April 5, 2010

Social media 101 for small nonprofits

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small-nonprofits

New tool helps small nonprofits improve their social media savvy

JD LasicaShould small nonprofits wade into the sometimes daunting terrain of social media?

Increasingly, the answer is: Yes, because that’s where their members and supporters are, and social media is the most effective way to reach them. (If you’re unclear about some of these terms or concepts, see Socialbrite’s Social Media Glossary.)

KAL-FieldstoneLast year TechSoup Global won a grant from Kellogg Action Lab/ Fieldstone Alliance with an impressive goal: to create a tool that helps nonprofits assess their current social media capabilities and to connect them with resources to get them started down the right track.

TechSoup Global hired Socialbrite to manage the project and build the tool, and our team spent weeks interviewing the top executives of 50 mostly small nonprofits: CARES Foundation, Down Syndrome Network, Net Literacy, Legal Community Against Violence, National Autism Association and dozens of others.

We found that these nonprofits — often run on a shoestring budget with a bare-bones staff — are well aware that major changes are taking place in the media and communications landscape. Often they seem to feel baffled by the disruptions. Many wonder whether they have the resources to effectively use social media, given the resources and time commitment required inside organizations where everyone does everything — and then some. “There hasn’t been a lot of data that justifies putting labor into this. How sure are we that social networking is worth prioritizing?” one foundation’s communications director asked me.

Still, the vast majority of nonprofits said they were eager to learn and to push forward internally with modest social media programs. While the survey results are confidential, I can point you to the Social Media Literacy Tool we built that was based on our interviews with nonprofits. (The tool is geared to nonprofits but can be used by anyone.)

Update: the Social Media Literacy Tool is live!

How social media will benefit your nonprofit

When I discuss the need to embrace social media with nonprofit leaders, the reasons usually fall into these buckets:

(1) Social media has altered the balance of power

The same tectonic shifts that have disrupted other spheres of society — the public’s interactions with brands, with media, with government — are starting to affect other sectors as well, including the nonprofit community. The smartest reaction would be to identify key learnings from watching the other sectors and then adapt and apply those takeaways to your own. People no longer want their only interactions with a favorite cause or nonprofit to be restricted to their credit cards — they want to participate (at least some of them do) at all levels of your core mission, from communicating with members of your team to communicating with each other to helping you raise money or connect with community resources.

It’s likely that there are rich conversations taking place online about your nonprofit or your cause. You should be a part of those conversations.

(2) You can copy what has worked elsewhere

The real-world results are in: There are now tons of case studies proving that social media has moved the needle in a positive direction for organizations — nonprofits and businesses alike — that know how to how to create a social media action plan, which begins with a strategy and then an implementation of the proper tactics. I’ll refrain from citing Twestival, which every “social media expert” on the Web cites, and instead point to efforts like:

Awareness campaigns (PDF) by PBS KIDS and War Child Canada

charity: water’s September birthday campaign

• CouchSurfing International’s efforts to forge connections across borders

• Invisible Children’s Visible Children Scholarship Program

• epic change’s Tweetsgiving program

• The American Cancer Society’s More Birthdays program

The nonprofit Society for New Communications Research — of which I’m a senior fellow — honors nonprofits, universities, media organizations and businesses with annual awards in categories like communities, collaboration, social media production and more. Head over to our sister site, Socialmedia.biz, to read some great case studies.

(3) Your nonprofit has a compelling (untold) story

In every conversation I had with nonprofits, it emerged that their organization or cause had a heart-tugging, compelling story that wasn’t being effectively captured or conveyed on their website. Social media’s strongest component is its ability to give supporters an easy way to create and share stories about the things that matter to them most. Whether it’s using Twitter to spread the word about your latest campaign or using a Flip cam to interview people who are being directly helped by nonprofit, social media expands the range of possibilities in a dynamic, conversation-driven, low-cost way.

(4) Your staff’s internal dynamics will thrive

Time after time we’ve heard from nonprofits about how a strong social media effort not only improves the connections between your organization and its supporters but also strengthens the fabric that binds your staffers together. When employees are empowered to interact with the community, their stake in your organization rises immeasurably. When employees use new tools to communicate with each other more effectively, they get more accomplished and form deeper ties as a team. And when your nonprofit begins each day by listening to and talking with your community, deeper understanding follows.

Everyone is after the holy grail of return on investment (ROI). The top ROI of using social media for your nonprofit? Insight.

Related

Social Media Literacy Tool (TechSoup Global)JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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  • JD – I’m really glad to be involved with this project! My hope is that Techsoup will be able to create a learning model and teaching methodology that can scale so that many more nonprofits can get more bang from social strategies.

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