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Norman Olshansky

About Norman

Is the Use of Social Media for Nonprofits Worth the Time and Effort?

We are hearing a lot about the new technology and importance of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc. After all, social media was the powerful tool used to overturn dictators and to bring public awareness to critical issues such as child soldiers and Joseph Koni. Its use was also extremely effective in obtaining financial responses to the earthquake in Haiti and natural disasters elsewhere. So, given the success of viral marketing through the internet and social media, why even ask the question?

Is your nonprofit using social media effectively? What is the return on investment on the use of social media, given the time it takes to post, read, respond, etc.? How much time is taken up by staff and volunteers, which could be spent in more productive activities?

The simple answer to the initial question proposed in the title of this article—is the use of social media for noprofits worth the time and effort?—is, “it depends.”

Nonprofits use social media for many different purposes, among which are:

  • Building public awareness
  • Adding contacts for future cultivation
  • Spreading information about the nonprofit’s mission
  • Providing information about blogs, upcoming programs, activities, classes, training, webinars, events, etc.
  • Posting job openings
  • Seeking feedback to discussions and questions
  • Encouragement of contacts to go to the nonprofit’s web site for more information
  • Requests for information, donations, volunteers, etc.

Social media fundraising is in its infancy. Those who have been successful have built their network of contacts, followers and “friends” over many years and are able to reach thousands of potential donors quickly when an emergency or compelling case for support arises.

Typically, donations obtained through social media requests result in small donations ($10-$100). Depending on the number of gifts, the total could be significant. The key to success is the case for support and size of the potential pool of contacts, friends, and followers. The strength of social media is in the ability to create a viral message, one that your contacts will want to share with their other contacts.

Most nonprofits have not developed a system and ongoing plan that has resulted in significant fundraising via social media for annual operations. While older adults are the fastest-growing users of social media, as a major form of their communication younger people are still the ones using social media the most. Older adults have the greatest giving capacity but young people are the future and key to long-term sustainability major gift fundraising, which accounts for 80 to 90 percent of all funds raised by nonprofits—especially for annual, capital and endowment gifts—requires personal cultivation and relationship building. While social media can be one tool used towards that effort, the more personal effort is preferred.

The financial return on investment using social media for fundraising is still minimal compared to other methods of fundraising. Nonprofits not yet using social media need to do so to the extent they are able. However, time spent on social media should not be allowed to take away from the time spent on major gifts—prospect identification, cultivation, face to face solicitation, and stewardship. Consider social media as a way to be positioned for the future.

If you are just getting into the use of social media within your nonprofit, think of it as primarily being a tool to provide a return on image, or a return on engagement rather than a return on investment (human and financial resources).

There are many new ways to analyze the information available through social media. Each have ways to look at metrics to analyze usage, impact and characteristics of contacts and connections. Those who are serious and look at social media as just one part of an overall organization's strategic plan will be more successful than those who use it primarily as a marketing bulletin board.

It’s easy to put in a lot of time and effort into social media, but for it to be worthwhile, one needs to evaluate outcomes; what happens as a result of your efforts that will enhance your organization’s mission and sustainability.

What has been your experience? How can social media be used effectively by all-volunteer or smaller nonprofits? What would you add to this discussion?


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