On Friday, I’ll be part of a training program focused on starting-up several nonprofit organizations on Twitter and Facebook. The first question for many such organizations is a version of “What’s in it for me?”
Surprisingly this is exactly the right question. By asking this, and answering it, we start down the path to a marketing and communications strategy. Clarification of the benefits of social media provides motivation for the kind of consistent activity it takes to get results.
The following list is organized around seven categories. There is no prioritization here, because the priorities will vary for each organization . . . except to start with fundraising, because that seems to be top-of-mind for all nonprofits. (I know. Shocking.)
Donors / Fundraising: For any nonprofits not interested in this, you can stop reading now. But social media can be important fuel for your fundraising engine.
1. Thanking donors: Gratitude is important, and social media is a great place to thank donors. (Just make certain that they wish to be publicly thanked).
2. Keeping donors informed: Donors like to hear about the good work that you are doing. Social media keeps that good news flowing, in part through effective storytelling about your successes. It is also a great way to remind people of the needs you address.
3. Activating donors: Social media is a way to gently remind donors that you are still here and you still want their support. Especially with giving campaigns such as the Giving Tuesday, social media is one more way of accomplishing this.
4. Asking for in-kind gifts: Do you need a new computer, need some low sodium canned goods for your food pantry, looking for an inexpensive (or free) van for one of your programs? Social media is a great way to announce to a wider community any special needs you have for in-kind gifts.
5. Identifying new donors: Later we will talk about expanding your support network. Let’s just say that, in part because of donor fatigue, you need to be consistently creative in identifying new prospective donors. Social media can help.
Volunteers: for many nonprofits, volunteers are almost as important as fund-raising. Volunteers represent a resource of almost incalculable value.
6. Thanking volunteers: It is important to thank your volunteers throughout the year, and social media is a great way to do this. Very effective for a wide range of reasons.
7. Recruiting new volunteers: Who can’t use some new volunteers? Not very many organizations. Social media is a great way to recruit new volunteers while letting the community know the kind of work you are doing.
8. Activating volunteers: Do you need volunteers for a special project? Painting a room, helping with a holiday party for children and families you serve, etc. Or looking for some volunteers for a new program you want to launch, such as mentors for a new reading program? Reach out for those special project volunteers, or those new program volunteers, through social media.
People you serve: Whatever your organization is doing, don’t forget who you are doing it for. Nonprofits often spend too little time reaching out to the very people they wish to assist.
9. You are here to help: Remind the people you serve that you are here to help them. Remind them of the services you provide. And remind them of how to reach you.
10. Something new for you: Launching or expanding new services, or making some changes? Keep your constituency informed.
11. Highlight special programs: Many nonprofits have seasonal or special programs such as distribution of back-to-school supplies or flu vaccinations. Broadcast the details of those programs to encourage their adoption.
12. Encouraging new behaviors: Changing behavior is tricky, but it is also critically important. Social media can be a powerful tool to distribute educational materials and reinforce the importance of changes in behavior.
Event promotion: How to get more people through the doors? This is a consistent worry whenever a nonprofit is promoting an event.
13. Fundraising events: Promote your fundraising events before they happen, “socialize” them while they are happening, and show how much fun they were after they happened. All on social media.
14. Special ceremonies: Occasionally nonprofits will also have special events. Ground-breakings, award presentations, program launches, graduation ceremonies, etc. Social media can be used to expand the visibility of such events, and in turn the visibility of your work and your needs.
Building your visibility: One of the most powerful benefits from social media is the potential to reach steadily increasing numbers of people that you don’t already know. This is the greatest difference between social media and email distribution.
15. Penetrate new special interest groups and demographics: One non-profit I know of has been trying without success to increase the number of young professionals involved with them. This is only a single example of many. We all want to grow our group of connections and supporters. Social media is no silver bullet, but it can do wonders for your visibility across a wide variety of groups.
16. Become top of mind: The more people who see your posts on social media, the more curious they will get about you. As you answer their question about “what do you do”, they may become interested in “what can I do for them and their cause”.
17. Extend your PR and media reach: Whether for events or for community outreach, access to the media can be crucial. And social media is becoming a primary source of news stories. Reach a wider group of professionals in the media than those who are already on your list.
18. Branding: All of this relates back to establishing your brand and making it more visible. Social media is one more way to make that possible.
Advocacy and Policies: Nonprofits should be all about changing things. Often the only immediate action we can take is to bandage a wound. However, our ultimate goal should be to cure the disease – even better to address the cause. This takes systemic adaptive change and often includes policy change.
19. Educate the wider community: It begins with education. Whatever problems you address – homelessness, hunger, health, violence, education, and the list goes on – one of your goals should be to educate the community. By helping more people understand the scope and importance of your mission, you are likely to expand your community connections and support.
20. Advocate for change: The next step beyond educate is to advocate. Unsure of what you can and can’t do while protecting your 501c3 status? Educate yourself about that too. Advocacy is not only allowed but a protected right for nonprofits, but you do need to know where to draw the line.
Listening and Learning: How do you become a thought leader? Listen and learn from others, and generously share your own knowledge. Social media is an engine that makes both possible.
21. Cause-related knowledge: There are a large number of organizations and individuals on Twitter related to almost any cause. For example, I am intensely interested in hunger and health. I have a Twitter list called “Advocacy Hunger” that includes national organizations like FRAC and Feeding America, local organizations like Harvesters, and individual experts like Oran Hesterman. It is the single most efficient way for me to keep informed on causes.
22. Your community – an on-line town hall: What are people saying? In addition to educating the community, let the community educate you. I recently was schooled on Facebook about the importance of longer lunch periods for youth in school – especially elementary and middle-age school children. And it was not just one way. What began simply listening in, became a conversation between a large number of interested people.
23. Stay current with the latest information: Yes, there is some dated material on social media. But most of it is pretty current. Used some examples above, but this also applies to social media itself. For example, the announcement of Facebook’s “Donate Now” capability, and the range of opinions surrounding it. Not announced by Facebook to its users. Not covered in its help index. Learned more about that on social media than I could have anywhere else.
24. Share yourself: Sharing is a team sport. Share your knowledge, your questions, your passions, your stories. This may, in fact, be the number one secret to being successful on social media.
So that is the list. A little more than a list. But lists create their own challenge. They practically beg for more information. To meet that need, watch for a series of additional articles. Each will provide further insights and tips about each of those seven categories above. And each will be branded with “Why Social Media for Your Nonprofit” in the title.