Social Media Influence on the Rise for Online and Offline Giving

Mark Miller
Mar 14, 2017 · 4 min read
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(Photo by MKH Marketing,

Retaining donors is more important and more challenging than ever before, and new data suggests that social media is contributing to improved retention and larger gift sizes.

The annual Burk Donor Survey, conducted by Penelope Burk at Cygnus Applied Research, shows that most donors (56 percent) planned to give the same amount to charity in 2016, while 22 percent expected to give more and 7 percent less. The 115-page study provides detailed information about how and why donors give, as well as recommendations for nonprofits to be more donor-centered. Download the free executive summary or purchase the study.

The data on social media shows a tremendous increase in both use and influence in just the past five years.

More donors are following nonprofits on social media.

Because Burk has been surveying North American donors for nearly a decade, she’s been able to see predictable patterns as well as emerging trends. For example, between 2011 and 2016, the percentage of donors who have at least one social media account has remained consistent, at just under 70 percent. But consider these stats:

· The percentage of donors who follow at least one nonprofit on social media has grown from 43 percent to 80 percent.

· The percentage of donors who follow one to five nonprofits has increased from 37 percent to 64 percent.

· The percentage of donors who follow six or more nonprofits has grown from just 7 percent to 16 percent.

Burk says the data demonstrates that social media is increasingly important for people of all ages. “If you think social media is just for young donors, consider that 68 percent of donors 65 and older follow at least one nonprofit on social media — that’s more than triple the figure of 21 percent just five years ago. As younger donors mature, we can expect those numbers to grow even more.”

Social media followers give more than non-followers.

If you’re looking for a reason to justify using social media, consider the finding that social media followers give more than people who do not follow nonprofits. Because older donors are now more likely to use social media, average annual giving among survey respondents who follow one or more nonprofits on social media was up 174 percent from 2011 to 2015 — from $3,435 to $9,429. That reflects not just giving through social media or online, but all online and offline donations.

Also notable: for the first time in the survey, the average gift of people who follow nonprofits on social media has surpassed the average gift of people who don’t. In 2011, the average gift size among non-followers was 27 percent higher than followers (presumably, younger donors). But in 2015, the average gift from social media followers is 15 percent higher than that of non-followers. More than 16 percent of donors say that after following a nonprofit, they give more often. And 8 percent make larger gifts.

Donors use social media to get what they’ve traditionally wanted from nonprofits.

The top four reasons donors said they follow nonprofits:

· Get real-time information on current projects.

· See how recent gifts are being used.

· Get general background on the nonprofit.

· View images that show the nonprofit’s work.

Sixty-six percent of respondents said they follow nonprofits on social media because they post relevant updates on their work. “Relevant updates are those focused on measurable accomplishments in the programs and services that donors are funding, and information that’s timely,” Burk explained. “Social media is a powerful and efficient channel to communicate impact and demonstrate need. Donors love to see success stories, and they need the organizations to connect their giving to those accomplishments.”

Frequency matters.

Burk says she’s hearing a concern among donors about social media that she’s seen about other forms of communications. “It’s interesting to note that the caution donors have often expressed about over-communication through mainstream channels is also being made now with social media,” she said. Thirty percent of respondents said they choose to follow nonprofits that don’t post too often, and don’t repost the same information.

What’s Next?

Too many nonprofits treat social media simply as a channel, like direct mail or a newsletter. But its real promise is as part of an integrated strategy that includes both online and offline giving. Don’t limit your nonprofit’s potential by treating social media only as a way to drive traffic to your website or to solicit your donors. Used strategically, social media can open new avenues for giving, strengthen donor relationships, increase online and offline donations of all sizes, and build sustainable support. Using the data from the Burk Donor Survey, give your donors what they want, and you’ll see results.

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