We’re excited to introduce another feature to social @ edu: guest bloggers.  Recognizing that there are many others out there in the higher ed community doing amazing things with social media, we’re reaching out to our networks to ask them to contribute their thoughts to the discussion.  Do you want to guest blog for social @ edu?  Contact Kevin or Shannon and let us know what you’d like to discuss.

Our first guest blogger is Dan Klamm, Assistant Director of Digital & Social Media at Syracuse University.  In this role, Dan oversees the student team responsible for the implementation of the university’s social media strategy. Dan has contributed articles to the leading technology blog Mashable and has presented extensively in the community about professional uses of social media. To connect with Dan, contact him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

It’s no secret that universities can leverage social media to get prospective students excited about their programs, to engage current students in the classroom, and to keep alumni feeling nostalgic. But can platforms like Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube really drive donations? Can social media be used strategically to support university fundraising campaigns?

The answer is yes.

Though most schools recognize the importance of having a social media presence, not all have aligned their social media strategy to support larger business objectives, such as fundraising.

Here are three ideas for using social media to help with university fundraising activity:

Listen carefully — and do something with what you hear

Every day, alumni and students offer a variety of insights about themselves and their connection to your school on your university’s Facebook page, across Twitter, through LinkedIn groups, and a variety of other social media platforms. Some might identify their favorite buildings on-campus, their most prized memories from college, or the activity that meant the most to them at their alma mater. An astute community manager will reply to these comments with a warm message, but what else can be done?

Forward-thinking schools have systems in place to mine social media interactions into their alumni database. This helps tailor outreach. For instance, when an alumna shares on the university’s Facebook page that her favorite spot on campus is the fountain outside of the library because that’s where she met her husband in 1984, this information can be stored in her alumni profile. When the university reaches out the next year to solicit a donation, the request can be personalized based on her strong attachment to the fountain — perhaps she’d like to contribute $100 toward refinishing its exterior.

Through social media, alumni and students voluntarily share their interests, preferences, affinities, and feelings in connection with your school. Failing to mine this data is a missed opportunity.

Show the impact of gifts

One of the most common reasons why people don’t give money is that they’re unsure how their donations will be used. Giving $500 to a “general fund” can feel like throwing money into a black hole, while giving $500 to help a student afford to spend a semester in London, or to buy a new piece of equipment for the science lab, can feel like more tangible contributions. Social media can be leveraged to show people that their donations have real, specific impact.

Schools like Carleton University and University of South Carolina have developed “thank you” videos on YouTube  — messages from students to donors expressing gratefulness and showcasing the end impact of gifts. Some schools have created more splashy videos to demonstrate the value of gifts, such as Bowling Green State University’s “Stroh Center Rap.” This week, Syracuse University (my alma mater and employer) launched a live cam of the construction site for its new law school  — what better way to recognize the impact of dollars than seeing minute-by-minute progress of a new initiative!

Don’t forget to acknowledge the tangible impact of $25 or $50 gifts. While it’s easy to recognize the impact of $1 million, it’s sometimes more difficult (yet crucial) for regular donors to see the importance of their donations.

Empower students and alumni to raise money

University fundraising is a process usually led by professional staff, but putting students and alumni in the driver’s seat can produce great results. They have broad personal networks that can be leveraged, as well as an intense loyalty and passion for their university. The key is to give them the necessary tools to become a more active part of the fundraising process.

One successful example is Middlebury College’s Middstart, an online platform similar to Kickstarter that allows Middlebury students to “find the funding they need to explore their interests through creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative projects.” Students post project descriptions and dollars needed (vetted by Middlebury’s Advancement team), and donors choose interesting projects to support. By doing this, Middlebury takes the institution’s administration out of the equation and creates a more direct, personal link between students and donors.

Another approach is simply to make social sharing easier. When an alum donates money, he/she might want to display a badge on his Facebook profile or send a tweet encouraging his/her friends to give, too. It’s in the university’s best interest to facilitate this action.

Have you been successful with using social media for fundraising? What ideas do you have? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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