Social Networking for Healthcare Philanthropy

June 13th, 2009

During the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy Regional Conference in Nashville, June 7-9, 2009, we hosted a roundtable discussion on the pros and cons of new media in donor recognition. Our preparation had been focused on digital media – looping video, scrolling donor lists, interactive touchscreens and other content presented via electronic displays. However, the conversation quickly diverted to a digital media subject with much more urgency to the attendees: the implications of social networking for healthcare philanthropy.

This was relatively new ground for us, and as such, very intriguing. Of the 9 participants, 4 were hospital foundation staff. One of those was actively engaged in using social networking to build awareness of programs and events offered by her hospital and foundation. Two were seeking specific information in order to respond to a request from foundation board members that social media be considered. The fourth was interested in, but not actively planning to implement a social networking program. The other five participants were direct mail exhibitors or consultants who have been asked by their clients more often recently to comment on the efficacy of social networking for fundraising or other philanthropy-related reasons. A lively and informative discussion ensued.

We offer here the following “rules of thumb” that evolved from our discussion and hope for your input too:

• Don’t commit to any online activity that cannot be sustained. Venturing into social networks to later “disappear” may be interpreted as a failure. Instead, create time-limited opportunities to test your online strategies. For instance, create a blog or Facebook page specific to a given event. Or if you’re ready, incorporate their use specifically for a larger campaign. Doing so, will allow you to evaluate, regroup and modify or even bring your strategy to an end, as required.

• Identify your audience and go where they’re already gathered. Social networking is only effective if you can lead people to the information you provide. Drive online traffic by mentioning the availability of this outlet in all other communication.

• Define how success will be measured before you initiate a plan. Identify the metrics you wish to track and confirm that they are supplied by the venue you’ve chosen. If your goal is awareness, a call to action will help measure effectiveness (ie “sign up to receive…”). Conventional measurements, such as click-thru and forwarding rates may apply, but be sure to make your expectations reasonable.

• Be professional and maintain messaging consistent with standards approved by your organization. Seek approval for autonomous authorship so that online communications can be timely and direct.

• Always separate your personal activity online from your professional “face” in any social network.

• Be cautious about privacy issues. Seek donor approval before listing names in any venue and provide added security online by making lists non-searchable (ie, create a JPEG of the list rather than including the donor names in searchable copy). Address online use in your privacy policy.

In our research for the roundtable, we had already found that Mayo Clinic’s social media initiatives are receiving a lot of attention in the hospital marketing and PR community and we see now that it will serve as a good starting place for understanding what other organizations are trying.

For further information on the use of social networking by fundraisers, a recent webinar on the social media applications is available on demand from Fundraising Success Magazine.

We encourage you to submit stories of your philanthropy-related social media experiences – successful and otherwise – to this blog so that we may continue to share new insight regarding these emerging donor communication outlets.

Written by Robin E. Williams and Anne Manner-McLarty

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