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8 Tips for Raising Money and Attracting Support on Social Networks

The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind received $25,000 from a campaign called "Winks" that featured pictures of guide dogs "winking." (Cody Sabatine )

Nonprofits seeking support on Facebook, Twitter, and social networks may struggle to attract donations, but they can count on doing well when they send out pitches on the first and 15th days of the month.

“Payday makes people feel generous,” says Liam Copeland, a digital marketing specialist at the consulting firm Grizzard.

Mr. Copeland was one of several specialists in social-network fundraising who offered suggestions for charities at this week’s  inaugural AFP TechKnow, a technology conference in Orlando, Fla., organized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Following are other suggestions:

Get creative, especially if your organization is small. The Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind received $25,000 from a campaign called “Winks” that featured pictures of guide dogs “winking.” The more people shared those pictures on Facebook, the more the corporate donor sponsoring the promotion gave to the organization. In just 10 days, the campaign raised $25,000, the full amount that the sponsor had promised, says Chelsea Tafarella, the nonprofit’s social-media manager.

“You don’t need to be a technology genius to use social media in a smart, responsible manner without having a full-time employee dedicated to this mission,” she says.

Enlist your supporters to vouch for you. Ms. Tafarella often sends messages to graduates of the charity’s guide-dog training program asking for their feedback on the program and then posts the responses on social networks. One female veteran, who was afraid of lightning, recounted on Facebook how her guide dog laid on her chest after one night of bad lightning in her area; her panic immediately subsided. Facebook users responded to her story, Ms. Tafarella says.

That kind of impact, told well through social media, allowed other fans to see the group’s work firsthand. Students at the Harvard Business School saw those kinds of testimonies and decided to hold an online fundraising campaign for the charity. They brought in $6,000 to sponsor a guide dog.

Don’t beg for attention. Asking your followers to retweet a fundraising pitch or urging people to “like” a post on Facebook isn’t a savvy way to engage people, says Laura Howe, vice president for public relations at the American Red Cross. People wouldn’t make such a request in other forms of communications, she notes.

Train employees to interact on social networks. Ms. Howe says the more charity workers practice, the more proficient they become, so they should be encouraged to participate on social networks every day. She also thinks its wise to a let a charity’s employees set up their own accounts for reaching out to supporters rather than simply asking them to rely on the organization’s main accounts.

Separate everyday interactions from fundraising campaigns. Most of the time charity workers will end up answering questions from supporters and directing them to useful information, says Mr. Copeland of Grizzard. When a fundraising drive is under way, however, it’s better to reach out in a more organized and structured way. (See his presentation on this video.)

Build a calendar for putting information on social networks. Instead of posting the same types of information all the time, create a schedule to focus on different types of content. Internally, employees might call the days’ agendas, for example, “Mobile Monday,” the day to send messages to smartphones to ask for a donation, and “Trivia Tuesday,” a day to ask supporters trivia questions, Mr. Copeland says.

Answer donors’ most common questions. Figure out the 50 most common questions from donors in social networks, says Mr. Copeland, and have prepared responses for them. Such posts can be scheduled ahead of time.

Be human and authentic on Facebook. Derrick Feldman, founder of the consulting firm Achieve, says that instead of urging supporters to “join us at the next event — make sure you bring your friends,” send something like this instead: “Check out a video of our CEO doing the chicken dance. See it for real next week at … ”

Supporters respond most warmly to creative and fun messages, he says.

Send an e-mail to Raymund Flandez.

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