Introductions First

Hello, fellow fundraising professional. My name is Barett Christensen, recently hired Senior Associate at Bentz Whaley Flessner. If you will humor me, before we get to the predictions for 2017, it seems a brief introduction may be in order.

For the last three years, I have been fully focused on building the country’s first degree in social media marketing. Working with more than 50 social media experts from around the country, we gathered and built a project-based curriculum focused on the latest strategies, tactics, and tools in digital marketing. In just three years, the program grew to 700 students and was engaging 200 companies a semester in classrooms. The program has become a lab of social media practice, surfacing what’s working and what’s not working.

Before launching into the degree-building business, I was deeply involved in fundraising with leadership responsibility for a number of fundraising teams at Brigham Young University including donor research, portfolio management, analytics, stewardship, planned giving societies, the web, social, marketing, and communications. I was first referred to as a social media expert after I was fortunate enough to take an early gamble on social media and, as best as I can tell, was the first to raise over a million dollars on a social campaign. While I have been involved with social media from it’s beginning, I still cringe a little at being considered an expert on a topic that has only been around for a decade. Expert maybe, a track record of digital success, yes!

Today I am excited to be back involved in my passions, fundraising, and digital. In the last 18 months, a number of new opportunities emerged for nonprofits to leverage social in incredibly sophisticated ways, and I knew I had to get back into the fundraising world. There you have it. I’d love to get to know you as well. Please feel free to reach out and share with me your ideas at bchristensen@bwf.com. Now to the predictions.

10 Predictions For Digital And Social Fundraising 2017

Warning: This is not your normal prediction post. This is more of a “possibilities” post. I have only one prediction that is both presumptuous and true.

Those organizations that experiment on even one of the following possibilities will see success.

Possibility #1 Wealth Targeting On Social Is Here

In the last 18-24 months, most of the major social networks have begun to figure out a model to monetize. It seems the model all of them have chosen is to open up their user data for organizations to mine, build audiences, and engage in paid communications. Social networks have all been free. Their goal has been to grow as fast as they can, collect as much user data and then monetize the data. For a decade these networks have been collecting thousands and thousands of data points on each of their users. Further, they have been out purchasing data from the big data warehouses and appending that information to our social records.

While networks were focused on user growth, they allowed all content posted on their sites to reach all the followers of the posting organization. In preparation to monetize, most networks have been introducing algorithms which have started filtering what content makes it to which individual. You may have noticed in the last 18 months that your organization ‘s “organic” (non-paid) content has been dropping in reach. Most organizations today are lucky to have a 10% organic reach on their posts. Many have cried foul and missed seeing the value in the offering these networks are now providing in exchange for a little money.

With algorithms throttling post reach, most of these networks have opened up their database of users to any organization willing to explore. Previously, you could only communicate on social with those who followed you. Now you can communicate with anyone.

So what kind of data can you now find inside these networks? In addition to tens of thousands of interest data points, you can target on liquid assets, annual income, net worth, home value, luxury spending, alma mater, and past charitable giving. Yep….you don’t need them in your database to build an audience of wealthy individuals to share your organization’s message. And there are plenty of wealthy individuals to go around. On Facebook alone, there are over 2.8 million individuals with $3 million in liquid assets on hand.

Organizations that spend the time to learn these ad manager tools and build a smart strategy will find new major donors. It is that simple.

Possibility #2 Lookalike Audiences Built on Email, The Web, and Donor Data

As explained in Possibility #1, most social networks have created new tools that allow organizations to build custom audiences around the criteria of their choosing. That alone is powerful, but it gets better. Let’s say you aren’t sure what attributes make up your perfect major donor. You can take a file of current major donor email or phone numbers and securely match them inside a social network. You can then ask that network to build a model of your major donor. You can then take that model and apply it to the rest of the network and create a “Lookalike” audience of folks with similar attributes to your current major donors.

Lookalike audiences can be built on donor information and web traffic. Most social networks now allow you to install code on your web pages. Every time a visitor hits that web page the code fires, looks for a match in the social network, and if a successful match is discovered, places that individual into a custom audience. Once that audience gets to above 200, you can use it to build a Lookalike audience to further attract visits to that page. In essence, you can use current success to help you build models and find new success.

Those organizations who take new donor acquisition seriously and begin installing social code on their sites will see opportunities to grow their donor base.

Possibility #3 Multivariate Donor Journeys Combining Web, Email, and Social

We just got done talking about this social code that allows you to build lookalike audiences based on web traffic. You can do even more with these new tools. You can build entire journeys for donors. The great thing is most of this journey can be evergreen or running continuously behind the scenes with little effort post launch.

Here is how it works. Let’s say you have a page about a new giving opportunity at your organization. With the social code installed, all the networks will track and collect into a bucket those who visit the page (Audience A.) Now let’s say that same new giving opportunity page has a “give” button on the bottom. If you click the give button, it takes the donor to the payment page and then eventually on to a thank-you page. You install the social code on the thank-you page collecting the IDs of all those who make it that far (Audience B).

Now, back in the social network ads manager, you can do some simple math to build an audience of those who came to the new giving opportunity page but did not make it to the thank-you page (didn’t give). Here is how. Take Audience A and subtract Audience B to create Audience C. Audience C consists of all those who abandoned before making a gift. Now you can send them another communication that is aware of their interest and their abandonment.

This same principle and strategy can become as complex as you like. You can send donors on journeys of information based on social code and custom audiences. And the best part is some of the best strategies all happen automatically while you are sleeping. That sounds nice, doesn’t it?

I predict that those organizations that invest the time to craft logical donor journeys, install the code, and produce the supporting creative will find great success.

Possibility #4 Growth of In-Network Donations

In addition to monetizing data, several social networks have been working to create “buy” buttons. As of a couple of years ago, all e-commerce transactions were taking place off the networks. Businesses might post a product link on Facebook, but the actual transaction took place on the company site.

In the last couple years, the networks have been working hard to get in on the action. Several have launched successful buy buttons. Organizations that have used them have found results, and for the most part, everyone seems happy.

Even more recently several networks have turned on a “give now” feature. As you may know, most giving from social was not on social. You would post a link and direct them to your donation page. Networks are now becoming payment portals as well.

Your organization can add “donate now” buttons to your posts with the ability to handle donations in the network. For some organizations, this may sound risky. For others, this could be a very exciting way to source a portion of their payment processing. Either way, all networks have teams working on this issue. They want to facilitate donations on their networks.

Those nonprofits who keep a close eye on developments and run some tests will see results that might surprise them.

Possibility #5 Native Social Fundraisers Empowering Passionate Donors

Crowdfunding has been a buzzword in our industry for a few years. Social’s early success in fundraising was attributed to its ability to empower donors to spread the word about your cause. As a result, a number of great private products and services have been launched to help facilitate crowdfunding for nonprofits. While these tools are wonderful, none of them are native on the social network.

Recently Facebook introduced its Fundraiser tool. This tool, combined with their “donate now” function, allows users to build crowdfunding campaigns for the charities they love. This tool is potentially very powerful. I could see an organization reaching out to its very loyal, frequent, and/or major donors and asking them to set up a campaign to encourage their friends to join the cause. Wrap this idea around a Giving Day, and you could have a seriously strong crowdfunding campaign. This year, during Giving Tuesday, Facebook waved its processing fee, and the Gates Foundation pledged to match every donation up to $1,000. I saw very few nonprofits leveraging the tool, while I did see many individuals raising money.

Those organizations that can build a strategy around in-network crowdfunding will see results in 2017, especially if this were part of their Giving Tuesday strategy.

Possibility #6 Leveraging the Live, 360, and Video Wars

It is no secret that there is a serious war going on among social networks for video views. As a result, this type of content has the highest organic reach. Your video content will go further organically or paid than any other kind of content. Additionally, Live and 360 videos receive even more preferential treatment.

There are so many exciting opportunities with video. Going “live” can attract supporters and engage them in innovative ways. Those organizations that go live to produce “behind-the-scenes” experiences get a lot of views. Additionally, the very nature of live video means you will have live questions and comments during the experience. Acknowledging, encouraging, and engaging in these interactions can be very meaningful for donors.

Those organizations that challenge their creative teams to build live, 360 and immersive video experience will see increased reach and engagement.

Possibility #7 Immersive Ad Unit Growth

Nonprofits are used to sending out direct mail pieces and emails. They are comfortable calling and meeting face to face with donors. All of these activities and channels are great. Social media doesn’t want to be left out, and so the networks are throwing out some interesting communication products.

As an example, you can build Canvas experiences that allow individuals on mobile devices to swipe up and down looking at videos, images, and text. Canvas ads also allow for panoramic experiences. As you move your phone the accelerometer in the phone changes the experience. All of these ad units make a touch to click very easy, sending potential donors to other locations on your website or automatically sending you their contact information.

Those organizations that watch for these new ad units and experiment with them will find new ways to delight their donors.

Possibility #8 Giving Days Amped Up With Influencers and Immersive Ad Units

The growth of #GivingTuesday has been impressive. Giving days have become a tremendous blessing to many organizations. However, in 2016, I saw only a couple organizations leveraging influencers and immersive ad units during their campaigns.

There is no question that social influencers can be a tremendous help. One post from them could generate hundreds of thousands of visits. We tend to think our nonprofits have great social reach. However, when you look at post reach and engagement, it is not uncommon for a single social influencer to drive more traffic to your giving page than your emails were able to produce.

As #GivingTuesday becomes more crowded, it will become increasingly important to stand out in the crowd. There are some ways you could do this, but a simple and powerful one is to find and invite your social influencers to lead the charge.

Similarly, those organizations that rely solely on organic methods to drive donations on #GivingTuesday will increasingly run into the network’s desire to monetize and suppress organic content. A strong paid social strategy for 2017 will be very important.

Those organizations that look to paid and influencer resources to amplify and differentiate themselves in the crowd will have a great 2017 #GivingTuesday

Possibility #9 Live Data and Algorithms Will Impact Current Campaigns

As these social networks have opened up their data the need to understand the data is increasing. Most social campaigns are producing data the moment they go live. Most networks also allow for multiple campaigns, audiences and ad units to be running at the same time. Most networks allow for complex multivariate testing of audiences and creative. Tracking, interpreting and acting on live marketing data is a rapidly growing skill set.

Those organizations that invest in understanding and optimizing their digital will be able to run faster, more efficiently and more effectively than those who don’t invest.

Possibility #10 Mobile, Mobile, and more Mobile

Mobile has been a winner for fundraising for several years. This trend will continue. Mobile has shown it’s value in text-to-give campaigns. While those are great all the social networks have opened up mobile ad units and campaigns. Those campaigns that get the most traction and interaction are those built for mobile. Mobile device usage is above 80 percent on most social networks so creating experiences designed for mobile consumption is important.

Those organization that build their mass solicitation campaigns with a mobile on social first will benefit from higher engagement.


Social and digital marketing tools have come a long ways in the last couple of years. There is a reason Facebook has been crushing analyst earning projects ever quarter for the last couple years. In 2017, digital ad spend will pass TV and Radio for the first time. Also in 2017, Facebook will pass Google in mobile ad spend.

The future of digital marketing is going to social on mobile devices. Those savvy organizations that begin looking into what the private sector is doing will be able to pick up some quick wins. I am optimistic about the future and fundraising in particular. These tools were made for us!! Not really, but I choose to believe it. Let’s leverage them to be amazing!

Let’s Connect:

There you have it. The year 2017 is going to be amazing. I am excited to see what everyone does. I’d love to know what you have planned and your thoughts on these 10 predictions. Please feel free to reach out to me at bchristensen@bwf.com. Let’s connect on LinkedIn as well.

Barett Christensen is a Senior Associate at Benz Whaley Flessner, specializing indigital and social engagement.

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