If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the eight years I’ve been volunteering for a non-profit, it’s that everyone wants to raise more money to help their cause. In my case, the cause is horse rescue, but building a passionate audience is something every business, including non-profits, must do to stay solvent and serve their mission.
Getting actual donations in your bank account is the end result of a very specific strategy to build a passionate audience.
It’s very simple: when people are passionate about your mission, they support and donate.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I am in the auto retail space, having managed large dealerships/groups here in So Cal most of my life. I came to digital marketing when I recognized an obvious need in the auto retail industry to adapt to new customer behaviors. I saw not adapting as a threat to the retail industry as we know it.
When the horse rescue I volunteer for in my “spare time” (Hanaeleh) was struggling financially years ago (as most animal rescues find themselves more often than not), I raised my hand to help create an online presence that would allow us to increase donations. I used my passionate-audience-building skills for our rescue in the same way I did for my auto retail clients.
Honestly, it’s so much easier to tap into passion for animals than cars, but for some reason I have been successful at both. Perhaps because they are my two passions.
Building a passionate audience.
In my decade of being a social media strategist, I have come to believe that building a passionate audience around your organization is crucial. With animal rescues, I have found that many don’t have the resources or marketing knowledge to tackle it. So that leaves many rescues stuck between needing support and seeing regular donations arrive in their bank account.
I’ve also noticed that it’s uncomfortable to ask for donations. I saw this in myself and did my best to overcome the uncomfortable feelings. From my years in auto retail, managing salespeople, this was a very familiar topic for me. Not being a “natural salesperson” I had to adapt and learn ways to get where I needed to go.
Here are four reasons that people (often female founders and volunteers) are reluctant to ask for donations:
- Fear of jeopardizing the relationship
- Not sure when to ask
- Not sure how to ask
- Don’t know what to ask for
Perhaps you recognize these behaviors in yourself or your people?
The remedy for this reluctancy is to create a strategy that works to increase your comfort while also successfully earning donations.
Tactics I recommend to build yourself a passionate audience so that you can comfortably ask for and get donations.
1. Remember: the goal is to create a passionate, engaged community around your organization.
Ask yourself: “What can I do to create that passion?”
The good news is that you already have the passion within you and so the next step is to spread it around.
People will learn about you and become interested in what you do and how you do it. You’re building trust with people so that they feel comfortable and happy to donate. Constantly reinforce your mission and welcome those that are interested.
2. Discover your “social media advantage.”
What is the thing that makes your organization different? It could be something as simple as:
- We are the only rescue in [your town or county].
- We rescue [type of animals] from neglect and abuse.
- Along with rescuing, we are passionate about animal welfare. Here’s how we do that…
Social media has become very crowded but there is always room for a compassionate organization that knows what their mission is and works hard to fulfill that everyday.
Many people ask me about which platform they should use. I recommend Facebook and Instagram because they are where the majority of your passionate audience spends their time. (these links are to our profiles – take a look)
3. Tell your stories through images and video.
Make it evident that you are serving your mission everyday.
It’s difficult for many rescues to document their actions with photos and video. I know, we struggled with it for a long time. But I am here to tell you that it gets easier. Here are some tips:
- Assign one person to oversee the images and video so that no one is wasting their valuable time documenting things that are not quite right for your social media.
- Enlist volunteers to take photos and video, and have them send the best ones to your lead person.
- If your “lead person” is you, give yourself a goal of at least two photos per week. That small goal will let you tell your story and can often grow into more content as time and resources become available.
- Recognize that there are times when you just don’t have the time, and that’s ok. It’s only temporary.
4. Always respond to comments.
Even if it’s just to “like” their comment, acknowledging people’s participation is important. We all want to feel seen and heard – your fans and followers are no different. When other users see that you respond to comments, they feel welcome and know that you’d respond to them should they decide to participate.
As your community grows, there will be many comments so choose a few to respond to, especially if someone shares a photo of their animal or themselves.
Pro Tip: All social media is filled with trolls. Don’t engage trolls. Hanaeleh advocates for equine welfare policies, and that can sometimes bring out the haters. You can simply hide or delete their comment, or if it’s warranted, you can ban the user. We’ve had to do it many times.
Keep in mind, your actions are about keeping your passionate audience engaged and finding more like them.
5. Create a “sponsor an animal” program.
There are many benefits to creating a monthly sponsorship program. Even the small amounts ($10) build up over time and having that monthly donation keeps the donor connected to your organization. They advocate for you to their friends and family.
We began our Sponsor a Horse program a few years ago and it’s grown into something that sustains us throughout the lean months. I post about it once each week on Monday mornings on Facebook.
6. Focus on building your email list
I left this very important step for last because I want you to remember it. Social media is great for bringing your passionate audience together. Your email list is for your SUPER passionate audience and that’s where the relationship flourishes between you and your subscribers.
As you’re growing your social media profiles, many of these fans/followers could become email subscribers. Key point: you have to ask.
We do three online fundraisers a year: Summer/August, Winter/December, and Spring/April. The donations that come from our email list subscribers outshine our donations from other sources. We have many consistent donors who participate each time and have for many years.
Here are my tips to build your email list:
- Offer something in exchange for their subscription. Hanaeleh offers an ebook about our horse Ulysses’ rescue. Our founder wrote the story (since she was the person who rescued him) and I created a PDF with a link for sharing. You can do this easily in Google Drive.
- Create a popup on your website offering the ebook/subscription when users leave the site. There are WordPress plugins that help you do this – we use Thrive Leads.
- Add a subscription box to the bottom of your blog pages or to your website sidebar.
- Create a separate website page for sign-ups that you can share on social media (click the link to view ours). I have a recurring post on Facebook for every two weeks asking people to join our list and get the free ebook.
Right now, you may be asking, “How do I do email marketing?” We’ve been using Mailchimp for many years – it’s fairly easy to navigate for “non-marketers” and they still offer a FREE version that’s pretty substantial.
These tips should get you started on the road to building your passionate audience for online fundraising. One last tip is to always be open about your organization’s passions – it’s irresistible.