Donor Engagement Teams

When Hiring Digital Fundraisers, Think “Influencer”

Justin Ware
Sep 9, 2022

Over the past decade a new marketing tactic emerged out of the overwhelming scale and popularity of social media: the influencer. Paid product endorsements that were once reserved for A-list celebrities and top athletes have created an ecosystem of people who earn large salaries by simply mentioning products in their social feeds. The success of this model relies on the perception that the influencer is sharing their authentic opinion, as opposed to some canned advertising jargon.

Simultaneously, non-profit organizations and educational institutions have begun to implement programs that help gift officers use digital and remote tools to reach larger audiences, mainly to reduce the need for travel. These programs, however, generally result in only slightly more efficient versions of the existing paradigm, perhaps doubling a gift officer’s portfolio from 75 to 150 prospects. But what if an organization wanted one fundraiser to effectively manage portfolios of 1000, 2000 or even 5000 prospects?

At firstname.co we know that modern tools can make fundraisers more efficient, but transformational success also requires authenticity that can be applied at-scale. The key to running a Digital Development Officer (DDO) program that reliably generates 20%+ gains in dollars and donors year over year is the skillset and personality of the people hired to do this digital fundraising work.

 The most common trait in a successful Digital Development Officer? Individuals who possess an “influencer” mindset.

The ideal Digital Development Officer is an advocate with the ability and charisma to engage, cultivate, steward, and solicit natively in the digital space. They must implement an approach that is heavily reliant on video and distributed using a mix of online tools including social media, text, and email – in alignment with more traditional channels like phone and direct mail.

 We find that this model works particularly well in the education sector, with student and staff Digital Development Officers who can speak with deep sincerity about the institution they personally trusted to earn a degree and better their lives. When these DDOs produce quality, authentic video professing their love and support of their school, it is as believable an endorsement as can be found.

 Likewise, for nonprofits with missions outside of education, a Digital Development Officer earns trust through consistency. Month after month, DDOs capture attention using online communities to tell meaningful stories about the mission, and then personally engage donors and prospects using authentic video, and “meeting” 1:1 over channels such as Zoom or FaceTime. This personal customer service rep approach to fundraising keeps donors and prospects engaged while moving them up the giving pyramid. These skills are adjacent, but not identical to the criteria used to hire fundraisers in more traditional environments.

 When hiring for a Digital Development Officer, consider the following:

- Request introductory videos as part of the application process. The ability to quickly and effectively communicate over video is an absolute requirement. While the application video itself may not be perfect (see next bullet), the candidate must be able to project charisma and authenticity using video.

- Provide on-going video training for Digital Development Officers. Even proficient video editors must learn the style and tone of “authentic” video communication. Be sure you are equipped with both the ability to train on technical production as well as telling your institution’s story using video.

- Develop clear playbooks for success. Build a detailed digital strategy, then hand Digital Development Officers the playbook to operate within that strategy. Be sure these playbooks are clear on metrics for success.

 It’s a new world that requires new thinking for nonprofit fundraising success. Digital Development Officers are a pillar of many successful programs. Be sure when adding these modern pillars to your strategy, you are also applying a new set of criteria for vetting your next wave of fundraisers.

Justin Ware
Justin Ware is a digital fundraising expert with nearly 15 years of experience helping nonprofits raise money online. An Emmy-winning YouTube producer and one of the original pioneers of the online giving day and online ambassadors programs, Justin is focused on innovative tactics and "what's next?" for cause-based work.

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