Recently, Bloomerang hosted an IndyNPSM meetup which included a panel discussion featuring myself, Aja May of the Indiana State Museum and Willie Matis of Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana. Among some of the topics we discussed were donor communications through social media, the advantages of using digital communication, and what social media channels are best when trying to reach donors. In case you missed it, you can watch a replay here:
Abbi: Panelists introduce themselves, then we will kind of get going.
I have some questions that I have prepared, but I really prefer
if it’s just a more casual conversation, so if we’re talking
about something and you have a question, please just kind of
jump in. So I’ll start with Aja. Want to introduce yourself?
Aja: Sure, I’m Aja May, I’m the Vice President of Marketing at the Indiana
State Museum and Historic Sites. We actually have 12 locations
around the state; we’re not just the museum. So if you’ve been
to T.C. Steele or Levi Coffin or New Harmony, those are our all
sites as well. I’ve just been with the museum since February.
Prior to that, I spent 10 years doing Higher Ed admin, so I’ve
had a little bit of a switch in industry.
Willie: I’m Willie Matis, communications coordinator for Gleaners Food
Bank of Indiana. I’ve been there since last August, so that’s a
year and a few months. I graduated from Wabash College in 2010,
and just kind of got into the nonprofit industry, and it’s been
my passion ever since, and what I like most about social media
is what we’re talking about today: Giving the tools to the
fundraisers to help them retain donors and attract new donors,
things of that sort.
Steven: Cool. I’m Steven Shattuck, I’m the VP of marketing here at
Bloomerang. Went to Ball State, spent most of my career on the
agency side. I did a lot of work for nonprofits at an agency for
four or five years, videos and things like that, and then spent
some time on the for profit side. Now I’m kind of back home,
here at Bloomerang. Yeah, thanks to all of you for being here.
Abbi: I think we could just kind of start out kind of broadly, but
just: How you, based on the kind of donor you’re trying to
reach, how does that affect what type of digital communications
or social media that you would use?
Aja: At the museum, we definitely use: Our high level donors definitely
receive more print pieces, they receive more sort of handwritten
things, a lot more snail mail than maybe our other donors, our
general members, we rely a lot on social media, eNews, to reach
them. But in general, for our social media channels, we try to
keep a 2:1 ratio of two stories that are just sort of fun facts
or “did you knows” or interesting content to every one sort of
promotional plug. If I let people get really tired of that,
really fast, when we are promoting a lot of different things,
I’ve got 50 events between now and the end of the year that I’m
promoting, and so, with that, plus any donor things, it can be a
lot, and suddenly you’re an infomercial. So we try to keep that
Willie: I think the way we go about it is: The good thing about social
media is you can opt in at any level that you want, no matter
what, it’s always kind of on the donor to choose what channels
they want to hear from you. If they’re good with just getting
the direct mail, and sending in their $250 check every quarter,
then that’s what they’re going to do. And then just being wise
about how many asks you’re putting out through email, all social
media, on Facebook, on Twitter, just because you know that
people will be getting that either a lot, or very little.
What I’m taking here in the next couple months is just working with
our donor relations team more, seeing who kind of the higher
donors are, then scrubbing our email lists to see if we can
segment out, because I really think that with your top level
donors, email is probably the best way to go to keep in touch
with them, and then kind of just using that as a medium of
letting them know where else you are on the online space, so if
they do an opt in, check you out on Facebook or follow you on
Twitter, then you can see that and find out that this person is
a little more tech savvy, and that’s the next level you can take
Steven: I would just add that as an observer, and not someone who
necessarily runs any nonprofit accounts, I think that it’s
important to stay on top of the trends and understand where
things are going, and where people are moving. For example, the
fastest growing segment of Facebook, I read somewhere, is 50 to
65 year olds, which that’s sort of a shift in the thinking,
right?; you think social media is going to be younger, that may
start to change. So just pay attention to those things.
And conversely, teenagers are leaving Facebook, right? So they’re
going to these other mediums, whether it be Twitter or, you
know, Snapchat, and these other things. So I think it’s
important to just understand how those things are changing, and
just keep an eye on it, because those teenagers, you know, they
could be donors in less than five years, seven years, ten years,
so know where they’re going to be.
Audience: I have a question, Aja, when you said you did more print for
your top donors, I’m curious about the strategy behind that,
because with our organization, a lot of our higher level donors
are sort of an aging populations, so, that really struck home to
me; we’ve been focusing a lot on the web and social media, and
getting that going in our organization, but, why is the state
museum using print for their top donors? Is that the same thing?
Aja: Yeah. Same reason. Our top donors tend to be a little older, and we
also feel like there’s a great opportunity to really personalize
communication then, so whether it’s just writing a note on a
post card, “Glad we saw you at the last event” or “the last
season” or whatever, but at least it shows that we’re paying
attention to them, it’s not just a one-way communication.
Audience: And don’t you expect that tier to really expect you to know
them? And recognize them, obviously, like you just said.
Audience: What’s your break point for that? You said that there’s a “top
level donors”, what’s your definition of that?
Aja: We have different donor levels in the museum. Our Icon Society is our
top level in the museum, and it’s $1500 a year or more, and so
that’s really… obviously, we have tiers within the Icon
Society, but, that’s our general top tier.
Willie: And I think if you’re sending a lot of print to top donors,
too, every now and again being able to put like one or two
sentences of “Hey, we are on the online world if you would like
to connect with us”, because you mention that you are putting a
lot of emphasis on going digital. What I see a lot with
organizations, who understand the importance of social media and
being online now, that they’re just making the switch and not
really telling anybody about it.
You can’t really make the switch and forget to tell your top donors
who rely on that print to come through the mail, and send in a
check with a stamp on an envelope, that “Hey, you may be getting
less mail, and this is the reason why.” Just from talking from a
couple of organizations who are making the switch, they are
bringing that up like “Okay, how are you telling your offline
people that you are going more online?” and they’re saying “You
know, I didn’t really think about letting them know.”
Steven: And giving them a choice, too. I’ve seen direct mail pieces
that say, “Would you like to receive less direct mail and more
email?” or “write in your social media account so we can follow
you”, those kinds of things, being proactive about it even
within the direct mail piece, those things can be very
Audience: How do you separate donors from prospects, in terms of how to
reach them? Do you have a separate list for even that?
Willie: In the online space, what I do for Gleaners is kind of
separated out into people who have run food drives for us,
people who have volunteered for us, and then people who have
just kind of retweeted or posted about us. So I kind of see
those as prospects in the online realm, if you will. I haven’t
really double checked that with our donor database, so I haven’t
really dove into that.
Very much I finally got a grasp this year of how we want to move
people through the funnel online. To just kind of seeing those
initial people who interact with you online, seeing how to
engage them more and move them up and then further running those
reports in seeing if they are getting put into the donor
database, because they have gone online and given a gift. And
then making that extra effort, after that, I think is the best
next step for us moving forward.
Aja: For us, we definitely treat anyone who is following us on Facebook,
anybody on Twitter, as a prospective donor for us. Our job is to
make that experience an extension of the museum experience, so
you’re going to get all Indiana fun facts, all Indiana history,
culture, natural science, because we want them to come in the
building because we think once they’re in the building, we have
a much better chance obviously of capturing them. Either as a
donor, or as a member.
Abbi: Well and something, and I don’t think Sarah Croft is here, but
her and I talked about once she does a challenge while she’s
interacting on Twitter, specifically, getting interactions with
individuals on Twitter. So, she’ll get retweets from other
completions, sister organizations in other cities, but to
actively engage with donors on Twitter, she has a big challenge
there. Have you guys had the challenge, or found a way to get
Willie: I think it’s always tough, and I talked to Sarah about the same
thing, of their lack of kind of volunteer opportunities. I feel
kind of blessed because we have over 21,000 individuals coming
to our warehouse to volunteer, so a lot of people tweet about
that. You can instantly to say thank you, and be able to do that
But I think it’s just seeing what people talk about, when they say
something relevant to your organization, jumping into the
conversation, almost like when you’re first starting on Twitter
as an individual, especially when you’re doing it as a
professional brand, you’re checking out those hashtags that
you’re interested in. I would say join a Twitter chat about
different things, different talking heads, and you’ll connect
with individuals as long as they see that you’re donating to the
conversation with individuals rather than with organizations.
Steven: Speaking from the donor’s perspective, the things that engage
me are when I see an individual talking about a nonprofit,
rather than a nonprofit account.
Abbi: Talking about themselves.
Steven: Yeah. Like, I know way more about Gleaner’s from Willie’s
personal account than from the Gleaners account, which I don’t
even follow. And then there’s other Gleaners people, that are
engaging, and that’s how I see what they are up to. And that’s
way more powerful than the corporate account, I think. And the
same for the museum and any other nonprofit that I’m aware of,
the people who work there, it’s the people were advocates for
it, who are talking about it online, that’s who engages rather
than the one corporate account, you’re talking to a logo, and
you don’t really know who’s behind it. So that is sort of a
barrier right there. That’s what I think is effective, from that
Aja: We seem to see a lot of more individual comments happen on Facebook
thank Twitter for us. It may be very well the questions of “I
found this little toaster; is it a 1959 or 1960?”, and we go
research toasters. So we a lot more that can we do on Twitter;
we get a lot of other companies or organizations retweeting.
Abbi: Well and that’s kind of conversation that Sarah and I had,
maybe Twitter just isn’t where you’re going to engage a donor.
Like, it might be a challenge for a reason that you just need to
spend more time on Facebook, or with your email campaign, or
Willie: Twitter is a very good handshake, I think. And then, how fast
can you get them onto your email list, or in to volunteer, or on
your direct mailing list, especially for organizations that
don’t have that direct volunteering experience, where people can
Instagram a picture and tag you and you’ll be mentioned on
But, one thing that I’ve been wanting to do, moving forward too, is:
being able to either survey or find those donors who are active
on Twitter, or someone who reformed them for a committee member
or somewhere, and engaging them and saying “We do need help”,
and reaching out to individuals online, and “we recognize that
people would rather engage with a face, rather than a logo, so
would you mind doing this for us? Send three tweets a month” or
I’ve seen that move be effective for some other groups, and we
recently did that for one of our events, which was to engage a
group that came to our Harvest Moon Gala, and they were the ones
who were able to engage with other individuals about our special
event, that night, and everything like that.
Steven: You guys owned social media that night. I mean, that was a
really good idea.
Willie: It was fun. A lot of help from that, so, it’d be awesome if he
Audience: Do you find that every time, you guys, every time you have a
visitor in your food bank warehouse, you take a picture. Post it
right away, and I don’t think people get annoyed by that because
you’re a nonprofit. You’re doing something good, so if it’s like
“That’s too many timeline pictures on Facebook,” it’s like,
“Well that’s a food bank, so it’s okay.” So you know to pass on,
if you’re doing good, then… most companies?
Willie: Well I’m glad you asked that, because I do get a little weary,
so my volunteer coordinator, I gave her the reins of posting
those albums for groups, and when I first started, I was like “I
think we’re posting on Facebook way too much”, like sometimes,
if it’s a busy day, they won’t get to uploading the albums until
the next day, so then it’s like, “bang, bang, bang” right there
at 9:00 in the morning and then a group comes in and then
they’re posting another group at noon, and then we have an
afternoon group, so I’m like: when am I going to be able to post
something about what we’re doing?
But I think then, it’s a conversation I started having with our
volunteer coordinator about how important it is to do that for
our groups. Because that’s something that’s special to the
volunteer experience, I’m sure you guys see it for the museum
experience. When groups come in, we say that at the very start,
that “Hey, we’re going to be around with a camera, and these
pictures will be posted pretty much before you leave. So on your
way out the door, get out your phone and like us on Facebook”,
so that really helped generate a lot of likes.
So I’m glad you said that “oh, it’s okay, they’re doing that for the
volunteers”, because I hope that’s the way it’s getting
recognized. But then, strategically, I go in every day and see
if there’s volunteer groups coming in, so then I know that I
need to schedule my post to go out that night, if it’s about a
campaign that’s going on or a fundraiser that’s coming up,
because then I know we won’t have any albums going up around
8:30 at night, so I can send something that day.
Abbi: But don’t you think it depends on the type of content? Like if
they were posting that frequently and like every time was a push
for a donation, it would definitely get annoying, and possibly
an unlike, or something.
Audience: You’re thanking publicly, and then they’re just like more,
“Man, I like them”
Willie: Right, and that was another thing, too: Know your online spaces
and what audience goes to that online space. I mean it took me
to step back and, because I had my own agenda with Facebook,
like we need to do more campaign style stuff, but then I really
thought about it and our audience on Facebook’s face is
volunteers. It was built by our volunteer managers telling them
that “Hey, like us on Facebook, you’ll see your picture and be
able to engage with us.”
So that is all volunteers; it’s not necessarily prospective donors
that are going to give the big dollars; it’s the people that
really want to give their time. So then kind of changing their
angle on what avenue you’re using, and recognizing what who
follows you on Twitter, who’s on your email list, and being able
to see what types of donors or prospects are in those spaces and
keying your message that way.
Abbi: I think the really important thing, as we go through, is really
being able to measure what you do, and measuring kind of, either
by dollars, or by just a simple measurement of a number of
followers, or whatever. So are there specific measurements or
numbers that you guys look at to kind of see how successful
you’re being, or if you need to change it up, or…
Aja: We have an overall marketing dashboard that we do every month that
tracks social media amongst web hits and all that good stuff. So
we definitely are tracking it, it’s really helpful for us, since
we’re so exhibit-driven, that helps us project where we’re going
with the exhibit, but then it also helps us measure some success
of the social media work we’ve done during that exhibit. We had
Star Wars this summer, and that was a big hit, and everybody
loved seeing their picture with Darth Vader on Facebook and all
that kind of stuff.
Abbi: That’s what my kids are for Halloween, thanks to you.
Aja: But that was really helpful for us to see kind of what kind of, even
Star Wars, pictures people like; they definitely wanted the
picture of the individual visitor with a character, and so we
were able to build more characters, because we knew that’s why
people were coming, in addition to the exhibits, so we relied on
that for feedback.
Steven: Yeah, I’m a guy who doesn’t get too caught up in followers,
like followers don’t really excite me too much. I’d rather have
100 really dedicated, loyal followers than 1000 followers who
don’t do too much. Key performance indicators for me would be
engagement and conversions; did someone see a tweet, and click
through it, and make a donation, or attend an event, or
volunteer, or did they share a message that was asking for those
things. Those sort of engagement metrics are what I’m looking
Abbi: And how do you find those metrics? How do you follow that
Steven: Yeah, it’s hard, if you don’t have any sort of analytics tool
or CRM. A lot of it you can do manually; you can see if someone
retweets you, and record that manually, and then look at your
database or whatever you’re using and see if they made a
donation or whatever and you can connect the dots that way. It
can be tricky, but it’s definitely good to do those things,
because then maybe you can see “Well maybe that status update
for that campaign wasn’t as successful as this one; this one
sort of seemed to lead to a lot of donations”, or whatever
conversion you want. So, it can be challenging, but it’s worth
digging into it, because you can just be better informed of what
you’re doing, going forward.
Willie: That was the one tool that I got us hooked into a couple of
months ago, because when I first started we were still doing
things manually. So Sprout Social is what I like the most. I
like scheduling and everything through Hoot Suite, but as far as
social media tracking and engagement and metrics, for Twitter
and Facebook, the analytics are really good.
And so, picking out those key performance indicators like Steven
said, then being able to maybe overlay, we use the tapestry, so
use the overlay like how many donations came through, the amount
of donations that came through day by day, once I get a couple
more months of tracking under our belt, I want to go back and
kind of overlay, see how many tweets went out this week, how
many donations came in, is there any correlation, was there an
event, and being able to do that, or seeing what the engagement
numbers were that week, rather than how many tweets, so seeing
“Is there a correlation between how many retweets we get and how
many $10 donations we get.”
And so, kind of keying in on those for tracking, because we were in a
similar spot when I joined the organization, and people were
like “All right, we’ve got this many fans, we’ve got this many
followers, we keep building”, which is good, you do want
followers, it helps your reach, but, at the end of the day, you
want people engaging.
Abbi: We talked a little bit about the volunteer organizers, or other
people, and that role, but how do you get other people within
your organization to help or assist with reaching out to donors?
Steven: Really hard.
Abbi: Giving people one more thing to do.
Willie: Well I heard, sorry for jumping in and going first, but, I was
at the M Con, the conference about millennial donors, that’s put
on by Achieve, that was here at The Alexander at the start of
the year, and I forget who it was that was speaking, but she was
talking about getting other people in your organization involved
in the online world, and she was a marketer, and she said she
makes it a point to go to lunch once a day with someone in the
So just sitting down once a week with someone in the programs
department and kind of learning about what they do on day to
day, and then seeing if they are on the online world somewhere,
because our Chief Programs Officer, I never would have guessed,
but I started talking to her a couple of weeks ago, and she
mentioned doing a Google Plus hangout with her kids, and I was
like, “Wow! You’re doing a Google Plus hangout, what else do you
do?” and she’s like “I’m on Twitter, I’ve done…” and it’s not
like she’s actively using it, but you learn that people do find
value in it, and you can start that conversation with them, and
get them involved.
And I’ve talked about this before, but you try, when you come in, to
set a social media campaign going, with all of the officers and
managers buying, and you go down to the people and you’re like
“I want to blog from you like twice a month, is that okay?” and
it rolls around and you have to keep nagging and nagging them,
when in reality it’s better like if you start from the bottom,
and see who would want to blog for you, get them to start
pushing some of those out, then they start talking about it with
coworkers like “Hey, did you see my blog that was going out?” on
the Gleaner’s feed and everything like that, so it kind of
rallies it from the bottom.
Audience: Even non-writers, just advocates?
Audience: Do you pay them extra, or do you just
Willie: I wish I had enough to pay them extra.
Aja: Yeah we do, I try to do an end of row calendar about 3 months out, so
4 times a year I’m doing a call out for content for the next 3
months. Since we are so exhibit and event driven, it’s actually
pretty easy for us to find a lot of things to sort of hang out.
We’ve got a big ice age exhibit coming up in December, so we’re
all about feeling collegy lately. So working with those curators
and officers who are doing the hands on stuff with the visitors,
they know more than they think they know is interesting. They’ve
been doing it for so long that they are like “Oh yeah, we did
that”, and we’re like “That’s really cool!”
Abbi: They have the best stories.
Aja: Yes, they do.
Abbi: And you don’t realize it until you sit down at lunch and they
just start talking, and as a marketer you’re like, “That’s a
really great blog!” and “Let’s talk more about this…”
Aja: I think getting them in the habit of also looking for those stories,
we’ve done a dig in southern Indiana every year for the past 26
years. This year, for the first time, they brought an iPad with
them, so they recorded it when they found this 50000 year old
peccary pig, and then they emailed it to me from Jasper. They
had to drive in to get service, but the fact that they’re
willing to do that, and then they’re excited about it, and they
see that it’s shared, then it gets picked up by national media,
then it creates that cycle of reinforcement that “This is a
really good thing.”
Abbi: Yah, and then it’s something for them to hold onto too, that
they have that.
Steven: Yeah, this is a problem I’ll be trying to solve for the rest of
my career, basically: Trying to get people internally to be more
active on social media and contribute more content. It’s just
setting them up for success, and equipping them with an
editorial calendar, equipping them with things that you should
talk about, and maybe doing a little bit of training, instead of
just saying “Hey Executive Director, you should join Twitter.”
“Okay!”, and what happens then? That’s not a recipe for success.
And choosing your battles too, I think; my wife has been a fundraiser
her whole career. She was at Joy’s house for a previous
position. A small nonprofit, 10 people, she was the only active
person online in the organization, so she had to overcome this
challenge. So starting with the executive director, she looked
at social networks that she used already, and encouraged her to
do more there than to jump into a new one. So that was Facebook,
And not terribly active on social media anyway, but willing to speak
at events, and to go on radio shows, so kind of choosing what
medium and what outlet works for them. They were lucky to be an
organization that took really well to Twitter, having never used
it. So not necessarily saying “hey, join every social network,
and do everything there” but choosing the right one for them,
and then equipping them for success was important.
Willie: You had a question?
Audience: Well I don’t want to take your panel, so…
Abbi: No, no, you’re fine. You’re fine.
Audience: You were talking about what form was right for you, and still
from your presentation in the social media group, you talked
about what social platform… for example, if you were giving
advice about this, do you use Google Plus or do you use Twitter?
Steven: I mean it depends on the organization. Google Plus might be a
good fit for some organizations. Twitter might be a better fit
for some others. Google Plus is really nice, because Google Plus
hangouts are awesome. It’s a really easy way to make a video; it
records straight to your YouTube channel.
You don’t need to get a camera or hire somebody, a company, to make
you a video. You could do an interview with your executive
director, you could do an interview with volunteers, or
whatever, and then you’ve got an awesome piece of content you
can share later. But in terms of choosing the networks, I think,
you have to look at where your donors are, where your
demographics are, and focus there.
Willie: Well I’m glad I heard Aja talk about the editorial calendar; do
you send it out to everyone in your organization?
Aja: I send it out as a request to everybody.
Willie: And that’s what, I found, helps, too, even if it’s really raw,
just putting all of what you plan on blogging out for the next
month, sending that out to people at end programs or in key
areas. Then that’s in the back of their mind, saying “hey, this
kind of connects”, and they’ll email a picture to you. And it
just kind of gets them engaged. So you might not get that person
who’s like “Hey I’ll jump right into Twitter and start using
hashtags this afternoon”, or you might have that person that
says “here’s a picture; it’ll be good to put on the online.”
They won’t even know what space it’ll go to, but once you start
letting them know, then they start thinking about in a marketing
Steven: And if you’re going after blog posts, there’s a lot of creative
ways to get blog posts out of people that are not natural
writers. Like here at Bloomerang, Jay Love and I are natural
writers, and it’s no problem getting us to blog once a week or
whatever, but we have other experts in the building who are
experts on fundraising and all this other stuff we’re talking
about, but aren’t natural writers. So I don’t just say, “Hey,
can you write a blog post?” If I did that, then they would
agonize over that for months and not really hand it in.
I would say, “Hey, is there a question from a customer that you
answer a lot?” The blog post is probably already in the email.
Or you could just do an interview; you could interview your
executive director or a volunteer, and the text of that
conversation, that’s a great blog post. So you don’t necessarily
have to have someone sit down at a blank piece of paper, which
is terrifying for some people, there are ways to outsource
content that way. That can be really helpful.
Willie: And I think to get back to donor retention, too, do you guys
have those top donors that are always engaged with the
organization? Maybe they’re people you can start sending the
editorial calendar to, and saying, “Hey, here’s a heads up of
what’s going out on our online space. Be on the lookout for it,
share it if you can, share it with your friends,” because I’m
sure they know other people that could become top donors or
maybe just under the top donor level from the, but their friends
will pull them up with them. I think when people have a heads up
on what’s coming out, then they feel more comfortable sharing
it, or they think about how they’ll share it, or who they’ll
share it with.
Steven: And those people can be content creators too, those top donors.
If they’re really engaged with the organization, they may write
for your blog, they may write a guest post, they’ll certainly be
active on social media on your behalf, but don’t be afraid to
ask those people for those things. You don’t get what you don’t
ask for, usually.
Abbi: You could have like a “Feature a board member once a month,”
or, you know, only if they’re comfortable with it. I think
intimidation is a lot of it, it’s just unfamiliar. But you get a
board member, and you do a quick training, quick education, on
what a block list is, how do you create it, go about it…
Audience: Does your calendar get kicked back a lot? Do people give you
feedback and say, “Hey that’s wrong,” do you change it much?
Willie: Nothing huge with, like, “there’s something wrong with this,”
because I do it two months in advance, so they’re not really
sure what exactly is going to come up in those months to come.
Really, they’ll be like, “We can definitely send this to this
specific group”, “This blog, you definitely need to talk to this
program’s person to get more insight on that blog,” and so it’s
really more… They give me more work, rather than some
But it’s kind of nice, because peoples’ wheels start turning on who
they want to give it to after it goes out, or they let me know
who they want me to talk to after I put anything out there
that’s wrong. So I think that it’s more cautionary, like, “Hey,
make sure you check with so and so before you post about this,”
because we might have updated numbers now, or something like
Abbi: When you talk about planning your content and kind of looking
forward, what types of content and, it’s going to depend on the
organization, but what speaks mostly to donors? Is it just a
direct “donate here” ask? Or is it a block post where you’re
featuring a story of something, a real impact you made in the
community? Any opinions there?
Steven: I’m actually giving a presentation about this at AFP next
month, I put my slides together yesterday, and this is really
important. If you’re a nonprofit who’s associated with
Alzheimer’s, for example, the things that I would blog about
wouldn’t be about the organization at all; I would blog about
Alzheimer’s prevention, and Alzheimer’s caregiver tips, and all
these things that people are looking for in association with
Alzheimer’s. If you can put that content in front of people who
are looking for it, it’s going to build credibility in your
So no one is searching for “I need to find an Alzheimer’s association
I want to donate money to!” like that search just doesn’t
happen. But searches that do happen are, “I’m a caregiver. I
need help taking care of my aging parent who has Alzheimer’s.”
If you can put that content on your website somehow, that’s
going to attract people who may become donors.
So looking at the top of the donor funnel, that’s the content you
want there. And then once they’re there, having other content
about your organization, and all the great things you do, once
you’re there that’s going to help them move through to a
Aja: We’ve actually began to think about, especially on social media but
other media too, the museum is actually kind of like a lifestyle
brand; our lifestyle is what it is to be a Hoosier to live in
Indiana, so that means that we’ll retweet, we’ll repost things
about high school basketball, or Colts football, or things like
that that really are what it is to be a Hoosier. And so, we’ve
seen an increase in our followers, I think, because of that, and
because people know that it’s content that they’re looking for,
that they’re interested in to see why Vincennes was called
Vincennes if they’re from Knox County, or, how do we keep them
engaged in that way. So it really is relevant to them, and not
so much this megaphone of “Donate now, volunteer here, come to
this event now!”
Steven: It’s weird; the less you talk about yourself, the better it is.
Audience: Do you think that space would have been taken by someone else
if you hadn’t jumped in and done that?
Aja: Well, to some degree; you know, we’ve got our natural competitors in
the state, our historic landmarks and history center. What’s
different about us is we have the 3-dimensional objects. The
historic society has the papers and photographs. We have the
cars and the tractors and toasters, things like that. And we
also have a statewide network in a way that people are. Whatever
our largest challenge is, we’ve got the museum, people in
Indianapolis care about the museum.
We’ve got Gene Stratton-Porter’s log cabin in Rome City, Indiana.
They don’t care about the museum at all. And so, how do we make
it just as applicable to Rome City as it is in Indianapolis? And
that’s a constant sort of struggle for us, because we’re all
living in Indianapolis, so very quickly, suddenly, everything is
about Indy, and it’s not about the whole state.
Abbi: So in that situation, do you create like a second account? Or
do you do everything through the state museum?
Aja: Twitter is more everything. Facebook, we’ve got separate accounts
for each of the 11 historic sites. Because it is so very
specific to the location in the lot of ways, but we share back
and forth where we think it’s appropriate.
Audience: Do you ever purchase content for a blog post?
Aja: Oh no, our issue is we’ve got too much content, to be honest. We’ve
got a staff of curators, a staff of program specialists who know
just so much, that often our issue is more just weeding it down
than it is; it’s a good thing in a lot of ways, but in a lot of
ways it’s like “Oh my God, you’ve only got 100 words, you
haven’t got 1000!” It’s one of the big challenges.
Audience: How do you dance around politically sensitive topics? We work
with public health, so a lot of the things we want to talk about
right now is the Affordable Care Act, and we want to provide
them useful and meaningful information on that, and we also want
to engage with them, but we don’t want to put anyone else off.
Willie: I think I can speak on that, because we’re kind of dealing with
a similar issue with the sunsetting of SNAP benefits. And it’s
not really a direct cut, or anything like that, it’s just that
they’re kind of rolling back from the stimulus. Especially
during the government shutdown a lot of talk was around about
“What’s going to happen with WIC,” women infant and children,
and are the lines going to get bigger.
So I think what people in the online world want to see: Are people
not beating a dead horse, or being overdramatic about their ask?
I think the way you brought your question is you do want to be
helpful, so how do you word that? And I think it’s just saying,
“The need is going to grow” or “The need is going to get
stronger,” or “The demand is going to be there, so we need your
support, we need your help, with that demand. We’re not telling
you that you’re going to need to pick up a sign and picket
tomorrow, or anything like that, but we’ve got to baton down the
hatches, and it’s going to take our entire community to help
those who may need more help now in the future.”
And not being afraid to ask those questions, because you’re going to
get a little kickback from a few people, but honestly those
people were probably looking for something to get mad at your
organization about anyways and so they were just waiting for
that one time. So maybe you’ll make them one time.
But if you’ve gone through and had good engagement in the past,
you’ll get those supporters that come and help you online, where
they’ll say, “That’s not really the way it is. You’re blowing
this out of proportion,” like if you get a negative comment on
Facebook, if you’ve kind of built that online community of
supporters, then other people will be able to comment for you
and say “hey, no, I’ve been through the process. This is how
they take care of X, Y, and Z.”
Abbi: And that is where your employees, your volunteers, your board
members, where all those people who are so close to your
organization, and engaged on social media, that’s where… I did
work with Planned Parenthood for a while, so I’m very familiar
with that really touchy, like, “Wow, could we be any more
careful here?”, so yeah. It’s having that network. Or even if
they’re not volunteers, but they’re really just a good social
media influencer, or they just believe in what you do, having
that backing is huge.
Willie: I think it’s huge, too, before you put any piece out there that
may be a little touchy or a little sensitive, is give everybody
in your organization a heads up. Or at least the people who do
field those phone calls or field those emails, that “Hey, this
is what’s going out. Do I need to think about these bullet
points, do I need to scale it back, do I need to change anything
up? Are these stats correct?” because they’re the ones who are
going to field any phone calls after you click send.
So it is a tough balance because you’re like, “Man, can I be any more
vague about what’s going on?”, and you’re like “Is this really
going to make an impact because we aren’t very direct about it,”
it’s the nature of it.
Aja: Well I also think, you know, it’s yes: You want to provide accurate
information, but you also don’t want to go the other way and
become this defensive “You’re wrong!” sort of thing, so
sometimes it’s okay to let it lie there for a sec. In two hours,
nobody’s going to see it. So having perspective rather than that
instant sort of “Oh God they’re wrong and I have to correct them
right this second”, let it percolate a little bit and just see
where the conversation is going, and not treating every comment
like it’s do or die, I guess?
Willie: Well we saw that with the government shutdown. We didn’t really
hop on to that topic until we kept getting calls from media,
like “How’s that going to affect you guys?”, so I thought of it
like “We need to put out our own content to be able to tell our
story from our words,” and not leave it in the hands of any
media who are looking for that striking content, and it’s funny
how like one word can kind of change the meaning of a sentence.
Whether someone says “Gleaners relies heavily on government
food,” when in actuality only about 20% of the food that comes
through our warehouse comes from the government, a lot of it
comes from donations and from purchasing our own.
So if they only would have taken out “heavily” we would have been
fine, like “we rely”, and that’s even kind of a stretch. So it’s
just being proactive about being able to put out your own
content, and tell your own story, and say “We’re going to be
affected on all of these different bullet points; we need your
Steven: I sat on the marketing communications committee for CICOA,
which is the Central Indiana Council on Aging, or they used to
be called that, now they’re CICOA, and they have to deal with
this issue. This exact question came up in a previous meeting,
and what they decided was, instead of producing their own
content and kind of putting themselves out on a limb, for the
efficacy of the content, they decided let’s source crowd content
from elsewhere, from people who we trust and find credible, and
present that content. Then we can say “Well this expert is
saying this” and “This agency is saying this” and they’re being
helpful, but they’re not necessarily putting themselves on the
line. And that worked pretty well. The trick there is just
making sure that content is legit and trustworthy.
Abbi: So I guess that’s a great lead in to: What are some of the
leader organizations people can follow, people who are using
digital to retain followers and attract donors?
Steven: The answer I always hear to that question is the big guys like
Charity Water is one. I think you can look locally to the
smaller guys in your community and see what they’re doing. Like
billionaires obviously locally would be a really great
example. Because those organizations are facing the same
challenges you are. These giant organizations have resources
that none of us will ever have access too, so you can look to
those guys for some things, but don’t be afraid to look in your
community at what some of the smaller guys are doing. Because
they actually have a little bit more freedom and agility to try
different things, rather than a big organization that has
handcuffs for things.
On the content side, one that I always point to, and it’s a big one,
I’m sorry for that, is Cleveland Clinic. Their content is
amazing; all they do is produce educational content. So their
website, it rivals Wikipedia for healthcare information and
content of that nature. And that’s how they market to donors,
and to constituents, and things like that, because they
understand that people are looking for things online, they’re
asking questions online, they’re putting things into Google, and
they want to be in the number one or two result for those
things, and they’ve been successful with that.
Willie: I think I would go within your sector and see who the big
players are, and then see how they engage with people online, or
are they just putting out a lot of content and they just had a
lot of followers because they had a huge service area. Like I’d
think, for instance, North Texas Food Bank has a huge following,
and they do a good job online with engaging with other people.
But there’s other food banks that have a huge following but
don’t really engage.
So I think it goes back into, too, a lot of the people that do a
really good job online are those that are doing a really good
job with the offline. That is, I think, a lot of the groups
you’ll see, behind the scenes, are probably sending thank you
notes to the people who are sharing their stuff on Facebook,
sharing their stuff on Twitter, because that’s what people don’t
get every day from getting an app mention.
Getting an app mention on your phone’s awesome, but then when an
organization recognizes that you did a lot of work through this
campaign, and that was online, and sending them a thank you note
at the end of that campaign saying “Thank you for all you did,
you helped us reach this goal” or “We came up just short, so
we’ll try to give you more help next time”, that just gets that
person more engaged, and they’re going to help you again in the
future with another campaign.
Abbi: Anyone have any other questions that maybe we haven’t
addressed? Anyone have anything…
Audience: Do you guys have a means to collect donations on Facebook, like
an app, or do you send people to your webpage?
Aja: We send people to our website right now. We’ve been investigating
Text 2 Donate, because that’s a really great, especially when
they’re in the museum, the fact that they can just text and do
it would be great, but I also think that the American Red Cross
also used that in a very effective way, so we’re now going down
that path a little bit more.
Our website, within the last two years the State Museum has kind of
split off of the State Government a little bit, which is really
interesting in that: The museum was founded in 1869. Until two
years ago, we couldn’t really raise funds, because at the end of
the year everything went back to the state treasury. And so
we’re a really old institution that does not have a history of
fundraising in a substantial way. So that is a very interesting
thing. In a lot of ways we’re still very much at the ground
level, even though we had a very established base of fans, they
haven’t been giving fans.
Willie: It’s a good blog post.
Audience: It’s also the mentality of “My taxpayer dollars paid for this,
so why should I also donate when you’ve got special…”
Aja: So that’s another thing. Essentially taxpayer money pays for the
building and keeps the lights on, so if you want to come see an
exhibit, that’s all private donations. So our building’s
gorgeous, but if it’s empty, it’s really not that fun. So a lot
of sort of donor education and just public education about what
public dollars mean to the museum. It means we can bring Star
Wars to Indiana, it means we can do bigger things.
Audience: And being a venue. I mean putting yourself out there as an
avenue for special events.
Audience: And I think every organization faces that challenge of telling
people why they should donate, because people think “Well my
taxes pay for that”, well, you know, there is SNAP and WIC and
all that to feed people, so maybe a blog or even Facebook is a
great place where you can overcome those misconceptions people
may have. And you’re always going to have those people that
think your organization sucks and their money doesn’t need to go
to that, but those are probably fewer than the people who just
Willie: Well I think that it is another thing that peoples’ minds are
switching to think about too: those donors who have kind of
overcome that mind switch on, “Okay, my tax dollars are going to
this, but then I decided to be a donor because,” and then trying
to key in on those donors to create that piece of content.
Because it goes back to what Steven says: He gets a lot of
updates about Gleaners because he reads my feed, not Gleaners
feed, and I work there, so I almost don’t want to put a lot
because people think “Why I see it on Gleaners, I’m seeing the
same thing on Willie’s, jeez,” so keying in on those people and
being able to reach out, too, and maybe getting some content
that you can share on your website.
Like we’ve thought about, for our planned giving page on our website,
like how can we spruce up planned giving? And it’s maybe asking
a couple of donors who’ve chosen to do planned giving, maybe
making a quick YouTube video, and putting it on there. Because
again it’s that Peer to Peer that the online world is really
Steven: Going back to the Facebook thing, just try it. You can research
and talk to 50 experts and they’ll all have their opinions, but
no one knows about adds better than you two. Try it, if it
doesn’t work, at least you know and you don’t have to worry
about spending time in that again. If it works, great! The
followers, they don’t mind giving through Facebook online, so,
Ian: If I wanted to run a blog post with YouTube for fan port as donors
and winners, what kind of search tag should I use or sort of
identity should I use? Should I use, say, my Google Plus account
as sort of the byline? Your site, how do you get that term?
Steven: I think transparency of who the author is, is always paramount.
Ian, you sat through my last presentation where I talked about
authorship and all of these things, like if Tom wrote a blog
post and they published it, it would be weird for it to be under
Aja’s name. Don’t do that, obviously. But be transparent about
who you are. “I am a patron of the museum,” “I am a donor,”
those things will add credibility.
But in terms of the content you write, even though you’re not an
employee, you still should not be solicitous. So if you can tell
maybe a personal story about “I brought my kids to see Star
Wars, it changed my life” and “thanks, museum!”, rather than
“Hey I went to see Star Wars. Everyone else should go see it,
too.” It’s kind of not that great. But if you can tell a
personal story of your kids seeing Chewbacca for the first time,
“Oh daddy! That’s the guy on TV!”, those things are nice. So it
doesn’t matter who the author is, you should still not be
solicitous, you should be a storyteller and a resource to
Aja: Well and I think, from our side, we search for that kind of stuff. If
it’s got Indiana State Museum in a blog, we’re going to find it.
But we also are very careful to make sure it’s not so bright,
shiny, sunshine and kittens all the time. If somebody has an
issue in the cafe, we’re just as likely to retweet that and say,
“Here’s how we’re going to fix it”, because we don’t want it to
be so salesy that you feel like you just walked into a used car
lot, rather than… Because part of our trust factor with our
patrons is we tell the full story, because that has to come from
social media, too.