How Does Social Media Fundraising Fit in?

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The year 2017 did not start off well for a handful of major corporate brands. United Airlines provoked outrage and calls for a boycott after law enforcement forcibly removed a Chinese American man from an oversold flight and the airline was slow to take responsibility (Al Jazeera News, 2017). Shea Moisture, a haircare brand traditionally embraced by women of color, faced a backlash after they attempted to expand their customer base with an advertisement featuring the hair-based frustrations of two white women (Schmidt, 2017).

In addition, 2017 brought the world what critics have dubbed the “worst ad ever” (Rahman, 2017, para. 3): A Pepsi commercial featuring celebrity model Kendall Jenner who abandons a photo shoot to join a protest. Jenner fist-bumps a fellow marcher and then much to the delight of the now cheering crowd she hands a police officer a Pepsi in a manner evoking the iconic photo of Ieshia Evans, a black woman, standing before white police during the Baton Rouge protests (Monllos, 2017).


Whether content creators realize it or not, every organization has a voice. The voice comes through in all the communications generated by that organization, from the most formal brochure to the least formal Snap chat. In fact when it comes to social media, an organization’s voice not only comes through in the posts they produce, but also in their relationships with other organizations through likes, shares, and comments. Basically, it is an organization’s communications described in an adjective such as playful or sophisticated or professional (Lee, 2014).

Organizations should strive for a consistent voice and an example of a brand that executes this quite well is the playful voice of fast food chain Taco Bell. A hallmark of Taco Bell’s communications is their pun-filled tweets such as They say to surround yourself with the things you love, so I surrounded myself with tacos [taco emoji]” (Rabideau, 2016, para. 5).

Taco Bell also uses playful communication in their television commercials and other ads. For example, in late 2016 Taco Bell launched their “tongue-in-cheek but elevated” Feast campaign which featured a woman with tattoos in a 17th-century motif and the tagline “Feast for $1 all day” (Wohl, 2016, para. 12). In other words, regardless of the medium, a playfulness comes through in some way in Taco Bell’s communications.

Another way to think about a brand’s voice is that it is like an organization’s mission statement (Lee, 2014)—it rarely changes and it guides everything that an organization produces. Voice is different from tone in that if a voice is the communications mission statement for an organization then the tone is the communications strategy; it is how that mission statement is put into practice (Lee,2014). It is the nuts and bolts of how your organization communicates, the words that your organization uses and how they are put together.

Forexample, do you use slang or long, flowery language (Classy, n.d.)? Different media, including different social media accounts for the brand, can take on different tones depending on the audience. For example, Taco Bell’s strategy on Snap  chat to target Millennials has included a len that transforms people into tacos for Cinco de Mayo (Swant, 2016). This tone is still in keeping with the brand’s playful voice and it takes advantage of the unique properties of the social medium to meet that medium’s target audience.

Marketers often will look to the voice to shape the tone of a new campaign, but in reality, it is the tones across media that together shape the voice. Tones are changeable, and if an organization wants to change its voice, the way they can do that is by changing their tones (Lee, 2014). Marketing experts recommend that brands have a consistent voice across their communications and they have extolled the benefits that voice uniformity has for brands. Sir John Hegarty, cofounder of creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH), argues that a comparison of shoe giants Nike and Reebok illustrates the value of consistency (Chahal, 2013)

When it comes to fundraising, libraries want to make sure that their donor communications align with their organization’s voice and tones. This is not usually a matter of adapting an organization’s voice in order to accommodate fundraising since an organization’s voice is so fundamentally linked to that organization’s mission. If an organization attempts to alter their voice to try to make fundraising fit in, the fundraising appeal may seem inauthentic which would be detrimental to the fundraising effort.

Instead, a library should seek to alter their fundraising communications and appeals to fit into their organization’s voice and tones. I did this at my own library recently when my university held their “Leave Your 20 Fundraising PawPrint” fundraising campaign. This campaign encouraged faculty, staff, students, and alumni to donate 5 dollars to the university’s general fund in exchange for an entry in a contest to put their name on the library’s only gigantic beanbag chair and other popular items on campus (Towson University, 2017).

The university’s Office of Development provided me with detailed, formal content to run on my library’s social media channels to promote the campaign. For example the Office of Development’s suggested message for Twitter for the campaign was “Do you LOVE our beanbag chair?


As discussed in, Why Should Libraries Use Social Media to Fundraise, there are many fundraising analysts who simply dismiss social media as a way to raise money. They argue that social media fundraising campaigns are able to bring an organization’s message to a large number of people, but they require a lot of staff time and effort to create and they do not provide large enough of a monetary return to justify the cost of that staff time (Smith, 2016). I would contend, however, that this focus on the failures of social media fundraising ignores the successes of organizations who take a more holistic view of fundraising and are using these channels to build relationships.

I also believe that looking just at return on investment to judge the success of all social media fundraising discourages organizations from attempting to raise money using social platforms even though it has a low barrier to entry and may ultimately provide some benefit, especially when it comes to bringing new Millennial and Generation X donors into an organization’s donor pool.

If libraries simply want to test the social media fundraising waters, they can begin by reviewing the larger and local fundraising landscape and trying to fit themselves into existing campaigns. An easy way for libraries to become involved in fundraising without a large commitment is to take a look at what other philanthropic social campaigns are taking place on social media and integrating the library into those campaigns. One campaign that libraries can easily join is Giving Tuesday, an international day of giving on social media that occurs the Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the United States (92Y, 2016).

It is not a good idea for a company or a charity or a library to suddenly change their communications voice in an effort to attempt to simply join in with a new trend, campaign, or issue. Pepsi learned that the hard way when they ran and soon thereafter pulled an ad in April 2017 with celebrity Kendall Jenner leading a protest and handing a can of soda to a police officer.

An organization’s voice is something integral to the organization that should stem from their mission, vision, and values and is assembled from the tones that the organization uses on social media and in other communications channels. Thus libraries that are seeking to raise money on social media need to thoughtfully develop their organization’s voice and tones on particular media first before embarking on any social media fundraising efforts.

Once the voice and tones are established, libraries can most easily begin their efforts to raise money via social media by plugging themselves into global, national, or even local campaigns on social media. Often times these campaigns come ready-made with text and images that organizations can use, but the key to success is to select a campaign that fits with the organization’s voice, adapt the messages to fit with the organization’s tone on the medium on which the campaign is running.

It is also vital to make sure that the larger context of partnerships and timing of the library’s campaign messages are favorable. Pepsi failed because they attempted to co-opt a national campaign that ran counter to their organization’s voice. Libraries can do better with their social media fundraising campaigns.

Autor: Garczynski, J. V.


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