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How to Build Donor Relationships Online

Christina Vanoverbeke
Published:  02/14/2018

Adapted from a 2017 AHP Annual International Conference presentation, “Digital is Development: Online Strategy for Building Relationships,” by Christina Vanoverbeke, Director of Communications, Dignity Health Philanthropy.

There is a myth in health care fundraising that our donors aren’t online. You might have heard this as an excuse for not investing in digital communications. “We’re an exception. We’re in health care. Our donors are elderly, they aren’t on the internet.”

But, says Christina Vanoverbeke, “We can’t say that they aren’t online anymore—they are.” In fact, Baby Boomers are more likely to share your content than Millennials.

And you need to reach them—all of them. Vanoverbeke notes that digital campaigns now have a higher conversion rate than direct mail. So here’s how to get started.

Stay separate—but work together

If your hospital system marketing team will allow it, make sure your foundation communications team has a separate social media accounts from the hospital or medical institution. Posts are always an opportunity to make the ask, so own your channel and make sure to always link back to your content.

But at the same time, actively build your relationship with executive leadership in your organization. Get the senior leadership team to meet with you by inviting them to team meetings. If they ask why you need a separate social media account, tell them, “We’re raising money and we need to be able to ask. And you’re not comfortable asking.” Use statistics to create a compelling argument to show them that your development team is a partner in philanthropy with your institution.

Focus your channels

Based on what Dignity Health Foundation has seen, Facebook is the place to concentrate most of your social media efforts. The channel they focus on second-most is Instagram, because it’s the largest emerging social media after Facebook after WeChat. If you have an international donor base, focus on WeChat instead of Instagram. Instagram is also the place to find younger generations, and as Vanoverbeke notes, “It’s never too young to start building affinity and loyalty to an organization.”

“Meet your supporters where they are, when they are, and with what they need to build a connection to your organization,” she says. Use an omni-channel approach to build a relationship in a digital space. Stop asking people to do four to five different things, because it can get very confusing for online donors with multiple types of asks. Ask them to do one thing in the space they’re in.

When you’re on social media, make sure you’re looking for the right results. “Our audiences are small but mighty,” Vanoverbeke says. Don’t measure followers, but instead report impressions & reach. It’s better to have 1,500 engaged followers than 15,000 followers who don’t ever look at your content.

Personalize digital outreach

Institutional trust is extremely low right now (think “fake news”). When you email donors, talk about “you” and “I” and make your message personal—even when you know it’s not. Just as you always have someone sign things in print, when you send emails, make sure it’s from someone, not something. Use the customizable fields to address to names.

It’s always good to be reminded to segment your email, as well. For example, after an event, send two emails. One to those who came as a thank you, and one to those who were invited but didn’t come, with the message “here’s what you missed and here’s what’s next.”

“If your open rate is low, you’re not talking to the right people. If they’re not responding, it’s not the right content,” says Vanoverbeke.

Find your digital ambassadors

Your advocates may already exist online; you just need to find them. Use Sprinkler to monitor social media and set up listening streams. You can share their content or take it a step further and ask them to be your digital ambassadors. Or look for community bloggers. Reach out to them and pitch yourself.

You also already have ambassadors in your board. They just need the content. Not sure that’s true? Figure out how many people your board and senior leaders have following them on social media to see what your potential reach could be.

Once you’ve identified the people who will be your online ambassadors, give them the content in the form of hashtags, photos, videos and basic posts so they can copy and paste instead of being burdened by developing materials.

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Meet The Author

Christina Vanoverbeke
Director of Communications
Dignity Health Philanthropy

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