Monday, February 16, 2009

Social Media and Not-for-Profits: The perfect marriage?

I've had several conversations with leaders at local not-for-profits lately and one theme continues to emerge: How can we use social media tools to further our organization's vision and help us make a difference in the communities we serve?

I currently consult with two not-for-profit organizations and for both social media can and will play a key role in their marketing and communcations mix in 2009.


The tools are cheap or relatively inexpensive--key for not-for-profits with little to no communications budget. They're usually easy to set up. Also important for organizations who usually have one do-it-all communicator on staff. And finally--and most importantly--most social media tools can help build stronger communities. Isn't that what not-for-profit organizations are all about?

Think about the not-for-profit organizations in your town. Maybe you volunteer with a few. Are they taking advantage of these new tools and resources (in addition to their existing PR and marketing tools) to connect with donors, volunteers and community members? If not, maybe it's time for you to intercede and lend your valuable time and talents to help an organization you believe in further its mission. Here's a few ideas to get you started:

* Communicate more effectively and efficiently with volunteers through a blog. Instead of communicating with your volunteer base through one-off and group emails, communicate one-to-many through a blog. Using this tool, you can also share photos and video with these important stakeholders. And best yet, they can share with and learn from each other by posting comments and information.

* Enable photo sharing (and spread your message) by creating a FlickR account. Most not-for-profit organizations hold events--whether it's to raise money, engage new audiences or recognize volunteers. Why not give your members and stakeholders the opportunity to share these photos with their friends, families and colleagues through their own social networks like Facebook. After all, who doesn't like to see themselves in a photo? It will spread your message and mission to audiences you've never reached before.

* Build stronger communities and engage your champions through a Facebook "fan" page. Set up a playground where your members and stakeholders can interact, share and connect. Give them the resources they need to tell your story (photos, PDFs of donation forms, brochures, etc.). Provide video testimonials from people your NFP has helped. Find new ways to engage this "fan base."

That's the short list of my ideas. I know there are many others out there. What's worked for you? How are NFPs using these tools to build stronger communities?

Photos courtesy of American Red Cross and kmxphoto.


dfolkens said...

As someone working in the land of nonprofits, I agree that social media should play a significant role in how organizations communicate with the varied stakeholders we have. I've encouraged our agency to continually enhance what we're doing in this arena over the last year or so and we're seeing very good responses. Some of the successes include greater efficiency with our volunteer base, stronger event recruitment for our fundraisers or hosted educational events, and some improved internal efficiencies in terms of program staff being able to take on some of the work (with some guidance/oversight of course.)

I expect that we'll continue to increase our engagement with SM over the coming years as well.

Kasey Skala said...

Great post Arik. I think social media is a great tool for a lot of nonprofits. The one thing I would add is to ensure that when implementing these social media resources, you aren't alienating your current volunteer/donor base. For a lot of the smaller nonprofits, the key for their existence is their pool of volunteers, a lot that are older and not as tech-savy. Look at SM as an additional resource and educate your current assets that you aren't trying to replace them, simply add to.

Leah said...

1. I love it when my favorite non-profit posts invites to events on Facebook. Sometimes, I find out about new non-profits because I can see that a friend has accepted an invite.

2. If you are interested in capturing contact info from prospective supporters, such as passers-by at the State Fair, invite them to text your org with an answer to a fun question. Careful how you use that contact info! Simple updates about events or something the user cares about are usually okay, as long as they're not sent too often.


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Anonymous said...

This is a hot topic right now in the non-profit and association world - social media, social media, social media. It is all anyone wants to talk about - it's in every magazine, conferences and there are a ton of workshops. There are truly some great people that have been pushing for SM in the sphere for awhile - Ben Martin (@bkmcae) Maddie Grant (@maddiegrant) and Lindy Dreyer (@lindydreyer). All have great blogs, Twitter, and Maddie and Lindy run SocialFish.

Non-profits and associations are usually the last ones to catch on trends - and it's not because they aren't smart, don't know how to do it, etc - it's usually because they either a.) don't have the man power b.) The total lack of control that SM might look to have can be scary and c.) financial needs. And yes, you do have to be a little tech savvy, and most have worked at their respective orgs for a long time. Many orgs have small staffs that already have a lot of work on their plate, and something completely new might seem to take a lot of time. Also, many orgs have membership and volunteers that span a large age range, and it's hard to cater to everyone.

I head up Mensa's social media campaign, and I have found that members respond best when I make it conversational- erasing the imaginary line between the National Office and its members, SM provides an equal footing for all involved. I think we will see more on Twitter and Facebook before we see blogs, YouTube, etc. Once the comfort level is there on the first two, the rest will follow.

The great thing about SM is that it is free, which is music to the ears of orgs that don't have a large corporate budget. You get a feel for what your members want from their organization, what makes them irritated, etc. I applaud your post and encouragement, Arik!

Arik C. Hanson, APR said...

Great comments. Thanks for weighing in.

Kasey--great point about the boomer and older generations. Those folks do make up a substantial amount of volunteers, supporters and donors. We definitely need to keep those folks in mind and engage them in a way that makes sense for them.

Lauren--Great ideas, as always. And thanks for the tips on folks to follow--I'll be adding those handles to my Twitter feed tonight. And, I look forward to tracking your progress with Mensa--some exciting opportunities lie ahead for you, I'm sure.

storyassistant said...

I've honestly never thought of how social media might benefit non-profits...until now. I'd be interested to learn about how you (and/or others) have implemented successful SM strategies with non-profits. Like with the education curve for businesses, I can see non-profits putting up a lot of resistance with this approach. On the other hand, the cost argument is a really good one! Thanks for starting this conversation & I look forward to hearing some good examples.

Nonprofit said...

I too volunteer with several nonprofit organizations and they are all working on getting up to speed with utilizing social media tools and channels. Nonprofits have an advantage in a sense over corporations in that they don't have levels and levels of compliance and regulatory hoops to jump through to get their messages across. These tools and channels are a great fit.

Another simple but great way to keep volunteers, staff, former staff and donors connected to the organization is through a LinkedIn Group. This way when the organization is in the middle of a fundraising push or holding an event, it can also use LinkedIn to blast the message. It also creates brand awareness through members who include the organization's logo/group on their profile. This is very similar to creating the Facebook profile. For some organizations that work with minors or youth however, Facebook has a greater risk than LinkedIn does.