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Mind Your Manners!

If fundraisers are good at anything, it is remembering to say, “thank you!” So why is it that nonprofits seem to lose all their manners when it comes to social media?

Most of our offices have a rule, whether written or just generally understood, that a gift acknowledgment should go out within a day or two of receipt. We do this because we know it shows appreciation, caring and respect. We also understand that it builds a bond of loyalty. And that loyalty equals sustained giving. In short, it’s both good and profitable to be nice.

Some fundraising legends have suggested that we need to thank more often and in more ways. Fundraising lion Jerry Panas goes so far as to suggest that every gift of over $100 should be cause for a thank you by phone. When challenged by already overworked fundraisers, he cheerfully asks, “what is a better use of your time?”

I agree. And I thought we all did. That is until I started spending more time on Twitter.

First of all, Twitter is a marvelous resource generally and a fantastic place for nonprofits specifically. Contrary to its image as a forum where people report on what they had for lunch and other silly stuff, Twitter is in fact home to 100 million people and organizations where rapid information exchange is made possible through an implicit social contract: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

That means that my “tweet” or message, if of interest to my “followers,” will likely be “retweeted” or shared with many other people. As people read my message, clicking through on links provided within it, I can both learn what truly interests the marketplace and I start to pick up more followers. I learn and I earn. If I post consistently and artfully, listening all the while, I can probably start acquiring a good number of these new friends and followers on my web site. All of this, of course, at no cost. You can see how this can be invaluable to a charity which wants to reach many new friends without spending much money.

But here’s the challenging part about social media. What we don’t do is almost as important as what we do.

For example, if you are kind enough to Retweet my message, possibly earning my organization a few new friends, it might be a nice gesture to acknowledge your effort. But only a small percentage of nonprofits take this little step. And not doing so may convey the message that they are either not paying attention, think they are too busy or just don’t care.

Case in point: One of the greatest social media experts on Twitter encouraged followers to make a contribution to her favorite charity to celebrate her birthday. I was one of the many who did so, both out of appreciation for this person’s work in the field and because I approved of the charity’s work as well. Although I had never met this person, I made a point of dropping a note to let her know about the gift. No response. However, I did find I was on a list of those who had given on one of her blog posts. More than three weeks later, I received an acknowledgment from the charity via email. Still, nothing from the “honoree.”

Of course, things get lost on our to-do lists and in cyberspace just as they do in the mail. Knowing that this was likely an oversight, I decided to test acknowledgment practices with a variety of nonprofits on Twitter. These included retweeting messages, posting message with links to their job announcements, notes of congratulations and other similar actions.

Fewer than 10% of any group of messages or actions were acknowledged.

That made me wonder if this experience was one unique to me—perhaps they just didn’t feel like responding to me personally—or if it had to do with the way nonprofit organizations were using social media.

To find out, I ran one last test: I sent messages making reference to organizations where I have donated. Since my Twitter handle is the same as that in their files, I knew they could identify me if they 1) saw the message, 2) looked in their database and 3) had a policy of responding to donors. Again, fewer than half of these charities responded, including two organizations which know that I have included them in my will.

This would all seem to suggest that the charities on Twitter do not have an acknowledgment policy for social media, do not follow “mentions” of their organizations or both.

How simple a correction would be for nonprofits! So here it is:

1) Review your communications and gift acknowledgment policies and have them apply to social media as well, adapting them as necessary.

2) Monitor “mentions,” which include the Twitter handle of the organization (e.g. @donorperfect or @gordonjayfrost) and respond as directed by your policy.

Believe it or not, this will not take much time to do on a regular basis. Sadly, there are very few people on Twitter chatting up your organization today. What we want is for more people to do so. And to make that happen we can’t just rely on their good nature and luck. We must do in social media what we do in every other aspect of fundraising: build the bond of constituent loyalty through a consistent patter of touches, including foremost among them acknowledgments.

Fundamentally, our donors and prospects should be treated with the same degree of courtesy whether in person, through the mail, on the phone or within the world of social media. What we do—and don’t do—to show we care speaks volumes and will be likely reflected one day in the bottom line, too.

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