Dear universities,

Many of you want to use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to supplement your arsenal of fundraising tools, and that’s great.  The challenge is that social media platforms are different from almost all other types of communication tools.  In order to pull value in from social media platforms, you need to push value out to your intended audience.

Here’s how you should do it: first, forget about fundraising.  Instead, focus on the students, prospective students and alums who need your help.  Specifically, use Twitter and Facebook to give them information that will help them succeed in their classes, find internships, connect with fellow alums, find jobs, and stay in touch with one another.  Use these platforms to announce the achievements of people in your community.  Use Flickr and YouTube to post videos of homecoming, sports events, reunions, and undergrads having a great time succeeding on campus.  Use social media platforms to make announcements whenever any of your grads are mentioned positively in newspapers or blogs.  Write posts that show how proud you are of your community.

In short, don’t focus on using social media platforms to do fundraising.  Instead, focus on using social media platforms to deliver value.  Then, when you are fundraising, point to your social media presence as one of the many ways that you enhance the lives of the alumni without spending money on glossy direct mail.  This will not hurt your fundraising prospects.

Hint: a major reason to go with this strategy is that prospective students, current students, and recent grads are the quickest cohorts to connect with you on social media platforms, but each cohort is generally slower to connect than the last.  This has nothing to do with how web-savvy the users are.  It’s simply because prospective students need the most information from you, because they need to decide if your school is the best fit for them; current students are willing to connect with you, because you can deliver them information that will help them succeed while on campus; and recent grads are similarly interested in connecting, because they need your help to find mentors and jobs.  The slowest cohort of all to connect with you on social media?  That would be the donors themselves, who need the least from you.  The way to get them involved is to show them how much value you’re delivering to their fellow alums who need help.

Will Marlow
Internet Advisor, Social Media Strategist and Fundraising Consultant

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Will Marlow is a digital strategist/online marketing consultant.  He’s the co-creator of  AlumniFidelity, which is a Web 2.0 fundraising platform for colleges, nonprofits and secondary schools.   He’s working with clients such as UVA, the College of William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, and Bowling Green State University and he loves nothing better than a thorny marketing challenge.  He would love to help you market your business on the Internet, boost the fundraising numbers for your school or nonprofit, or sellout your next big event.  Email him at

*I took the photo above on Saturday, August 21, 2010 at an event to help the recently homeless in Fairfax, Virginia, which was put on by FACETS, a great charity where my wife works.