Every day, we hear that some new piece of technology or a social media site is going to revolutionize our daily lives. And every day, life moves on pretty much as it did the day before. We get up, we have coffee, we go to work. The only difference is now people are tweeting about it, right?
To an extent, yes. A lot of people on Twitter or Facebook are talking about the sandwich they just ate. But it would be a shame to ignore an entire means of communication because of the inane conversations that occur on it. If we were to judge all communications by that standard, we’d never make phone calls either.
Social media is now a basic means of communication. Not that long ago, if your nonprofit didn’t have a phone number, people would have been surprised. If you wanted to do business, you had to have one. Then you had to have an answering machine.
Then it was a website.
Now it’s Facebook.
Your nonprofit needs to be on Facebook and Twitter in the same way that your nonprofit needs a phone number.
Perhaps you’ve picked up this book because you’re already convinced you need a better social media presence; you’re just not sure how to start. That’s great! But for those who are still on the fence, I hope you will allow me a few paragraphs to spell out why social media is so important.
Why You Need To Be On Social Media
Social media is like a big party at your neighbor’s house. From where you sit, it seems loud and obnoxious, and you wonder why anyone would bother going. But when you show up, you see some old friends, you meet some new people who share your interests, and you get to tell them a little more about yourself. The party turns out to be surprisingly fun and when you get home that night, you’re glad you made yourself go.
There are very good reasons your nonprofit should embrace social media—why you should be at your neighbor’s party:
- Your donors are there. No, maybe not the big ones, and maybe not many of them (yet). But they’re there. There are a billion people on Facebook: I’m guessing at least a few of them are your donors. And don’t judge just by age! Plenty of seniors join Facebook to see pictures of grandkids and then stick around when they realize it’s fun.
- Your potential donors are there too. Social media is a great way to build an audience of people who care about your organization. Those people may not be current donors, but social media is a great way to put your message in front of them consistently and effectively. That’s how you’ll get them to give later.
- Eavesdropping. Almost certainly, people are talking about your organization on social media. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear what they had to say? Or even have the chance to respond to them, especially if they have a complaint? Social media is an excellent tool to show the world your customer service skills.
- Storytelling. Your nonprofit may not be trying to change the world. Maybe there’s just one small corner of it you want to make a little nicer. Telling stories about the good work you do in pursuit of your mission has never been easier … or cheaper.
Hopefully, we’re now all in agreement: Yes, your nonprofit needs to be using social media. But how? Should you be on Facebook? Foursquare? Flickr? What questions should you even ask when trying to make that decision? Once you’ve picked a site, how often should you use it? What should you say?
So many questions! So little time.
This book will help your nonprofit answer those questions—and provide you a framework for evaluating new ideas or social media sites as they come up. Written for the executive director of a small nonprofit, this book assumes that you have many other things on your mind than updating your nonprofit’s Facebook page. So my focus is on providing a road map for using social media effectively in a way that will scale with your organization’s staffing levels and integrate with what you already do, from an executive director who’s been there.
Most of my professional career has been in nonprofit fundraising, marketing, and management. That experience has come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve worked in fundraising for a large multimillion dollar nonprofit; run marketing initiatives for another; and led two nonprofits: an art-house movie theater and a small civic nonprofit.
But I have a “social” story as well, and it eventually intersects with my professional life.
One year, my dad, my wife, and I made a New Year’s resolution to go to every park in my hometown of Tacoma, Washington. We took pictures, discovered new neighborhoods we hadn’t visited before and, in general, learned a whole lot about our community. I thought that others might like to share in the experience, so I started a blog to chronicle the parks we saw, posting photos and our short reviews.
I was hooked. After I’d finished blogging about the parks, I started blogging about other things I liked: movies, travel, random bits of news. This was still very early in the social media days—not everyone had started blogging yet—and it was still rather novel. I kept at it, and my experience was enough that in 2006 I started writing on the side for a popular “hyperlocal” site in Tacoma that covered community news. Eventually I became a partner in that business and worked with a small team to produce great blog content for thousands of daily readers.
I saw the potential of social media for the nonprofits I led too. I did everything I could to increase their visibility on social media. At the nonprofit art-house movie theater, I launched a blog and signed up the staff as the bloggers to review movies—patrons always wanted to know “what’s good this week” and this was a perfect way to tell them. At the small civic nonprofit, I launched a Twitter account and live-tweeted our programs such as political debates and forums on major issues. By showing people what they were missing, we made them interested in attending another program in the future.
Things came full circle in 2011, when I ran for public office. I campaigned to be a commissioner for Metro Parks Tacoma—the very park board that oversaw all the parks I’d visited and blogged about so many years before. That’s when, personally speaking at least, my dedication to social media paid off. The relationships I’d formed online and the energy I’d put into posting about my love of Tacoma and its parks meant that when I was running for election, I already had a significant base of people who had heard of me and knew my passion for parks. As a result, my online appeals asking people to give to the campaign were surprisingly effective. Because I had put in the time.
Done right, social media can help your organization (and you) in a hundred different ways. My election story is a small example, but I hope it serves to illuminate the larger message:
If you care about something—like the mission of your nonprofit—you should share that passion with people online, and I promise you it will spread.
In 2009, I wrote The Little Book of Gold: Fundraising for Small (And Very Small) Nonprofits. The book is a guide to basic fundraising principles as they apply to small nonprofits with shoestring budgets. To share the different techniques and processes, I decided to tell it as a story. So I created “Linda,” the executive director of the Smallville Historical Society in Smallville, USA.
In my experience, stories are always more interesting and memorable than just a list of steps (although we’ll have a few of those too). So we’re going to stick with Linda’s story and follow her first foray into social media.
Since we last saw her, Linda has had a few successful years of fundraising using practical and professional techniques. The budget of the Historical Society has stabilized thanks to her good work, and she’s been able to expand the hours at the society’s historic pioneer cabin and increase off-site education, such as more visits to elementary schools.
And yet … why does she feel that 9 out of 10 people she runs into still have never heard of the Historical Society?
Linda has a tight marketing budget, and a lot of it was already committed. What can she do to get the word out about the Historical Society and the pioneer cabin? We’re about to find out.
Thanks for reading!