The VPM Blog

Using Social for Development

Posted by Don Crow on Mar 4, 2013 3:54:09 AM

There was a time to debate the role of Social Media in the development officer’s tool bag. And that time was at least two years ago. What you can do now is either get a social media policy in place that helps guide what your donors and prospects see when they search for your development team or understand how to use social for all of your fundraising campaigns. I would say do both, but you probably have more say so and less involvement from University communications, PR and marketing folks if you avoid the policy route.

Social has the power to extend the reach of your campaigns not only out and beyond your alumni, fans and family, but also deep down into your schools and colleges. Programs and efforts which were marginal in the Dean’s priority list, can now be given a spotlight on social and a chance to earn donations with effective but spartan human resources.

Social has a unique way of driving engagement (and dollars) that traditional marketing campaigns always struggled to do and currently largely fall flat attempting:

  1. Telling the Story
  2. Prospecting for the correct people
  3. Shortening Cultivation cycles
  4. Taking Stewardship out of the cellar

Now let’s take a longer look at each of these and get you back to your Development staff meeting on time!

Telling the Story

This is perhaps the largest contribution social media can make to your fund raising efforts. Prospects and donors can see, hear and almost touch the causes you’re raising funding for from the comfort of their own living room. Imagine the video intro from the Dean or President of your University followed by scenes of the project and who will be positively impacted. It doesn’t always have to be video either. Blog posts, photo albums on Facebook and Google+ and updates via the University page on Linkedin all ensure the widest, most relevant audience is reached.

All of this content makes it easier for the development officer both from helping a prospect determine where they want their gift to make the most impact and cutting down on some of the prospecting time overall.

Who doesn’t want a little more efficiency in the fund raising process and some cost saving on travel to boot?

Prospecting Just Got Prosperous

Linkedin is 200 million strong (and growing) right now. It’s a wealth of knowledge for the patient (and not so patient) development coordinator or officer. Frustrated by the lack of details in your alumni database? Chances are very good you’ll find all you need to know about current and past employment, physical location and more just by utilizing Linkedin’s advanced search features.

Sure, you can stalk look up folks on Twitter and Facebook, but if you’re looking to build a professional relationship that leads to money for your cause, Linkedin is the answer.

Cultivation = Foundation

Most development and fund raising strategies look at cultivation (relationship building) as the bedrock of a well thought-out and executed gift plan. It involves a lot of getting to know one another, building trust, exploring interests and ultimately, reconnecting a long lost alumni with their alma mater. Social can take that list and place a nice “check” in each box easily. Many times this all takes place before you even make the phone call or send the email for an appointment.

There are development officers who understand this and are using it to their advantage every day. Sharing a little of yourself online, so long as it stays professional, is a great way to solidify your reputation and provide validation in a donor’s mind before you make initial contact.

Linkedin, Facebook and even Twitter have become the new way to “Google” a stranger!

Saying Thank You

Every initial visit and gift should get a thank you note. Social isn’t going to replace that. But, what about those pages of “thanks” in your alumni magazine? How about a more interactive and pardon the term, “social” way to recognize your donors?

Now prospects can engage with your stewardship process first hand and see for themselves how impactful a gift can be at your University. It becomes a lot easier to picture yourself making the gift if you can readily see pictures of all those who’ve given before you.

Social gives you an opportunity to thank others too. It can be a great platform to thank businesses, partners and even other institutions using rich media. Kiss those full page newspaper ads good-bye and good-riddance!


A good first step for any person in development leadership is to create a process where individual school and college fundraising priorities also have a solid communications and marketing plan on social. From there, you can move on to tackling the social presence of your development staff to ensure the best possible image is being put forward by your staff. You can also begin exploring ways to integrate online fund raising platforms into the mix, especially for those initiatives that don’t quite make the major gift threshold.

Ultimately, the time to debate social in the development world is over. That discussion was shown the door at least two years ago. What you can do though is approach it as another tool to help tell the story, find the best prospects, cultivate and match them up with initiatives and campaigns and then thank them once the gift is in the bank.

Author: is Founder & CEO at Verge Pipe Media. Verge Pipe Media assists public institutions, enterprises and the non-profit sector with Imaginative Inbound Marketing strategies + campaigns. We also have a development team chock full of Marvelous Mobile Migrators, poised to help transition our clients into a mobile + social world with custom software, iOS and Android mobile apps.

Topics: higher education

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