“GIVE” by Carsten ten Brink on Flickr
Social media can be particularly challenging for nonprofits. Because they’re often strapped for resources, they can’t always devote enough time to make social media worth the effort. In addition, with more than 1.5 million nonprofits operating in the U.S., competition for attention and advocacy is fierce. Even those with adequate time for social media, therefore, may have trouble standing out.
Despite these challenges, social media—when executed well—can be a great equalizer, allowing even the smallest nonprofits to promote their mission and connect with current and prospective supporters. The key is to avoid letting social media operate in a silo, and instead integrating it into other fundraising efforts. Here are four keys to doing this effectively:
1. Know where social media fits in. When you search “social media and fundraising” on Google, one of the first hits might seem discouraging: a December 2015 National Public Radio “All Tech Considered” story called “A Click Too Far: Why Using Social Media Isn’t that Great for Fundraising.” As its title suggests, the story makes several compelling points about social media’s shortcomings. However, it also points precisely at how nonprofits should view social media: as the article states, “online solicitations and engagements helped sway people to donate.” In other words, social media is more about raising awareness than raising money.
And while “awareness” is often a weak metric, it can play an important role if fundraisers have a plan for converting awareness into action and if they measure engagement as closely as they would measure dollars given to a specific campaign. If used in this way, alongside tactics that have proven effective in stimulating gifts (such as in-person asks and email and direct mail solicitations), social media works very well.
2. Have a strategy. A written strategy documenting how social media will be integrated into your efforts is critical to your success. Too many times, organizations use social media platforms without intent, simply following the herd (usually to Facebook and Twitter) because they think they must. That, of course, doesn’t work. Instead of treating social media as an end unto itself, it must be seen as a means to an end—and a response to three critical questions:
What’s the organization’s goal for using social media?
Who’s our audience?
What resources do we have to devote to social media?
Unless an organization has asked these questions, it’s very difficult to make smart decisions about which platforms to use. Conversely, once an organization has answered these questions, choosing the right platforms becomes much easier.
Think of it this way: if you have 10 hours a week to devote to social media and your goal is to introduce Millennials to your mission, doesn’t it stand to reason that you’d take a very different approach than if you had the same goal and the same audience but only two hours a week to devote to social media? How will you ever know this, though, if you don’t have a strategy?
3. Use a content calendar. A social media manager has two jobs: topic discovery/inventory and content development/implementation. Too often, however, nonprofit professionals—because they are strapped for time—focus only on the latter. The result is substandard content, missed opportunities, and large gaps between shares. A content calendar can mitigate these issues by encouraging social media managers to think ahead. By giving the requisite attention to planning, the act of developing content becomes a lot easier; instead of spending time thinking about what to say, you can focus on saying it well. Best of all, it allows you to “predict the future,” so to speak, by planning to share the right content at the right time, in advance of campaigns, holidays, or other significant dates.
Here as well, however, the content calendar should be about more than social media. It should include other communication efforts, like website updates, advertising (if applicable), events, and newsletters. Integrating your social media calendar with other messaging vehicles allows you to plan for repurposing content without being repetitive.
4. Focus on people. In today’s environment, who is involved in your mission matters more than what your mission is. That’s why it’s critical to put the spotlight on the people who embody what you do—your donors and your beneficiaries. You certainly need to respect their privacy, but when you have a willing advocate or spokesperson, there’s no better face of the organization.
Today, as much as ever before, people are interested in stories about people. When you use this to its potential, the people you highlight become part of your story, and it becomes their story, too. That makes it much, much more likely that they’ll share the story with their audiences—people you otherwise might never reach.
One final note: while these strategies are particularly useful for nonprofits, they apply just as well to many for-profit businesses. As consumers of all kinds stop differentiating between social and other forms of media, organizations need to do so as well—treating social not as something removed from its larger strategy, but very much a part of it.