Online and Social Media

Tips and strategies for leveraging social media to enhance online engagement and increase fundraising results.

social media and planned giving

Using Social Media to Find Planned Gifts

It is becoming increasingly clear that social media can be a tremendous tool for annual giving shops seeking to engage donors. While annual giving has found value in social media, where does planned or major giving stand? Is there value waiting to be tapped? I believe social tools have reached a stage of maturity that a forward-thinking planned giving shop could find them useful in their prospecting and cultivation strategy.

In this article, my goal will be to walk you through a simple example highlighting one way social tools could have an impact on finding planned gift donors. I will use as a case study a fictitious US-based environmental protection nonprofit seeking to discover more planned donors. I will walk through three simple steps as we help this organization build a new pool of planned giving prospects on Facebook.

Step 1: Defining the Attributes of a Planned Gift Donor

Most planned giving shops tend to have a fairly well-defined idea of who their target audience is. While there are exceptions, generally speaking, the planned donor audience probably has many of the following attributes:

  • They are likely to be 65+ years old
  • They are likely to have a history of giving.
  • They are likely to be nearing or in retirement.
  • They are likely to be cash poor but asset rich.
  • They are likely to own highly appreciated assets like stocks, real estate, or a family business.
  • They are likely to be single or widowed.

(Your experience with specific attributes may be different, and I would not argue with that. My point here is to build a “planned gift strawman” with a healthy number of attributes through which I can demonstrate social platform capabilities.)

So how do we find individuals who meet the above criteria? Traditionally we might look to our donor database or work with our major gift officers to find folks who meet the above criteria. While mining our donor database and leveraging our existing networks are highly valuable strategies, let’s look at a more recently emerged set of tools to find some new prospects.

Social networks like Facebook have been gathering massive amounts of data on users for over a decade. In the last couple years, they have begun to open up their databases for mining and building audiences. Let’s head into the back-end of Facebook and see what we can do with these new data sets.

Step 2: Doing Our Initial Research Inside Facebook

Inside Facebook’s Power Editor or Ads Manager, we can access thousands of demographic data points on individuals. In this example, we are pretending that we are an environmental/wildlife non-profit looking to find new planned gift prospects that fit the data points we created above. The following is a list of each data point followed by the total number of individuals inside Facebook within that grouping.

  • Age 65+ = 20 million individuals on Facebook
  • History of Giving to Charity = 38 million individuals on Facebook
  • Retired = 7.8 million individuals on Facebook
  • High Net Worth (Over $2 Million) = 14 million individuals on Facebook
  • Liquid Assets on Hand of More Than $1 Million = 7.5 million individuals on Facebook
  • Significant Stock Investments (Investments of $100K or more in stocks) = 37 million individuals on Facebook
  • Real Estate Investments = 31 million individuals on Facebook
  • Business Owner = 30 million individuals on Facebook
  • Single or Widowed = 282 million singles, 4.8 million widowed on Facebook
  • Environmental and Wildlife Giving History = 16 million individuals on Facebook

These data points individually are interesting, but the magic comes in combining them to meet the exact description of our ideal planned gift donor. The good news is, Facebook and other networks provide both the data and the tools to do this narrowing.

Step 3: Layering and Narrowing To Build Our Planned Gift Audience

Here are the layering results of our fictitious example. The following represents only those individuals in Facebook who meet all ten of our criteria.

There are 1,400 individuals on Facebook who are 65+ years old, single or widowed, retired, have a history of charitable giving to environmental organizations, have real estate investments, stock investments of $100K or more, a net worth of $2 million or more, liquid assets on hand of $1 million or more, and live in the United States.

Again, we simply used ten data points laid one on top of the other to reduce the enormous Facebook audience down to a manageable group of potential planned gift donors to our environmental protection non-profit. Is that not amazing if not unbelievable?

Donor Discovery via Precision Targeting

There is no doubt that these networks have rich data warehouses. It is also exciting to see that we can now mine that data and build very precise audiences. Annual giving will continue to be the prime social media user. However, as the networks and tools mature, other areas of philanthropy will find valuable applications.

I would love to hear what you think about this. Are you a planned giving professional? Do you see yourself exploring this idea? Are you a major gift officer? Can you see the potential application in building your portfolio? Feel free to contact me at

Barett Christensen is a senior fundraising consultant at Benz Whaley Flessner, offering counsel on digital fundraising strategy.

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