“I don’t think the video necessarily motivates people to give, but it creates awareness,” said Gasman, whose work focuses on philanthropy in historically black colleges. “I think that short, simple messages are best: compelling messages that show success and feature students learning and faculty teaching and doing research.”

College fundraising experts said sending personalized messages to potential donors and alumni is too often seen as hassling among college officials in charge of meeting contribution objectives.

“They see outreach as almost dirty,” said Jay Frost, an international philanthropy consultant who hosted a Pace University workshop, “Fundraising 2.0: Using Social Media to Raise More Money,” in October. “They’re totally wrong. You directly engage them not because you just want their money, but because you care enough to talk to them directly.”

College fundraising campaigns that post a constant stream of social media messages and links on Twitter, for example, won’t hold donors’ attention and could prompt alumni to block their alma mater’s Twitter feed altogether, Frost said.

“Don’t use social media just to send messages out,” he said, adding that universities should track direct messages sent to the school’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and thank alums for re-tweeting their college fundraising messages. “Try to have real conversations with people. … Otherwise, they’re very likely to fall away.”

Colleges struggling to meet their fundraising goals, Gasman said, could take a lesson from President Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which used social media platforms—especially Facebook—to spread its message.


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