The Power of Social Media and the Individual Donor

July 10, 2011

I met Kurtlan Massarsky in a recent #smNPchat on Twitter and initially contacted him to discuss his agency’s monthly giving program.  During our chat he mentioned his experience in utilizing the shopping site Groupon for his nonprofit, Northeast Animal Shelter.  I wasn’t very familiar with the concept of Groupon for nonprofits and asked Kurtlan if he’d be interested in a guest post.  Take it away Kurtlan …

We’re all familiar with the laments of the non-profit one-person Development shop.  Consistently staying on message, acting as marketing/branding/fundraiser and relationship manager whilst convincing our Boards that the time to make a change has come all fall under the purview of people dedicated to their organization and cause.  Then again, we’ve asked for this, haven’t we?  This is more than a profession: it’s a calling.

With the advent and increasing importance of the technologically savvy donor, our focus in the development world has had to add yet another layer to a persistently complex profession.  Social Media.  Capitalize those letters folks; you can no longer ignore the fundraising value of new and emerging businesses, vehicles and networking sites.

Our recent success at Northeast Animal Shelter with Groupon serves to highlight the importance of reaching out to intriguing new-ish businesses and, as always, reminds us: “don’t be afraid to ask!”

I initially contacted Groupon to feel them out as a potential sponsor.  Perhaps for an event, or perhaps even as a major corporate sponsor.  Their name was appearing everywhere, and their relatively new presence in the Boston area indicated to me that they might want to take advantage of the local marketing cachet that Northeast Animal Shelter can provide.  As one of New England’s largest and most respected no-kill shelters, NEAS has been serving the North Shore (and beyond) for over 35 years.  That goes a long way in the hallowed halls of Yankee pedigree.  Alas, I was told that Groupon was not interested in participating in any type of sponsorship.  Not to be deterred, I asked if there was any way in which they WOULD be interested in partnering with our shelter.  The answer: A resounding “YES!”

The nascent non-profit Groupon campaign department were heartwarmingly enthusiastic about NEAS and our mission to rescue and re-home dogs and cats.  A few short weeks of preparation and we were presented with the heartfelt plea to their over 800,000 LOCAL subscribers. The focus of our Groupon campaign was that NEAS pays a substantial sum of money to transport dogs from high-kill shelters to the safety of New England and a no-kill shelter.  Groupon was careful to point out to potential donors that they were not receiving any goods or services for their donation, and that 100% of the donations went to the shelter.  Following Groupon’s business model, we needed to get at least 60 people to donate $10.  Once our deal “tipped,” we would get that $600 plus any donations that went beyond that amount.  That being said, if we received fewer than 60 donors, no one would be charged and nor would NEAS receive any donations at all.

Here’s where the real work began, at least for me.  Groupon had been superb about putting together the campaign with humor and compassion, but it was now up to us at NEAS to continue to promote the campaign to ensure that we would indeed “tip” our deal.  I went to work furiously promoting the campaign through our Facebook page and Twitter account.  Practically glued to the screen, I then pleaded with other local Facebook pages, local news outlets and popular bloggers to publicize the 3-day campaign.  By about noon on the first day of the campaign we had surpassed our goal of 60 donors; but it wasn’t over yet!  I promoted the campaign by offering incentives to the local community.  A free birthday party at the Shelter if we reach $1,500!  A $50 PetCo gift certificate if we reach $2,500!  I involved individuals and businesses to keep people incentivized enough to continue donating.  Most importantly, I answered every question posted on our Facebook wall, Twitter account or via e-mail.  By the end of the 3-day campaign NEAS had acquired over $5,000 in new, un-restricted donations.  We are the second highest-earning regional non-profit campaign Groupon has had to date.

Of course when you’re marketing material consists of adorable puppies and fluff-ball kittens, you start out with a bit of an advantage; but the results of our campaign surprised everyone.   After our campaign I asked our campaign manager why he thought we had been so successful.  He answered without hesitation, “Your neurotic attention to your social media and network and the sensitivity you showed new donors!”  He had never seen someone so consistently encourage their followers with so much information, incentive and enthusiasm.

It isn’t enough to simply have “Likes” on Facebook or “Tweeple” on Twitter.  One must ENGAGE.  One must somehow dig deep in to those reservoirs of enthusiasm and commitment and communicate it outward.  Our campaign with Groupon exposed us to nearly 1 million people in the Boston metro-area.  That’s a great marketing bonus right there.  What matters more, and has continued to have a lasting impact is the personal attention the shelter was able to show the people who had already showed their potential interest.  By liking us on Facebook or following us on Twitter, thousands of people had already shown that they WANTED to be involved, but how to reach them?  How do we engage?  Start simple.  Start small.  Start with $10.  Once someone has given $10 they are significantly more likely to read your newsletters, attend your events and tell their friends about it.  Social Media affords all of us fundraisers to interact on that very important personal level that can lead to all sorts of rich and lucrative relationships.  The 20-somethings donating $10 through Groupon today are the future corporate leaders that may donate $100,000 tomorrow.

About Kurtlan Massarsky

Kurtlan Massarsky is a non-profit enthusiast who has dabbled in nearly every aspect of fundraising and development.  After having attended Bard College he has always tried to bring a philanthropic slant to his career, and is now happily ensconced in Salem, MA as the Development Officer at Northeast Animal Shelter.  Kurtlan also spends time volunteering for local LGBTQ advocacy groups and hopes to continue his work towards equality for all creatures.  His two dogs and cats are only in it for the food and fame.

Kurtlan can be reached via E-Mail (, Twitter (@ImEveryKurtlan) or on LinkedIn.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashley Lojko July 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm

I really love how this campaign took the idea of social to the next level. When I was working in the nonprofit sector for a bit one of the things client’s always asked was “How do we convert Likes or RT’s to donations?”. This campaign obviously proved to be a hit with the younger donors, which is an audience than many have yet to really gain traction with in terms of making donations.

Well written. Nice job Kurtlan!

Alf July 12, 2011 at 6:52 am

Great job, Kurtlan! As you stated, the take away from your campaign is that it’s not enough to be on facebook or Twitter, you have to engage your audience in order to move them to do more than just follow or like you. The NEAS is lucky to have someone as passionate and resourceful as you working on campaigns like this.

Gayle L. Gifford July 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

Really interesting example – thank you to Pam and Kurtlan. I can’t wait to hear the next chapter in the development of these donors.

Sandy Rees July 15, 2011 at 2:00 pm

This is a great example of how to USE social media! Way too many nonprofit folks think they can just put up a Facebook page or a “Donate Now” button and that’s enough.

Kudos to NEAS for a job well done!

Sandy Rees, CFRE
Fundraising Coach

Debra Askanase July 17, 2011 at 4:35 am

This is the story we’ve been waiting for from a nonprofit using Groupon! Thanks Pam and Kurtlan for bringing it to light.
Would you say that a key aspect to garnering new donations totalling was $5,000 was motivating your core group of online NEAS stakeholders, along with staying engaged in the social spaces? If so, I’m curious about a the specifics of that core group: How many Facebook fans and Twitter followers did you have at the time? How many were on your email list when the campaign began? For a campaign like this, my thinking is that there should be some minimum number of people engaged in social networks and opted into an email list that can be motivated to donate and tell their friends, so I’m trying to get an idea of that number relative to your success. Also, do you know which of your publicity efforts sent the most people to Groupon: other bloggers, your Twitter, Facebook, other Facebook pages, or motivating your email list?

I work with nonprofit organizations, and this is such a wonderful case study. I’d love to hear more about it to round out my understanding.

Thanks! @askdebra

David J. Neff July 17, 2011 at 11:21 am

Great great story! My nonprofit Lights. Camera. Help. did a very similar thing and raised enough money to teach a film class (for free) to 5 local nonprofits here in Central Texas. Groupon can really work but it’s all about promoting it on your end. Groupon simply hits send on their end.

Sherry Truhlar July 20, 2011 at 9:59 am

Pam and Kurtlan, great story to share with the non profit world. I felt like you were describing the marketing and communications connected to a fundraising event. Wonderful examples of using social media during those 3 days of the campaign or event!

Pamela Grow July 20, 2011 at 10:02 am

“Would you say that a key aspect to garnering new donations totaling over $5,000 was motivating your core group on online NEAS stakeholders, along with staying engaged in the social spaces?” Your first question is a really good one, and I think the answer will surprise you. Over 80% of the Groupon donations were from people who had NOT yet donated to NEAS, either online or otherwise. For us, the true surprise was how many people came out of the woodwork to support us through the campaign.

“How many Facebook fans and Twitter followers did you have at the time?” I have to go back in my memory banks, but I believe the respective numbers at the time of the campaign were: 1,500 FB fans and just under 100 Twitter followers. I had just taken a role in building up the numbers, and we are now at 1,976 FB fans and 212 Twitter followers.

“Which of your publicity efforts sent the most people to Groupon: other bloggers, your Twitter, Facebook and other Facebook pages, or motivating your e-mail list?” The core group of Groupon donations were solicited on our Facebook page. I reached out to many localized media outlets, and they were extremely supportive and had a substantial effect on the campaign itself. was instrumental in helping spread the word, as were other Facebook pages, especially Salem, MA and Destination Salem. I was not given access to our e-mail list for this particular campaign, and I can only think of how much more we could have made had I been able to utilize those who were already MORE invested in the Shelter.

I want to apologize for taking a few days to get these answers to you. I was recently offered, and accepted, a position at BAGLY Inc. as their Director of Development and Marketing. I’ve given my notice here at the Shelter and will begin at BAGLY on August 9th. I’d love to keep in touch, and as of right now, the best way to reach me will be through my personal e-mail:

Thanks again for your thoughtful response and intriguing questions.


Debra Askanase July 21, 2011 at 6:51 am

Thanks so much, Kurtlan, for answering my questions so thoughtfully. I was really surprised to learn that most of the Groupon buyers were new donors. Congrats on a great campaign!


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