Laura Anderson tells us about “Hollins Rocks,”—the school’s first ever significant fundraising effort driven by social media.
As Hollins University neared the close of our fiscal year in June 2013, we received a $100,000 gift. To reach our annual fund goal of $3.1 million and engage lapsed donors, we decided (with the donor’s consent) to use the $100,000 as a challenge for a 1:1 match for new gifts. This was to be Hollins’ first significant fundraising effort driven by social media. While our year-end efforts still included our usual mailed pledge reminders, phone calls, personal notes, and emails from staff, this effort integrated all of our communications under one theme and was promoted aggressively via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, and a new webpage.
To give ourselves time to plan, we decided to frame the challenge within a ten day period, June 17 through June 27. We took the first two weeks in June to plan and schedule our communications. Essential elements of an effective communications plan are: a meaningful and achievable goal, apropos of staff time and resources, messaging that focuses on the donors and contains specific calls to action, and time and resources for measurement and follow-up.
Our overarching goal: achieve $100,000 in matching funds for a total addition of $200,000 toward our annual fund goal. To develop our communications plan, the fundraising staff worked closely with me (donor relations), alumnae relations, and advancement services. It had to be an “all hands on deck” effort to be successful. We discussed tracking and reporting with advancement services, messaging, timing, methods for various audiences (i.e. alumnae from older class years receiving phone calls versus younger class years receiving email), and follow up.
We know that the Hollins alumnae audience likes to have fun. Partly this knowledge came from recently completed market research about alumnae attitudes. There are a lot of “zany” traditions at Hollins, and we sought to tap in to alumnae nostalgia and the sense of fun they had as students to appeal to their desire to give. We anchored the campaign around the Hollins Rock – a large hunk of shale that rests on campus, which has been spray-painted by seniors as a kind of billboard since 1982. The affinity Hollins alumnae have for the Rock is great, and we bet on the fact that the Rock tie-in would grab their attention and involvement. Since painting the rock is done by seniors, tying our messaging around the Rock also served to create a class competition – whichever class ended the 10 days with the highest number of donors would win the “Rock of Ages Award.” The “award” was just bragging rights, but Hollins alumnae are fiercely competitive.
We also planned other fun elements: a printable coloring page, “Paint Your Own Hollins Rock” (PDF) that we encouraged alumnae (or their kids) to decorate and post on our social media sites. We posted a “Donor of the Day” each of the 10 days, along with a quote about why they gave, and specifically chose alumnae from a variety of class years. We encouraged use of campaign-specific hashtags, #HollinsRocks and #10Daysto100K. We posted nostalgic photos of the Rock through the years. We encouraged alumnae to post their Rock photos from their student days. Staff members answered our office phones with, “Good morning, Hollins Rocks!” We sent tailored thank you emails to each Hollins Rocks donor, which included the same messaging and imagery that we used across the campaign.
Our market research also helped us decide to focus our resources on just a few social media sites, since these are the sites where our alumnae congregate the most: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Before we rolled out the campaign, we emailed our volunteers (reunion classes, chapters, class reporters, board members) to give them the sneak peek, and get their participation as ambassadors for the campaign. Through their buy-in, we were able to get more retweets, likes, and shares – their personal outreach to friends gave more authenticity to the message.
We received gifts from the class of 1937 through the class of 2013, and from faculty and staff. We surpassed our goal of $100,000 and received gifts totaling $127,580 from 546 individuals. We thanked our donors with a personal “you did it” email, featuring a brief video of our staff standing next to the Hollins Rock , social media posts, and an article in our summer 2013 alumnae magazine.
I’ve seen many other institutions have great success with one-day or “blitz” social media fundraising campaigns like ours. I see this trend continuing, as it offers the ability for personal interaction and donor/alumna-created content in a way other communication avenues may not. Lesson learned? I would like to have even more time to plan a social media campaign – paradoxically, I would like to have more time to plan for a shorter campaign time span. (We had two weeks to plan for a 10 day campaign. I would like three months or more to plan for a one day campaign.) I think that having even more focus on details of the campaign would allow for greater targeting, deeper engagement, and larger success (more donors, more dollars). Thanks to the teamwork of our development office, and the lively engagement of our alumnae, we showed that “Hollins Rocks”!
Laura Anderson is the Director of Alumnae and Donor Communications at Hollins University, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1998. For the past 15 years, Laura has held various roles at Hollins in alumnae relations, prospect research, and development communications. She and her team received a CASE District III Award of Excellence for an innovative stewardship effort after the completion of the largest campaign in Hollins’ history, which raised $161.6 million against a goal of $125 million. She is responsible for donor stewardship, social media and webpages for alumnae and development, special writing assignments to support alumnae relations, development, and the President’s Office, as well as managing the Hollins Parents Council. A writer, designer, and community manager, Laura provides leadership for the university’s communications with alumnae and donors.