22 High-Impact, Low Cost Social Media Opportunities for Nonprofits

This is a guest post by Brad Aronson of Brad Aronson’s Blog.  It was originally published on May 1, 2012.

Nonprofits have critically important missions that certainly don’t match their small operating budgets. That’s why they need to constantly innovate and make the most of the least. With that in mind, here are 22 high-impact, low-cost social media opportunities for nonprofits (adapted from a talk I gave at NPower PA‘s conference, Social Media for Nonprofits, and including some great insights from other speakers).

1)    Appreciate corporate sponsors. This is probably the easiest tip and the biggest missed opportunity. An example is Comcast’s blog a few days after Comcast Cares Day, a community service day for Comcast employees. The blog mentioned what employees did and where they volunteered. Not a single nonprofit that benefited from Comcast volunteers had posted a “thank you.”

Corporate sponsors love to be recognized for their contributions to the community, and they deserve this recognition. They make a huge difference in our programs and to the people we serve. Go to your sponsors’ blogs and Facebook pages and post thank you messages. Have your team, volunteers and the people you serve (if appropriate) do the same. Senior level people at corporations read their own blogs. And, let’s face it, there are many options sponsors have when choosing partner nonprofits. Let’s give them one more reason to choose you. (Also thank corporate partners on your own blog and Facebook page – most nonprofits do this part pretty well.)

2)    Wikipedia. Check out Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia comprised entirely of consumer generated and edited articles. As the 8th highest trafficked site on the Internet, Wikipedia offers nonprofits a lot of visibility. If you don’t have a Wikipedia page for your nonprofit consider creating one. Here’s an example of a page for local Philadelphia nonprofit Project H.O.M.E.

If you’re part of a national organization coordinate with your national office, which may already have put this in place. A caveat is that since this is a consumer-edited encyclopedia, you’ll need to keep an eye on the page to ensure no one adds incorrect information.

3)    Reserve your name in all social media platforms. Just because you’re not yet using YouTube, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own your YouTube Channel. Same for Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc.

4)    Empower your supporters to fundraise online. You don’t even need your own social media presence for this. You can go to a third party like First Giving or Blackbaud and enable your supporters to fundraise online. Your supporters setup their own personal giving page (like this one), and then your supporters use their own social media networks to ask friends to donate. This is one of the few tactics that has actually generated significant money for nonprofits and where you can measure the positive ROI.

For this to work, it’s important to give your supporters specific suggestions. Tell them to include a personal story on their web page and provide them with an example of what that looks like. This increased results by about 50%. Also, remind supporters to share through email and social media.

Many nonprofits use this for events. You can also use it for non-event related peer-to-peer campaigns. For Spark the Wave, we do peer to peer asks once a year, and they’re not tied to an event. It works just as well and there are no event related expenses. (When friends contribute to each other’s nonprofits, they will probably donate whether or not there’s an event.)

5)    Focus on email. The drive to build an audience on Facebook, Twitter and social networks has often become the most important and visible “digital” ask by nonprofits. Don’t forget about email.

I’ve seen again and again that email gets a much higher response than Facebook or Twitter. Sending email to 100 constituents will get more people to read and respond to my content than posting my content in a Facebook or Twitter update that reaches the same 100 people. Facebook’s algorithm may decide my post isn’t important and push it down in the news feed. Or, if I post on a day when someone isn’t checking Facebook or Twitter my update could be buried underneath other updates by the time that person checks.

People also grow tired of social networks. I’ve heard from more and more people that they’ve moved from Twitter to Facebook or vice versa. Most people continue to be engaged with their personal email addresses. And, you can still encourage social sharing when you email by including buttons and links for your readers to share the content on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Posting to social media is definitely effective and you should build your social media relationships. However, don’t let it take precedence over email collection, which I believe should be your priority.

One caveat is to make sure this works for your audience – I’m Board Chair of Spark the Wave, a nonprofit that serves high school kids. We’ve found that our high schoolers prefer text messaging and Facebook and rarely use email, so in that case email collection is much less valuable.

6)    Use social media internally. Social media is a great way to tap into internal expertise. This works especially well if you’re a nonprofit that’s part of a national network. Social media can be a way to share best practices, get advice, see who can help with various projects, and so on. You can use a closed group on LinkedIn a Facebook group or an internal social media platform like Yammer (which has a free version). The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has so many employees that they use a twitter account to keep everyone updated on what’s going on.

7)    Social media can provide volunteer support. I’ve noticed that users of the Big Brothers Big Sisters LinkedIn Group are often volunteers seeking advice related to their mentoring relationships. There’s a nice support system that has sprung up to address this. Volunteers provide each other with advice and our staff provides suggestions as well. Perhaps social media is a good way for you to support your volunteers, if they’d benefit from support.

8)    Avoid a ghost town. If there isn’t any engagement with your social media efforts, it generally keeps new visitors from engaging. How do you get engagement if that’s the case? You recruit a handful of very loyal supporters – staff and volunteers – and get them to commit to participating in your social media efforts. They have to be dedicated because it could require six months of them liking posts, making comments and participating in conversations before you see a response from others.

9)    Generate engagement on Facebook. A lot of nonprofits were concerned that their Facebook pages have little interaction. Here are some suggestions to spur engagement:

Highlight volunteers. Then they’ll share the content with their friends.

Ask questions. This gets high interaction rates.

A great suggestion from my friend, and fellow speaker George Ward: post things like, “If you love national mentoring month, click like”. These types of posts give people a reason to click “like” and have led to a lot of activity. (By the way, George is my go to guy when I have social media questions, and he’s been a huge help to Big Brothers Big Sisters. He freelances, so feel free to reach out to him, if you need a consultant.)

10) Listen. You may not be creating content for social networks, but you should at least be listening to what people are saying about you. That allows you to find advocates and respond to positive or negative comments. I’ve seen nonprofits find important supporters that they never knew about. I like to use Google Alerts. Every time Google indexes a new page with my search terms, I get an update. Social Mention is good for tracking mentions across social media. I also use HootSuite to manage my Twitter account and to track when organizations or people I’m following are mentioned. You can use this or many other Twitter tools.

11)  Pay attention. If you have time, look at the profiles of the folks connecting to you. You may not yet realize the excellent resources that you have right in front of you. Executives at a charter school once told me, “Oh my goodness, we just checked out one of our online fans, and he is a partner in a giant investment bank. He can be an amazing resource for us.”

12) Text to give. Anna Cramer from Alex’s Lemonade Stand had this great tip. Alex’s Lemonade Stand has found that offering a text to give option at events works well. Event participants often don’t have money with them or don’t want to take out their credit card, stand in line, etc. In those cases, they’ve generated a good return by promoting text to give. Of course, text to give campaigns tend to generate lower donation amounts, so don’t cannibalize something else you may be using, if it’s working at events (also, this advice is meant for activity based events, like a lemonade stand).

13) Extend your PR reach. If you have an event or news story, you can often get journalists and organizations to pay more attention when you contact them through Twitter or social media. At this point, it’s often less cluttered and given more attention than more traditional channels. Kay Keenan, President Growth Consulting Inc., added that you should also expand your PR list to include digital only publications.

14)  Tell stories. Nonprofits have a huge advantage in that we have great stories to tell. Emotional stories. Think about using video. Don’t expect the types of results of Invisible Children or Caine’s Arcade (a truly inspiring video that will make you tear up), but let these videos remind you that a great story makes a difference.

15) Linked In. Your development team and CEO can use LinkedIn to see which board members have connections at foundations you’re pitching for a grant. Board members get constant emails asking who we know at different organizations. Check and connect on LinkedIn first.

Also create a LinkedIn group for your nonprofit. This way, you’ll have a LinkedIn base that isn’t connected to an employee who might leave one day. Volunteers and supporters are proud of their nonprofits. They’ll join the group giving you another way to connect. Members of nonprofit LinkedIn groups generally don’t expect you to create content, so this doesn’t have to generate work for your team.

16) Create a social media advisory board. Include a lawyer and a social media practitioner. Even if you don’t use social media yet, you want to have your advisors in place in case you have to respond to something that happens in social media. With your board you should develop a policy and plan for managing social media. If there is a crisis, what is the chain of command?

If something goes wrong in social media, it will move quickly, and you won’t have time to figure out what to do. Also, you’ll have things pop up – for example, someone posts bad comments about your organization. When do you respond? What do you do? What if someone posts things you don’t like on your Facebook wall?

17) Post your policies. Another suggestion from George Ward. Post your policies on a tab on your Facebook page and include what types of posts are inappropriate. Then you can point to it when you have to remove posts.

18)  Know your digital influencers. Do you have celebrities or supporters with a big online following? If so, ask them to promote you. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) said that they get about 600 new followers every time supporter Ryan Seacrest mentions them in a tweet. This is an easy ask of your supporters.

19) Publicly thanking your supporters and mentioning your fundraising events reminds people that you’re a nonprofit that needs donations. These don’t even have to be requests for money – just updates. Try to keep your requests for money to 20% or fewer of your social media posts. Another idea provided by CHOP.

20) Don’t panic. You don’t have to do everything at once. Start with one opportunity or one social network and when it’s running well, decide if you should rollout to another. This isn’t a race.

21) Choose a social network and strategies and tactics that align with your goals. Too many nonprofits get caught up in the excitement of social media and don’t think about what will fit with their strategic goals. Where are your constituents online and what do they use? How will participating help you achieve your goals?

22) Have fun. Social media is an opportunity to connect with a community of people who appreciate what your nonprofit does. Enjoy it.

I’m an entrepreneur and angel investor. I don’t work in the nonprofit space, but I spend a lot of time volunteering with nonprofits. I think nonprofit leaders have to be as entrepreneurial as their for profit counterparts and under much more difficult constraints. That’s why I’m posting this advice for nonprofit executives in my blog for entrepreneurial leaders. Nonprofit leaders are entrepreneurial leaders and too frequently don’t get the credit for that.

My slides from the conference may be difficult to understand without the audio, which is why I wrote this article that contains the main points. If you are interested, here’s a link that will download the slides. I’m planning to post audio with the slides in the next few weeks. If you want to know when that happens, please check back or sign up for my email newsletter. Signup is at the top right of every page.

I think you’ll probably also like these blog posts:  7 Easy Ways You Can Be a Better Person (the second most popular post in this blog’s history), David Boone–Hardworking Teen Goes from Homeless to Harvard and Mission Statement for Life .

What would you add? Please share your ideas for nonprofits to successfully leverage social media below and let’s see if we can create a great resource to benefit nonprofits.

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If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2011.

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