How (And Why) To Measure Social Media Fundraising ROI

Julia Campbell
Julia Campbell

Love them or hate them, social media platforms have revolutionized and completely changed the way humans communicate with each other. More and more competing entities are now vying for your donors’ attention and on a moment-by-moment basis.

Think about how you spend your day—on email, mobile apps, phone calls, reading news, writing, putting out the daily fires that appear. It’s a noisy world out there full of distractions, and unfortunately for all of us, there is no surefire or silver bullet way to get the attention that you seek from your supporters.

Social media and digital technologies have fundamentally changed the way people discover, consume, and share information about issues that matter to them. This is a good thing—your work, your impact, and your stories all deserve recognition and attention.

There are ways that even the smallest of nonprofits can get results out of investment in social media. You just need to have a plan in place to measure your progress to ensure that you are not spinning your wheels and that you are getting the most return on your time and investment.

Implications For Fundraisers

Data collected from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research found that an astounding 98% of U.S. charities are using at least one social media channel, and 71% find them to be effective for fundraising. Pew Internet reported that 73% of Americans go online on a daily basis, with 21% online “almost constantly”!

There is no doubt that your supporters, your constituents, and your nonprofit competitors are using these tools to find each other, to deepen relationships, and to build new audiences. In today’s fast-paced, always-online world, nonprofits must function like media companies—discovering and disseminating timely, relevant, and valuable content to their donors and supporters.

However, with the overwhelming selection of online tools, channels, and mediums available to us, it can be easy for a nonprofit fundraiser to feel overwhelmed and anxious. Fortunately, the principles of success in social media are not new.

Success is not about the tools that you use – it’s about providing value to a group of people and igniting their passions. For nonprofit fundraisers, this means becoming less focused on what you want to say about your organization and more focused on what your donors want to hear. Social media is about building a community of like-minded individuals you can call on to take an action.

“Success is not about the tools that you use – it’s about providing value to a group of people…” tweet this

Engaging donors, raising awareness, and creating trust are all things that social media does very well. I believe that it’s never a waste of time to connect with others who are interested in what you do. Social media channels provide perfect avenues by which to spread the stories about your nonprofit work, as well as to gain instant feedback, validation, and confirmation of your important work.

Social Media Storytelling Takes Center Stage

According to Nonprofit Tech for Good, of social media users who support nonprofits online, 56% said that compelling storytelling is what motivated them to make a donation. On social media, your donors want to read stories and watch videos that inspire and motivate them, so much that they will then share them with their own networks.

There is no doubt that social media users love stories, especially by watching videos. In my experience, this shift to social media storytelling is good news for nonprofits because they have inspiring stories to tell, and nowadays, many platforms on which to tell these great stories!

Today, charity: water uses Instagram to share the photos and stories of families who have been given access to clean drinking water.

For Ramatou, nothing beats clean water and a hammock full of friends. Happy #NationalHammockDay! Photo: @jeremysnell

A photo posted by charity: water (@charitywater) on

The Denver Rescue Mission shares success stories from its clients on Facebook with accompanying photos and videos.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation uses its blog to showcase real-world stories from the children it has helped through funding cancer research.

St Baldricks

Share Our Strength uses its website to showcase true stories from its No Kid Hungry campaign.


The Humane Society of the United States tells the story of its work, its staff, and its volunteers using Facebook Live videos.

There is no shortage of examples of nonprofits using social media channels to connect with donors, to inspire action, and even to raise money.

How To Measure Social Media ROI (Return On Investment)

Despite the large amount of time that nonprofits spend using social media, very few measure and report on their results. If you are not continually measuring your day-to-day social media activities against your goals, how will you know if all this blogging, posting, and tweeting has been successful?

“Despite the large amount of time that nonprofits spend using social media, very few measure and report on their results…” tweet this

Without systematic and regular measurement and reporting, you may just keep spinning your wheels, wasting time pedaling fast, but not actually getting anywhere.

When reporting to funders about the effectiveness of programs and services, my bet is that your nonprofit is very organized in collecting and reporting data. Detailed outcomes measurement is hugely important to foundations and corporate funders these days, as any grant writer and development director knows!

Unfortunately, in my experience, many nonprofits do not feel that measuring and reporting are a very important part of their social media efforts. They get so wrapped up in the day-to-day business of posting, sharing, and tweeting that they often never know if their activities are bearing any fruit.

This may stem from the fact that many nonprofits simply do not know what to measure, and how. That’s where metrics can help.

6 Social Media Metrics Nonprofits Could Track

Some common metrics to use as you measure your social media campaigns are:

  • Number of fans and followers. These are also referred to as “vanity metrics.” While it is important to make sure that the size and scope of your communities is growing and not decreasing, if you are not getting these fans and followers to do anything on behalf of your organization, then what good are large numbers?
  • Engagement. Social media engagement is a much more reliable measure of your efforts. Are your fans and followers liking, commenting, and clicking on your posts? When you post a photo, video, or link, does anyone respond? Or are there crickets? Engagement metrics are useful in figuring out what your community values and what it wants to see more (or less) of.
  • Share counts. If all goes well, you are sharing stories and valuable information on social media. Is your online community responding by sharing them even further with their personal and professional social networks? Getting a share, retweet, reblog, repin, and the like is the gold standard for your social media and storytelling efforts.
  • Sentiment. This refers to the general feeling that people have about your organization online. Is it positive? Negative? There are many social media measurement tools available that analyze sentiment and overall “buzz” about the organization, but you can also get information on this by conducting basic searches on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Attitude change. This is much harder to measure, but if changing behaviors or social attitudes are part of your mission, you will need to take this into account. The evidence may be anecdotal at first, but hard data should follow.
    • For example, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) championed the movement to legalize same-sex marriage. When the Supreme Court ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional, legalizing it nationally, the Internet responded in a hugely positive way. Major corporations like IBM, Nike, and even JP Morgan all changed their Facebook profile photos to rainbows and wrote posts in support of the decision. It was fairly easy to see that mainstream public opinion in the United States had definitely changed to support same-sex marriage, and the HRC should feel confident in taking some credit for that.
  • Interest in your website. To measure general interest in your website, you can use the free resource Google Analytics to measure the following attributes. Please note that Google Analytics frequently updates and changes the terms that they use to measure traffic, visitors, and referrals to the site.

Does Your Social Media Traffic = Donations?

To determine if the referrals to your donation page from social media channels have resulted in completed donations, you need to ask deeper questions and go beyond simple website traffic numbers or Facebook likes.

  • For example, if 1000 people visited your website this month, and only four made donations, how can that be improved?
  • How many visits to the online donation page do you need to result in a donation?
  • What is a website visitor really worth?
  • Which outside sites drive the most referrals? (In other words, where is your website traffic really coming from?)
  • Do the visitors from these channels tend to result in a donation?

Embrace The Monumental Shift

Embracing the digital world we live in and using these powerful new tools is very important, but it’s not the first step. The principles of success in the social media space are the same whether you are a large nonprofit or a small one.

It’s not about how many tools you use and how many channels you are on—it’s about how you use them and how you engage with your supporters there. No matter which platforms are popular six months from now or ten years from now, the principles of connecting to and engaging with donors in meaningful ways will remain the same.

As a fundraiser, you know that at the end of the day, the time you spend using social media on behalf of your nonprofit needs to show results. However, even if the fundraising bottom line doesn’t increase as much as you had hoped, there are other benefits to reap from being active on social channels – increased awareness about your programs, trust built with potential donors who will now refer you to their friends, an uptick in email sign-ups and website traffic, and the like.

The key is to know your goal and to know what success on social media looks like for you and for your organization – then you can create the metrics to measure that will help you analyze your social media ROI and make your work even better.

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