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10 Tips for Nonprofit Social Media

These tips are from Emily Davis, a Denver-based nonprofit communications consultant.

There are plenty of nonprofits out there that have mastered the social media world– leveraging all the right tools, telling their story, and raising funds through the Internet. Then there are those who are slowly chugging along looking for good reasons and ways to start to use social media more effectively. It’s not all about jumping into every social media tool at once, but rather a strategy and an on-boarding process that will help the sustainability of this marketing strategy.

1. Social media is A tool, not THE tool. Social media helps to reach out to stakeholders–donors, volunteers, prospective board members and more. We can raise funds, get the message out, and build support for our cause. However, no organization should completely rely on social media to answer all their questions. There is no magic wand here. We didn’t always have fax machines and direct mail was new at some point as well that solved all of our questions. Social media is just another tool in the marketing and fundraising toolbox that you can use.

2. Have a plan. I cannot emphasize this enough. Hiring someone with experience to write a social media plan that folds into an existing fundraising or communications plans will be so helpful in the long run. You will be able to more effectively keep everyone in the organization on the same page, adjust the strategy, and implement consistently. The plan should also cover how you will manage your social media–that is, will you bring on volunteers? Staff? Consultant? Most likely, your organization will need to train someone so make sure you have someone who can train effectively on the topic. Having a strategy will help keep the social media plant watered consistently and effectively.

3. Social media is a form of stewardship. One of the great things about social media is that it is a low-cost way to communicate with your constituents. It’s a great way to tell current donors and supporters how their participation impacted a goal, clients, or the mission. In fundraising, the closer we bring donors into the inner circle of our organization, the more likely they are to give and to give more dollars. Using social media is a great way to open that door to current and prospective donors, building closer relationships.

4. Social media is a plant. I compare social media to watering a plant. That is, you cannot simply create a Twitter account, for example, and expect people to follow you. You need to water that plant– take 20 minutes a day to begin with populating your social media outlets. What is the message that you want to get out to your stakeholders and the community? This should be covered in your social media plan. Watering the social media plan a little every day will help to create a foundation under which you can grow. Creating a calendar for posting often helps.

5. Not everyone “diggs” social media. It’s true that not everyone is going to follow you on Twitter, become a fan on Facebook, or join your LinkedIn Group. Some people prefer direct mail, but then again direct mail isn’t for anyone. I know next generation philanthropists who will not donate to organizations who use direct mail because they see it as a waste of time and environmental resources. Providing platforms for different types of people to get engaged in your organization is the key to casting a wide net. The more points of entry you have for engagement the greater likelihood of success.

6. It ain’t free. Social media tools can be free of cost compared to websites, print publications, and other online tools, but it does cost money. Time is money and social media takes time, especially if you are asking people to manage social media who don’t really understand where to get started. I’m making a plug for consulting here, but I believe that consultants can save you some of that time, money, and energy by putting together a plan, training staff, volunteers or board members, and setting a foundation for your online practices. There is a small environmental impact here, but many agree that it is less than using only traditional methods of outreach for fundraising.

7. Engage the next generation of donors. Using social media is a great way to reach out to the next generation of philanthropists. Many of those prospective donors are on Facebook or other social media tools–they are definitely online and the first place they go to investigate your organization is your website. If they want to learn more and get a sneak peak into your organization’s world is to join one of your online networks. Do you have ways to engage them? A great strategy is to recruit and work with younger board members who might have access to using social networks and who can engage their circle of friends or networks.

8. Be clear about adding value. Despite what many people believe, adding content to social media networks is not only about promoting your organization’s events and activities. Be sure to refer to other resources outside your organization. For example, let’s say I represent an organization that works with animals. In addition to sharing about our upcoming programs and adoption opportunities, share articles about caring for your pet, current legislation affecting animals, and activities of like-minded organizations. This demonstrates that you are connected and knowledgeable about more than just your organization that you seek resources that would be beneficial for the reader to learn. Essentially, you want your organization to become an expert hub for resources.

9. It’s a two-way street. One of the best things about social media is that there is potential for dialogue. A direct mail appeal can’t do this in the same way that a blog can. Share news and opinions, take risks, and be ready for dissent and support. Your organization is trying to enhance engagement and you should be willing to post comments that challenge your opinions. This is how strong dialogue begins. You can always respond directly to positive or challenging comments, but allowing that space means you are open to the community. Of course, inappropriate or demeaning language is never acceptable.

10. Have a social media policy. It is important to have some insurance when it comes to social media. Very infrequently have I seen posts, comments, etc. that are inappropriate for the platform, but you want to be prepared. Be sure to outline the purpose of your social media tools, how to use the tools, what is acceptable, and what will not be tolerated including spam. Always reserve the right to ask someone not to participate or block them from posting. A good example is a nonprofit network I consult for–it is not appropriate to post information that is related to real estate on a nonprofit-focused network. Be sure to have action steps clearly outlined in your policy when someone has violated that policy.

More information on Emily / read her blog >>


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