social media for nonprofits

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social media for nonprofits

Social Media For Nonprofits–25 High-Impact, Low Cost Opportunities

By Brad Aronson   |   Posted in: Communications, Marketing
Social Media For Nonprofits

Nonprofits have critically important missions that certainly don’t match their small operating budgets. That’s why they need to constantly innovate and make the most of the least. With that in mind, I wrote this article about social media for nonprofits. Here are 25 high-impact, low-cost social media opportunities for nonprofits (adapted from a talk I gave at Tech Impact‘s conference, Social Media for Nonprofits, and including some great insights from other speakers).

1)    Appreciate corporate sponsors. This is probably the easiest tip and the biggest missed opportunity. An example is Comcast’s blog a few days after Comcast Cares Day, a community service day for Comcast employees. The blog mentioned what employees did and where they volunteered. Not a single nonprofit that benefited from Comcast volunteers had posted a “thank you.”

Corporate sponsors love to be recognized for their contributions to the community, and they deserve this recognition. They make a huge difference in our programs and to the people we serve. Go to your sponsors’ blogs and Facebook pages and post thank you messages. Have your team, volunteers and the people you serve (if appropriate) do the same. Senior level people at corporations read their own blogs. And, let’s face it, there are many options sponsors have when choosing partner nonprofits. Let’s give them one more reason to choose you. (Also thank corporate partners on your own social media channels – your blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, etc.)

2)    Wikipedia. Check out Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia comprised entirely of consumer generated and edited articles. As the 8th highest trafficked site on the Internet, Wikipedia offers nonprofits a lot of visibility. If you don’t have a Wikipedia page for your nonprofit consider creating one. Here’s an example of a page for local Philadelphia nonprofit Project H.O.M.E.

If you’re part of a national organization coordinate with your national office, which may already have put this in place. And, before creating your own page, participate in the editing of someone else’s page to get a feel for Wikipedia.

Keep in mind that since this is a consumer-edited encyclopedia, you’ll need to keep an eye on the page to ensure no one adds incorrect information.

3)    Reserve your name in all social media platforms. Just because you’re not yet using YouTube, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own your YouTube Channel. Same for Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.

4)    Empower your supporters to fundraise online. You don’t even need your own social media presence for this. You can go to a third party like First Giving or Blackbaud and enable your supporters to fundraise online. Your supporters setup their own personal giving page (like this one), and then your supporters use their own social media networks to ask friends to donate. This is one of the few tactics that has actually generated significant money for nonprofits and where you can measure the positive ROI.

For this to work, it’s important to give your supporters specific suggestions. Tell them to include a personal story about why they are passionate about the nonprofit (on their personal giving web page) and provide your supporters with an example of what that type of story looks like. This increased results by about 50%. Also, remind supporters to share their pages through email and social media.

Many nonprofits use this for events. You can also use it for non-event related peer-to-peer campaigns. For Spark the Wave, we do peer to peer asks once a year, and they’re not tied to an event. It works just as well and there are no event related expenses. It’s the stories and not the events that I’ve seen drive participation. (Also, when friends contribute to each other’s nonprofits, they will probably donate whether or not there’s an event.)

5)    Focus on email. The drive to build an audience on Facebook, Twitter and social networks has often become the most important and visible “digital” ask by nonprofits. Even though this article is about social media for nonprofits, I want to remind you not to forget about email.

I’ve seen again and again that email gets a much higher response than Facebook or Twitter. Sending email to 100 constituents will get more people to read and respond to my content than posting my content in a Facebook or Twitter update that reaches the same 100 people. Facebook’s algorithm may decide my post isn’t important and push it down in the news feed. Or, if I post on a day when someone isn’t checking Facebook or Twitter my update could be buried underneath other updates by the time that person checks.

Over time, some people also grow tired of social networks, and people change social networks. I’ve heard from more and more people that they’ve moved from Facebook to Twitter or vice versa. Most people continue to be engaged with their personal email addresses. And, you can still encourage social sharing when you email by including buttons and links for your readers to share the content on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Posting to social media is definitely effective and you should build your social media relationships. However, don’t let it take precedence over email collection, which I believe should be your priority.

One caveat is to make sure this works for your audience – I’m Board Chair of Spark the Wave, a nonprofit that serves high school kids. We’ve found that our high schoolers prefer text messaging and Facebook and rarely use email, so in that case email collection is much less valuable.

Also, if many of your email subscribers use Gmail, your email may drop in effectiveness, because emails from organizations often get filtered out of a users’ primary inbox on Gmail. One tactic to prevent this is to ensure your welcome email to new gmail subscribers explains how they can move your emails to their primary email tab, so your messages don’t get filtered out of their inbox and into their promotional emails box.

6)    Use social media internally. Social media is a great way to tap into internal expertise. This works especially well if you’re a nonprofit that’s part of a national network. Social media can be a way to share best practices, get advice, see who can help with various projects, and so on. You can use a closed group on LinkedIn, a Facebook group or an internal social media platform like Yammer (which has a free version). The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has so many employees that they use a twitter account to keep everyone updated on what’s going on.

7)    Social media can provide volunteer support. I’ve noticed that users of the Big Brothers Big Sisters LinkedIn Group are often volunteers seeking advice related to their mentoring relationships. There’s a nice support system that has sprung up to address this. Volunteers provide each other with advice and our staff provides suggestions as well. Perhaps social media is a good way for you to support your volunteers, if they’d benefit from support.

8)    Avoid a ghost town. If there isn’t any engagement with your social media efforts, it generally keeps new visitors from engaging. How do you get engagement if that’s the case? You recruit a handful of very loyal supporters – staff and volunteers – and get them to commit to participating in your social media efforts. They have to be dedicated because it could require six months of them liking posts, making comments and participating in conversations before you see a response from others.

9)    Generate engagement on Facebook. A lot of nonprofits were concerned that their Facebook pages have little interaction. Here are some suggestions to spur engagement:

Highlight volunteers. Then they’ll share the content with their friends.

Ask questions. This gets high interaction rates.

A great suggestion from my friend, and fellow speaker George Ward: post things like, “If you love national mentoring month, click like”. These types of posts give people a reason to click “like” and have led to a lot of activity. (By the way, George is my go to guy when I have social media questions, and he’s been a huge help to Big Brothers Big Sisters. He freelances, so feel free to reach out to him, if you need a consultant.)

10) Listen. You may not be creating content for social networks, but you should at least be listening to what people are saying about you. That allows you to find advocates and respond to positive or negative comments. I’ve seen nonprofits find important supporters that they never knew about. I like to use Google Alerts. Every time Google indexes a new page with my search terms, I get an update. Social Mention is good for tracking mentions across social media. I also use HootSuite to manage my Twitter account and to track when organizations or people I’m following are mentioned. You can use this or many other Twitter tools.

11)  Pay attention. If you have time, look at the profiles of the folks connecting to you. You may not yet realize the excellent resources that you have right in front of you. Executives at a charter school once told me, “Oh my goodness, we just checked out one of our online fans, and he is a partner in a giant investment bank. He can be an amazing resource for us.”

12) Text to give. Anna Cramer from Alex’s Lemonade Stand had this great tip. Alex’s Lemonade Stand has found that offering a text to give option at events works well. Event participants often don’t have money with them or don’t want to take out their credit card, stand in line, etc. In those cases, they’ve generated a good return by promoting text to give. Of course, text to give campaigns tend to generate lower donation amounts, so don’t cannibalize something else you may be using, if it’s working at events (also, this advice is meant for activity based events, like a lemonade stand).

13) Extend your PR reach. If you have an event or news story, you can often get journalists and organizations to pay more attention when you contact them through Twitter or social media. At this point, it’s often less cluttered and given more attention than more traditional channels. Kay Keenan, President Growth Consulting Inc., added that you should also expand your PR list to include digital only publications.

My cousin runs an advocacy nonprofit, the No Nut Traveler. She has reached out to journalists she doesn’t know through Linked In and received press coverage all over the Web. Keep your contacts relevant and short.

14)  Tell stories. Nonprofits have a huge advantage in that we have great stories to tell. Emotional stories. Think about using video. Don’t expect the types of results of Invisible Children or Caine’s Arcade (a truly inspiring video that will make you tear up), but let these videos remind you that a great story makes a difference.

15) Linked In. Your development team and CEO can use LinkedIn to see which board members have connections that would be helpful — for example, contacts at a foundation you’re pitching for a grant. Board members get constant emails asking who we know at different organizations. Check and connect on LinkedIn first.

Also create a LinkedIn group for your nonprofit. Volunteers and supporters are proud of their nonprofits. They’ll join the group giving you another way to expand your network. I wouldn’t send a blanket email to volunteers asking if any of them had a contact at a foundation or worked for a company we were pitching. But, if volunteers are connected to us through Linked-In, I can check their networks and reach out individually to volunteers who can help us.

Members of nonprofit LinkedIn groups generally don’t expect you to create content, so this doesn’t have to generate work for your team.

When you setup your LinkedIn groups, attach it to your organization. Many people have an individual in the organization setup the group and attach the group to the individual. This causes problems if that individual leaves your nonprofit.

16) Create a social media advisory board. Include a lawyer and a social media practitioner. Even if you don’t use social media yet, you want to have your advisors in place in case you have to respond to something that happens in social media. With your board you should develop a policy and plan for managing social media. If there is a crisis, what is the chain of command?

If something goes wrong in social media, it will move quickly, and you won’t have time to figure out what to do. Also, you’ll have things pop up – for example, someone posts bad comments about your organization. When do you respond? What do you do? What if someone posts things you don’t like on your Facebook wall?

17) Post your policies. Another suggestion from George Ward. Here’s an example — post your Facebook policies on a tab on your Facebook page and include what types of posts are inappropriate. Then you can point to it if you have to remove posts.

18)  Know your digital influencers. Do you have celebrities or supporters with a big online following? If so, ask them to promote you. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) said that they get about 600 new followers every time supporter Ryan Seacrest mentions them in a tweet. This is an easy ask of your supporters.

19) Make donating easy. Even though this is all about social media, I want to mention how you can make donating easy. 90% of nonprofit web sites I review miss this…

Since so many people want to donate online, you should have a clear and easy way for people to donate in honor of someone else, as a gift for someone else or any other ways that you accept donations. Many consumers don’t want to have to call you on the phone because online doesn’t give them the option of making a donation and specifying the note they’d like you to send to a friend or family member in whose name they’re making that donation. Someone should be able to donate online exactly how she can donate over the phone, or she might just go to a similar nonprofit’s web site that makes it easy for her.

20) Online reviews Ask your supporters to write stories on GreatNonprofits. This site syndicates your reviews and stories about nonprofits to GuideStar and other high traffic web sites used by donors. You’re probably already collecting stories for your mailings and web site, so make sure you maximize the impact of those stories.

21) Amazon Smile. You can earn .5% on all purchases your supporters make through Amazon via their Amazon Smile program. If you have a lot of dedicated supporters this is an easy way they can contribute without spending any of their own money.

22) Publicly thanking your supporters and mentioning your fundraising events reminds people that you’re a nonprofit that needs donations. These don’t even have to be requests for money – just updates. Try to keep your requests for money to 20% or fewer of your social media posts. Another idea provided by CHOP.

23) Don’t panic. You don’t have to do everything at once. Start with one opportunity or one social network and when it’s running well, decide if you should rollout to another. This isn’t a race.

24) Choose a social network and strategies and tactics that align with your goals. Too many nonprofits get caught up in the excitement of social media and don’t think about what will fit with their strategic goals. Where are your constituents online and what do they use? How will participating help you achieve your goals?

25) Have fun. Social media is an opportunity to connect with a community of people who appreciate what your nonprofit does. Enjoy it.

I’m an entrepreneur and angel investor. I don’t work in the nonprofit space, but I spend a lot of time volunteering with nonprofits. I think nonprofit leaders have to be as entrepreneurial as their for profit counterparts and under much more difficult constraints. I hope this helps.

I think you’ll probably also like these blog posts:  68 Random Acts of Kindness that Will Make You an Everyday Hero, Be Happy: 46 Proven Techniques to Improve your Happiness and 1 Way to Get more Sex and Nicholas Winton how a 29 year old stockbroker saved 669 lives on nights and weekends.

What social media for nonprofits ideas would you add? Please share your ideas for nonprofits to successfully leverage social media below and let’s see if we can create a great resource to benefit nonprofits.

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  • Meghan Machado

    This article has had some invaluable advice for our grassroots nonprofit, Circle of Children. Thank you so much for providing this information! I have one question: how do we make it possible for people to gift in honor of someone else on our website donation page? We use a paypal link, but it doesn’t include that option. Is there a better option out there for us?

    • Brad Aronson

      Hi Meghan, You should consult with your web developer. They should be able to add a form option that visitors can fill out if they want to make the donation in someone’s honor. Thanks for the feedback.

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  • Michael Trout

    Encyclopedia Britannica is not out of business.

    • Brad Aronson

      Oops. You are correct. They are out of the print business, but still in business providing educational tools. I will update the article today. Thanks so much for the correction.

    • Brad

      Just updated the article. Now I’ll reach out to the people who have reposted the article.

  • Nancy

    22 H-I suggestions=GREAT! Thank you. Our grassroots org can use all the social media suggestions we can get! Will enjoy following you.

    • Brad Aronson

      Great. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Jamie J. Brunson

    Dear Brad,
    Thanks for sharing this WONDERFUL article online! Not only is the list comprehensive, so many of these opportunities can be implemented easily and quickly! And thank you, Mia for sending it along to First Persons Arts’ staff and board. Jamie J

    • Brad Aronson

      Thanks for the feedback. First Person Arts is a great organization and I love your events, so I’m glad the advice is helpful to you guys.

  • Katy Friedland

    I have worked in non-profits for 10 years and yet many of your ideas are completely new to me! Thanks for all of the great advice, I am going to pass this along to everyone I know- so informative!

    • Brad Aronson

      Thanks for the feedback and for sharing.

  • Tippi

    LOVE this article! So many amazing ideas I had never thought about before. You should write a book! Oh, wait… ;) Seriously, I am definitely going to pass this on to several NFPs that I have worked with. Thank you!

    • Brad Aronson

      Thanks Tippi

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