Suppose that you want to launch your new educational or community engagement program. You have a plan, your people are ready to move mountains, community partners are fully behind you, and you deeply believe in your cause. All is there. And yet you need $50,000 to make it happen. Where can you find it in this economy?
Knowing how long it might take today to get foundation grants or navigate corporate philanthropy circles, what else can you do?
Or perhaps you bootstrapped and sweated your way to create another great software company. Your startup is showing its first signs of progress. You have enough customers, growth is positive and partners are interested in affiliation. But to push it to the next level you need some money (something along the lines of $200K+). And yet every angel investor you meet politely declines. Frustrating and stressful. Is there a better way to find your first funder?
LinkedIn is your way. If you agree with me that the key to successful fundraising is building long-term relationships, LinkedIn is one of the most effective fundraising tools that you have at your disposal 24/7, 365 days a year. Even more impressive is the fact that according to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study, 38% of American online adults with annual household incomes over $75,000 use LinkedIn.
LinkedIn provides you with everything you need to build relationships with your prospective donors. This effective social networking platform offers you a full platter of fundraising tools: from lead generation and donor cultivation, to a platform for a successful ask and donor stewardship. Most importantly, you have relevant data on your prospects. And that’s pure gold.
As Anthony Pisapia, President of TechImpact, noted in his interview for the Council on Philanthropy, “LinkedIn is big data. It’s a giant collaborative database with contact info—who you know, what you do, what you like—and it’s all sitting out there for us as nonprofits to take advantage of.”
What do you do with all this data? These steps will help you to maximize your use of the world’s most substantial professional social media network.
- Maximize Opportunities via Your Company Page
If you don’t maximize LinkedIn’s free “Company” platform, you’re missing out on an enormous amount of leads and opportunities. Your next step should be uploading the most up-to-date information about your non-profit or small business on LinkedIn’s Company Page. Don’t be afraid to overdo it. Your non-profit should make sure that this page strategically funnels leads and answers fundamental questions such as your mission, your news and your success stories.
As Susan Gunelius suggests in her Forbes article, to make your LinkedIn Company Page standout, don’t forget to add the most captivating picture of your non-profit or fundraising cause. Try to connect with your co-workers, including top managers and the Board. And of course, promote it by adding fresh content.
Finally, assign someone to work specifically on promoting your fundraising page. This person should regularly update the content, share quizzes and create buzz for your project.
Here are some examples of great LinkedIn Company Pages.
2. Cross Pollinate Your Network
Remember the bees and flowers? Cross pollination happens when two or several plants’ genetic material combines and brings to life seeds that have features of both plants. And of course, we know that many gardeners are using cross pollination to create new types of fruits or vegetables. Giant tomatoes or super apples, anyone?
Now imagine that your contacts are your flowers and fruit. Once you have your LinkedIn profile up and running (and Mike Allton, Social Media Consultant and Blog Coach, has created a perfect checklist to make sure that your profile looks great), you will need to begin to think like a good gardener. Did you invite colleagues from various departments, Board members, your classmates, alums, personal friends and former colleagues to join your network?
As Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his New Yorker article, cross pollination involves bringing different people who have different perspectives and getting them brainstorming. For example,Intellectual Ventures, the invention and patent spinning company, is a perfect example of how successful this approach can be.
While you can’t necessarily bring your LinkedIn contacts to one room offline, you surely can invite them to your group. Make sure that you set a minimum of at least 5 new contacts daily (I connect with 10-20 contacts daily). Your next step will be to actively engage your contacts by helping out your new friends.
3. Increase Your LinkedIn Group Involvement
Another effective way to create meaningful conversations and look for prospects is by joining relevant LinkedIn Groups. Again, there is no sense in joining a group if you are planning to forget about it the minute you join it.
Add useful links, create your own content and share it with your fellow group members. Answer their questions, and lead them to your company’s page.
After you have found a few interested leads, take them to the next level. What differentiates your non-profit from others? Think about how these new contacts can become your clients or enablers.
Some people are doing fine with just being a part of several groups. Others create their very own groups. I highly recommend this latter path. If you have your own group, you can actively position the content you need to promote. Don’t forget to invite your contacts and actively promote your group. Most of all, you can advance your fundraising project by dedicating a specific group page to it. You may connect it directly to your other crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo, etc.
4. Maximizing Your Efforts – Use LinkedIn Status Updates Wisely
One feature that makes LinkedIn similar to Facebook is its status update option. I usually post content 2-3 times a day due to fluctuations of interest based on time of the day or geographic location of contacts. This frequency also allows me to test various headlines and triggers for attention. Test, test, and test. As I mentioned in my earlier post, while the opinions on what the best day for publishing your LinkedIn content vary widely, Noah Kagan, the founder of the highly successful OkDork blog, suggests that the best day overall to publish content for social shares is Tuesday.
Don’t spam your contacts with heavy messaging on your fundraising project. Spice your status updates with interesting articles and quotes. Don’t forget though that your most recent fundraising project should be centrally located on your company page with the DONATE link prominently placed, so that when your prospect gets interested in you and your project, he or she can find all the relevant information.
Another useful step would be strategically using other social media platforms. For example, my LinkedIn account is connected to Twitter and Facebook, so the content promotion efforts are multiplied with the push of a button. Finally, the more followers you have, the better your chances are of being seen or heard.
5. Send a Direct Appeal to Your Followers
Once you feel comfortable about your followers, you can begin to approach them via direct messaging. Go to your Messages section and click on “New Message.” Select a group of up to 50 contacts and add your engaging message. Also, you may want to deselect “allow recipients to see each other’s names and email addresses” option.
And if you want busy people to read your emails, don’t forget to use these principles. In particular, as Dave Johnson, from CBS MoneyWatch suggests, make sure that you write explicit and detailed subject lines, while keeping your message short and specific.
Then push the SEND button.
And if you’re still not convinced, below is a story of how one simple direct LinkedIn mail campaign led to an unimaginable result.
How to Raise $200K for Your Startup via LinkedIn
It’s not only non-profits that can benefit from the effective use of LinkedIn. In his interview with Elaine Rogers, Business Training and Development Expert, Frank Hannigan, Executive Chairman of Goshido, an Irish startup software company, shared how he used LinkedIn to raise $230,000 just in 8 days!
The key to Frank’s success? He just sent out 700 direct messages to potential investors offering them a 2% stake in the company. It was a simple plan – all Frank wanted is to find 10 people ready to chip in €25,000.
Imagine that Frank had only 700 connections at the time! But he strongly believed in his investment proposition and knew that he was offering a good deal. Frank strongly believes that LinkedIn is “all about trust,” and you need to be bold and approach your contacts with your proposal.
What happened next was amazing.
Frank received an almost instant response from his first level connections and their direct connections, which helped Frank to complete his round in one week (as opposed to original plan of 12 weeks!) Was every response positive? No — some said “no, but we’ll pass the message.”
Yet in 12 months, using the combined power of LinkedIn, Twitter and traditional media sources, Frank and his team were able to raise €450,000 in total. Not bad for a simple message?
So don’t be shy about writing to your LinkedIn contacts about your cool startup, sharing some of your first successes via LinkedIn status updates, making sure that your LinkedIn Group is fully aware of your success stories, following up and inviting your contacts to social events. Be proactive and confident.
Your Major Takeaways for LinkedIn Fundraising:
1. Build a stellar Company Page (professional image, regularly updated information, link to Donate or Crowdfunding site)
2. Cross Pollinate your LinkedIn Network. Invite contacts from different sides of life: add business contacts, university alums, non-profits and foundation contacts.
3. Maximize your LinkedIn Group presence. When possible, create your own group and promote your fundraising campaign.
4. Use your LinkedIn status updates wisely. When you share relevant, useful information with your followers, your updates become effective supplement to your LinkedIn engagement strategy
5. Send a direct message to your prospects with your proposal. Be bold and decisive. You’ve done your homework, right? Then, there is only one way to find out. Ask.