Building strong relationships with prospects before and after you make that  “donation-ask” is at the core of a successful non-profit. Properly cultivating relationships leads to life-long support. Here at Charity Fundraising, we believe you have to make your donors feel like they’re apart of the essential team… because they are apart of that essential team!

But how do you properly cultivate strong donor relationships online?

Social media and online communications is a foreign language to many non-profits. Most non-profits create relationships and networks through years of face-to-face communication. The average non-profit posts a few times on Facebook and Twitter a week and periodically sends e-newsletters when they feel like there is a need to update donors on organization changes or upcoming events.

But is that enough?

Do non-profits need a social media plan? Do they need a professional IT employee?

It’s arguable if any non-profit needs a social media “plan” or if they are large enough to have a full-time social media employee. However, it is not arguable that every non-profit organization needs to understand the principles of building strong relationships online. To know if your non-profit understands these principles, here are three key questions you have to ask yourself when creating an online presence:

  1. Where are “our” people?

Your non-profit needs to know where your donors are on social media. Where do they hang out? How does a non-profit even start to find out where their donors are online?

The short answer: it is a long-term investment and process.

The long answer: It is important to not to see this as a short-term project. Running a survey on current donors to ask them what social media platform they use most is a great way to start out. However, understanding where your donors are on social media isn’t as simple as asking once and only once. It changes over time. It evolves – as your non-profit evolves, and as technology evolves.

  1. Do you discuss?

Instead of looking at your online presence on social media as a transactional process, think of it the way you look at your offline activities: relationally.

When you are in person, meeting a new or old donor, you enter into a discussion.

Talking with someone builds rapport. Talking with someone is about listening and reflecting back what you’ve heard.

Whether your organization uses social media and has a strong social presence, or your organization does everything face-to-face with your donors, non-profit organizations are about building strong relationships. Treat your interactions online with your donors as if you were in person. What does that mean? Focus more on discussing with your donors rather than trying to measure how statistically “beneficial” your posts and tweets are financially. Building relationships is not a measurable act. With all the statistics that social media can give you, it is easy to turn online communications into a science and nothing more.

(Note: Facebook gives you a platform to have a discussion with your followers – you put information out there in posts, people talk about it, and then you see what they have to say. Facebook gives you a platform to ask specific questions that go to the heart of what your supporters care about and you have the opportunity to listen what your supporters want to talk about.)

  1. Are you collecting emails?

Social media is fun.

It promotes discussion. It is for diversion, for entertainment, for relationships.

Email is work.

It is used for a purpose. It is for paying bills, for pertinent information and action, for transactional purposes.

Getting your relationships to a transactional level is another piece in the puzzle to solidify a deeper relationship with your donors, new or old. While social media promotes discussion, personal emails can promote personal action. Like any team, there is time for brainstorming, encouragement, and discussion and there is time for action. Social media and email provides two avenues for two aspects of your relationship with your donors online.