Why Nonprofits Should Use Social Media

When it comes to marketing, nonprofits – like many companies – tend to go for the familiar. What do we know? What have we done in the past? Direct mail? Check. A print newsletter? Check. A fundraising event? Check.

Whether or not these tactics have actually been successful in the past, they tend to be the typical course of action. Even if they are not cost effective or time efficient, more often than not, everyone at an organization can at least agree on the statement “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

business team standing

Unfortunately, today’s funders and constituents are no longer consuming their information in the same ways. Today’s marketing tactics are not familiar. So how does a nonprofit with limited capacity get up to speed?

Social Media Marketing (SMM) – marketing through blogs, microblogs, social networks, podcasts, etc. – addresses several issues that nonprofits face as they evaluate programs and activities for their staff and volunteers.

1. Cost – How much is it going to cost us? We don’t have the money for this.

2. Time – How much time is it going to take? We’re all stretched to the limit.

3. Capacity – How many people are going to have to manage this? We’re short-staffed.

Like any tools and tactics for marketing, nobody can say that social media marketing is free and takes little or no time. Every time you reach out to constituents or funders, there is an associated cost. Social Media Marketing doesn’t erase that. But here is how SMM addresses marketing issues many nonprofits face.

1. Cost

Assembling the tools you need to engage productively in social media marketing are more often than not free. There are free blogging tools such as WordPress.com and Blogger.com. Almost all microblogs are free such as Tumblr and Twitter. Video sites such as YouTube are free to upload and host your videos. Utterli is a free solution to podcasting. So when it comes to costs, the tools are downright affordable.

The other cost often associated with SMM is consulting. Few nonprofits have staff on board who are familiar enough with social media to assemble an integrated social media toolset for the organization. Consultants in this area aren’t cheap, however, those who work with nonprofit organizations are sensitive to cost and can develop a basic foundation of social media tools to get started for a reasonable price.

Ideas: Many nonprofits have staff members or volunteers who are very familiar with social media – and they might even be the teens or 20-somethings who tend to get overlooked when it comes to marketing initiatives. One of the biggest mistakes nonprofits can make today is to fail to tap into the digitally savvy young people in their circle. Elevating them to “Social Media Coordinator” could bring much needed knowledge and energy to the fore.

2. Time

Social Media Marketing takes time, there’s no doubt about it. But does it have to be unmanageable madness? Of course not. If an organization takes the time or invests in a consultant’s time to set up a compact set of social media tools – a blog, a microblog, and a handful of social networks or media sharing sites – they can immediately begin tapping into the conversations that are already happening online without them.

If all of those tools are integrated and inter-connected, then it will take even less effort to manage and maintain them.

Ideas: Make sure all social media accounts are set up using a single email address, preferably one dedicated to Social Media Marketing and not somebody’s work or personal email. Managing emails is much easier when all social media correspondence and friend requests go into a single pool. Take advantage of email filters to more quickly sift through the emails that need to be addressed versus the ones that can simply be archived.

3.  Capacity

Part of the “capacity solution” was addressed in #1 – tapping into the resources you have but may be overlooking.

I know of an organization that has a 20-something person passionately engaged in social media and actively interested in helping with social media initiatives at work. However, the social media duties have been assigned to a person who is unfamiliar with the technologies and sites. While that person is a highly qualified marketing person who can engage in strategic thinking, they are uncomfortable with social media. Therefore, the organization has missed powerful opportunities to engage and grow their membership and increase their brand visibility because they’ve failed to tap into the right resources for the job.

Another way to address the capacity issue is to outsource the upkeep of SMM to a volunteer. With the proper setup and with clear written guidelines, a volunteer could be put to good use going through the organization’s SMM email account and taking action where needed.

Social Media Marketing can be a cost-effective and time-efficient way to reach out to potential funders and constituents. Make sure you know your audience. Survey them to see if they have a MySpace page or Facebook account or if they Twitter or blog or even if they prefer email to regular mail. You’d be surprised how many people have shifted the way they want to hear from you, but you just haven’t asked.

How are you changing the way you are reaching out to your funders? Your constituents?

this post was originally written for The Foraker Group blog

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6 responses to “Why Nonprofits Should Use Social Media

  1. Thank you for this post. Non-profits need to be as creative as possible with their time, money, and people because they never have enough. For the Clovis Chamber, it’s a way to leverage our time. We’re not doing as much, say, as the Salem Chamber (@KyleSexton), but we’ve got a solid presence on LI, FB, Twitter and have a blog. In just the 8 weeks we’ve been working on this, it is starting to pay off.

    I completely agree with finding volunteers to work on SMM, as long as the guidelines and the image is clearly spelled out to the volunteer.

    Some Chambers of Commerce are on the cutting edge of this (see http://www.fastchamber.net) and some are way, way behind. @FrankKenny of the North Mason Chamber in Wash. state wrote a blog post about a Chamber that ignored member requests to start a group online …. the members started it themselves.

    That’s the danger non-profits face: the parade will start without you. Don’t let this happen!

  2. I’m a huge leap away from being a twenty-something but having young adults in my household has helped!

    The organization I work for (visit http://www.phpnw.org) is very small – I’m one of only 3 part-time paid staff. I’ve been advocating for the need to use social media and posts like yours help tremendously!

    It also helps that I began using some social media on my own – as a volunteer. Up to this point it has only involved commenting in blogs, joining several targeted sites, and using Twitter (@PeepsHelpPeeps).

    Even such small steps have had amazing results. Several invitations to write articles for disability related websites; finding a new Board member; receiving an offer to help with updating our website. The connections and information I’ve found there are amazing!

    So, I’m off to send my boss and the Board a link to your post. Thanks for taking the time to write and share this!

  3. Everything you say is spot-on. The challenge I face is the lack of time to do everything. At some point, some of the old ways, outdated activities need to stop. We’ve managed to stop advertising job openings in the ADN after proving the rate of success via our website and other on-line resources. But social media doesn’t necessarily have a clearly measurable outcome. The issue I struggle with working in kids’ mental health is privacy, security and message control. As I see it, in social media we have to relinquish some control but be do have to be on the playing field to have any control at all.

  4. The benefit in following this advice is that social media allows a nonprofit to tell their story, and the story of the people they serve (which is key to connecting with volunteers and donors). The fundraising adage that “people give to people” is also relevant here, as people *connect* with people – a generic brand presence isn’t authentic, and lacks the human touch that social media demands.

  5. Pingback: Why Nonprofits Should Use Social Media « NP&P Solutions

  6. Do you have a feel for why people are likly to participate and therefore build these relationships on line. Yes, those of us who are interested are tracking / trialing these tools, and yes those people who are confident will of created accounts and maybe a blog. But the vast majority of people with internet access, and the capability to learn, still think they dont have the time to dabble, and as a result may not choose to interact this way. Therefore how will they eventually be drawn into and become followers? In other words, what is the underlying principles at work here, that will draw these remaining people to this type of interaction/communication?

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