April 5, 2010

Social media 101 for 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. Continue reading