built. No engagement. Won't make that mistake again!

Sarah Sears: Good point, Steve.

Lindy Dreyer: That's a good lesson. It all starts with community. If you do the work year-round to build community, you're far less likely to alienate the members of that community when it's time to ask for their support.

Steve Drake: Social media has great potential for fundraising, but not at first. Building community, engaging your community, establishing 'the story' and need should be first. Then, asking for support and funds might be a starting point.

Sarah Sears: Absolutely, Steve. I see Twitter in our case as being a vehicle to get them where they want to go, but they have made the choice to join Twitter and receive the info that we send. I do what I can to get them onto Twitter, but ultimately the choice is theirs.

Lindy Dreyer: Good point, Sarah. There's a permission element that's important when you shift the focus of your community interactions from networking and learning to fundraising.

Steve Drake: So, if they join your Twitter community or Facebook pages, are they giving you permission to reach out and request funds?

Lindy Dreyer: Not necessarily. But they are giving you permission to ask for their permission, yes? For example, on Facebook you might have a really active fan page where you share news, industry highlights, and updates on your events—but never a request for money. So perhaps you build a cause page and ask them to join your cause and donate. Then you know that it's a cause they care about, and they're willing to listen and contribute.

Sarah Sears: I would agree. I am not necessarily making an ask on Twitter, but what I would say is, 'We need your help. Contact your congressperson or support our cause, click here for more info.'

Steve Drake: Good strategy. I know that I get turned off by some who continually send 'donate' messages via Twitter.

Sarah Sears: Yes, and that is a good rule of thumb that I go by: 'Would this annoy me?' If so, I usually shy away, not always, but usually.

Lindy Dreyer: The other side to this coin is 'social proof.' After someone donates, you give them the option to share that fact with their social network. Their friends and colleagues see that they've given money and might take action likewise. I like the 'would this annoy me' test. I'm pretty easily annoyed though. LOL. And sometimes annoying is surprisingly effective.

Steve Drake: Some say that if you haven't annoyed someone, you haven't done a job in getting their attention!

Lindy Dreyer: There's a really neat tool out there called Donor Pages, where you actually empower individuals to build a page around your cause. Then you let them be annoying. ;-)

I suggest that readers check out NTEN, the Nonprofit Technology Network. That community is very invested in online fundraising. Also, they do some creative fundraising themselves. My favorite is last year's fundraising for their annual conference. Their executive director agreed to a little fun, harmless, self-humiliation at the hands of donors. They made her put up a video of herself doing Beyonce's dance to 'Put a Ring on It.' The community was very motivated to see her deliver her promise.

Steve Drake: Ha! That to me is a key element to using social media as fundraising. Have fun! Engage! Generate support!

Lindy Dreyer: There's still no substitute for doing something remarkable when it comes to getting people to act online.

Steve Drake: And, not to try to control it. As Sarah's story notes, if you let others be creative, remarkable things can happen!

Lindy Dreyer: Hear hear!