DonorSearch’s blog is dedicated to covering prospect screening and other fundraising-related topics but sometimes we like to highlight interesting examples of donor engagement. So we reached out to Sarah Bernstein of Philanthrodata and Jessica Bursi of Milwaukee Film to give us insight into how Milwaukee Film engages with their donors through social media.
Last year, during Thanksgiving week, Milwaukee Film embarked on a Twitter campaign to steward their donors, sponsors, and volunteers. But it was their approach to this stewardship which got my attention.
Full disclosure: I am not (yet) a donor to Milwaukee Film.
I follow them on Twitter because I was a film major in college, and a Milwaukeean. However, this Twitter campaign excited me as a prospect researcher.
Milwaukee Film is the nonprofit organizer of the annual Milwaukee Film Festival, but their mission statement shows that they are driven by a deep love for our city, and the people in it:
Film can entertain, educate, and empower. It can bring change on levels both intimate and epic. And it’s at its best as a communal viewing experience, with the best possible sound and projection. As a nonprofit cultural institution, Milwaukee Film has made it our mission to communicate all of this to the city that we love, in a way that is both true and unique to Milwaukee.
As a prospect researcher, I was struck by the way Milwaukee Film’s Thanksgiving tweets showed remarkable insight into their donors and what makes them tick. So I highlighted some of their tweets on my blog.
However, as time went on, and discussion about social media ethics heated up in the prospect research community, I wanted to know more.
I was particularly interested in knowing more about how Milwaukee Film gained their knowledge about their donors and how they used social media to engage with prospects and build a fundraising constituency.
I was especially interested because they are a small local grassroots organization, without the level of staffing in prospect development and social media that universities typically have.
So I contacted their development director, Jessica Bursi, and we had a lively conversation. The transcript below follows that conversation and some questions which I had later.
Sarah: Last Thanksgiving, Milwaukee Film undertook a remarkably donor-centric stewardship campaign on Twitter. How did that come about?
Jessica: Our fantastic former Marketing Director, Blyth Meier, planned the “Week of Thanks”. It’s a tradition we’d love to continue with our new Marketing team.
Sarah: How do/did you gain the insights into your donors’ interests and personalities so that your tweets could be so tailored to just what makes them tick?
Jessica: Many of the thanks referenced the programs and films that were sponsored – for example, our von Briesen tweet referenced their support for one of our festival films:
Thankful for: @vonBriesen and their support of SOUL OF A BANQUET. Good friends, delicious food, moving cinema.
Others referenced the goods provided by our sponsors, such as:
Thankful for: @graceandshelly and their DELICIOUS cupcakes during the fest. Everyone loved them!”
Sarah: What did you gain when the Thanksgiving stewardship campaign was over?
Jessica: I think a campaign like this generates goodwill and allows us a wonderful public forum to share our thanks for the support of our many friends and sponsors in the community.
Sarah: How does social media fit overall into your fundraising program?
Jessica: We love to use social media to thank our partners and to interact with them about the festival. Our sponsors are terrific ambassadors for the fest and their social media is a great way for new audience members to learn about who we are and what we do.
Sarah: Besides Twitter, what social media platforms is Milwaukee Film using?
We also send out a weekly newsletter with information highlighting upcoming movie screenings in Milwaukee and sharing information about Milwaukee Film Festival alums. The newsletter also includes a Milwaukee Love section highlighting a different sponsor, community partner, or community friend each week.
Sarah: Do you use these platforms differently?
Jessica: Yes, our Marketing team uses these platforms differently. For example our Facebook page helps us reach many individuals including our year-round membership base and festival audience members; we connect with organizations such as sponsors and community partners through Twitter and Instagram, and utilize LinkedIn as a professional resource.
Sarah: How does your Community Partner program fit in your social media strategy?
Jessica: Our Community Partners program is part of our festival marketing efforts and they help us get the word out about festival films through social media, blog posts, newsletters and more.
At the same time, we like to connect with our Community Partners year-round through social media and share in their successes and upcoming happenings. Those highlights help feed the “Milwaukee Love” section of our weekly newsletter.
Final thoughts prospect research and social media
Milwaukee Film’s Twitter campaign and social media efforts are a part of some very thoughtful and engaging marketing plans. But they also have an important lesson for all of us who conduct prospect research.
Their donor engagement is driven by their love of community, their commitment to their mission, and an effort to build deep relationships with their donors by understanding their passions and meeting them where they already are.
About the Authors: Sarah Bernstein is an independent consultant in Milwaukee, WI, supporting nonprofit organizations with prospect research and database analysis. Jessica Bursi is a development director at Milwaukee Film.
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