Social media for nonprofits: 5 ways NPOs can get more out of their social media

By Hilary Young
The Brief
Social media has all the markings of a powerful engagement and fundraising tool for NPOs. Yet, resource constraints ensure that it remains vastly underutilized. That’s weird because pretty much whatever staff you have is bound to be enough to beef up a digital presence.

It’s the 21st century, so it’s no surprise that a recent report showed 93 percent of nonprofits are on at least one social media channel. What is surprising: Only 20 percent consider social media to be a particularly valuable tool. Getting on social media is easy; leveraging it is a whole different story.

But organizations that dismiss social media as a detouring side street rather than a main thoroughfare to fundraising are actually missing out on an opportunity to further engage supporters, build new giver relationships and tell stories about how donations are utilized. Sure, resources are scarce; most NPOs can’t devote an employee to social media full time. What they can do, though, is maximize whatever time their people spend on it. Here’s how:

1. Stick to a schedule. Social media is synonymous with immediacy; no one pays attention to accounts that lie dormant. But a little activity goes a long way. Just one worker-hour in the morning and another in the afternoon each day—to like and comment on Facebook and retweet on Twitter—is all it takes to guarantee timely engagement with fans.

2. Start with a blog. In my opinion, the best foundation for a lasting social presence is with a blog, because it is the easiest way to showcase the work of your staff and volunteers and of your cause. Both Tumblr and WordPress offer great free template options and the bonus of a built-in community. Best practice dictates posting new content at least twice a week, which shouldn’t eat up too many worker hours, especially if your posts aren’t labor intensive. Here’s one: Create questionnaires that tease out the work of various people associated with your organization, then create a piece around their answers. You’ll get a nice read that far exceeds the effort expended.

3. Use video to pull heartstrings. Seeing is convincing in the fundraising world. Put another way, a powerful video (well-produced, no more than two and a half minutes, call to action at the end) is worth a thousand words. And before you decide this strategy is too pricey, hunt around for a discount. Services like those offered by JTwo Films’ Projects That Matter initiative can defray costs. 

4. Repurpose across platforms. A blog post that is also tweeted or a video that is also posted on Facebook maximizes total time spent even as it helps get content to a wider audience. Really, all blog content should be repurposed—email newsletters are another useful distribution channel—as you can’t expect most people to visit your blog each day.

5. Get creative. There’s no magic formula for viral content; figuring out what works on any platform takes trial and error. One way to goose engagement, though, is to deputize “social ambassadors” whose job it is to share, post and generate content on your organization’s behalf. Identify which of your fans or donors might have long reaches, then tap their expertise for new ways to connect, with their audience and others. Social ambassadorships are the dream solution for resource-strapped NPOs: Providing the work without taking your company’s dime or time.

Hilary Young is the owner and creative director of Hilary Young Creative, a boutique consulting firm that provides nonprofits and small businesses with creative strategy, and a blogger for the Huffington Post, ThirdAge.com and Blogher.com. This is her first post for RelSci.
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. 

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