Insights Into Developing a Social Media Strategy

Most of us haven’t yet figured out how to best utilize social media for our organizations.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t as we build a closer connection with our constituents.  In yesterday’s Nten webinar, How to Develop a Social Networking Strategy for your Organization, Nten’s Holly Ross provided an in depth review of how she has used social networks to interact with the Nten community, joined by Jeff Patrick of Common Knowledge.

Earlier this week, I presented at Nten’s Long Island 501 Tech Club on Social Networking for IT Managers, where I tried to answer questions I often hear from nonprofits that are struggling with how to enter this new environment.

For a perspective from another organization, read Beth Kanter’s blog entry on the Independent Sector, where she discusses the value of using small pilots to get started.

One particularly interesting takeaway from Holly & Jeff’s presentation: the information about constituents that a nonprofit can derive from engaging in conversations with constituents on social networks would normally cost considerable time and money to obtain.  This data helps you to understand what your supporters are most interested in so you can communicate more effectively.

In addition, take the time to understand how to best utilize various social networking sites and make sure that you seek to have a conversation, not simply blast out information about your organization.

For more insights about Nten’s development of a social media strategy, register for next Friday’s follow-up webinar.  And if you think that your organization is too small and can’t possibly devote the resources for social media, consider that Nten has done a great job with a staff of only 7.   From what I’ve seen, small nonprofits actually can do as well or better as larger organizations since they are often better able to experiment and shift gears if their first efforts don’t succeed.

P.S. Happy birthday John Lennon – he would have been 70 today.

It’s Not Just the Organization Web Site Anymore / Thoughts on the ‘Death’ of Email

Managing an organization’s web presence no longer focuses only on the main web site, which many constituents may never visit.  An online presence consists of:

  • main web site
  • organizational blogs
  • Facebook cause / page
  • twitter posts
  • email marketing messages
  • AND what constituents are saying about organization in their own blogs, Facebook pages, twitter posts etc.

When I seek to learn more about a nonprofit that I’m not already familiar with, I use the main web site only as a starting point.  It’s usually much easier to get a feel for a nonprofit’s culture and philosophies by reading its blogs (if it has them!) and social networking sites.

But as many of my colleagues have noted, it’s vitally important to listen to what others are saying about your organization.  This will tell you much more than if you only rely on your web analytics to learn which pages on your web site are attracting the most traffic.  Even if you aren’t able to generate regular content on Facebook, Twitter etc., participating in conversations will show you how effective your outreach is and whether you need to tweak your marketing efforts.

Social networking may not be for everyone (yet), but keeping abreast of what others are saying should be part of every nonprofit’s strategy.  If you are able to maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter, make sure the messaging is appropriate for each forum.  Simply replicating the same content everywhere isn’t the right approach.

Addendum 10/12/09 on the growing importance of social networking  – Why email no longer rules in online communications.   Blue State Digital disagrees.  I concur – it’s always best to use a combination of approaches and email clearly still deserves a prominent place at the table.

Addendum 10/29/09 – Many new thoughts on while email may be changing, email is not dead

Are Nonprofits Effectively Using New Social Media Tools?

This week has featured a flurry of comments about whether nonprofits are taking advantage of new social media tools such as Twitter.  Seth Godin says no but the Chronicle of Philanthropy gives several examples to  show how some nonprofits are doing things right.   See also social media guru Beth Kanter’s attempt to reconcile the two sides.

My take: smaller organizations such as Charity:Water will continue to take the lead on showing larger nonprofits how to raise funds and engage constituents in a variety of new ways.  Larger organizations are still trying to deal with what Clay Shirky‘s observation during his year’s  Nonprofit Technology Conference: nonprofits have already lost control of their branding and messaging .

Here’s a newly released report on How Nonprofits are Using Web-based Technologies to Reach Their Goals.   Not surprisingly, many organizations are still experimenting to discover what works.  On the for profit side, some companies are using outside firms to manage their Twitter and Facebook presence;  my take – social media works best if it’s coming directly from organization staff.

Tips from an ePhilanthropy Pioneer

eTapestry introduced their ‘software as a service’ product in 1999, long before many others realized the benefits of a web based interface.  (eTapestry was acquired by Blackbaud in August 2007.)  This week I had the opportunity to attend a session given by CEO Jay Love who offered some interesting insights.

Social media is on everyone’s radar lately;  Jay described the value of monitoring comments about your company / brand and described a recent experience where eTapestry was able to respond quickly to a negative tweet by a customer.  Read about the happy ending.

It’s often frustrating when our donors stop giving, but sometimes the problem is hidden when the number of new donors more than make up the difference.  If we can find ways to re-engage lapsed donors, what a difference this can make in our list growth!  Here’s some recent Guidestar tips on how to reduce donor attrition rates.

Two important questions to ask:

  1. How do you welcome new subscribers?  (Common Knowledge has also done considerable work on developing a welcome series of communications.)
  2. How do you manage relationship after opt-in?

Jay described the importance of having a donor database what everyone uses to document constituent interactions, also detailing a personal experience where he is considering discontinuing support for a charity which ‘asked the same questions’ that he had already answered in a past meeting.  In my experience, organizations that have a fully functional CRM often have difficulty getting staff to use it.   In response to my question,  Jay recommended that nonprofits demonstrate that those who are the biggest ‘note takers’ are the most successful in fundraising – and publicize this information to all staff.

Another point which may seem obvious but isn’t always applied – make sure you direct constituents to specific landing pages so you can track where they came from, not to your general home page.

For more ideas, visit Jay’s blog as well as Blackbaud’s NetWits ThinkTank blog.   To learn more about social media, visit the Gear Up for Giving training offered by the Case Foundation.

Report from Social Good Conference

Yesterday’s Social Good Conference was the final event of the Summer of Social Good,  benefiting four nonprofit organizations which were featured at yesterday’s event: Livestrong, Humane Society, Oxfam America and WWF.  The program offered many examples of how we can use online tools to further our missions, particularly social media.

Facebook’s Randi Zuckenberg suggested that to fully take advantage of Facebook’s latest capabilities such as their Insights Tool, nonprofits setup a page, not just a group.  She also suggested creating videos to feature on the page.  It’s not so important how many fans your page has rather how many of them are engaged with your cause.  Read more at Wall Street Journal.

Global Giving and Causecast offered brief presentations to show many ways constituents can be encouraged to support causes beyond making direct donations.

What have been the most successful online fundraising campaigns: Twestival ($250,000), America’s Giving Challenge ($340,000) and Causes Birthday Wishes ($ 2 million in 6 months!).

Andy Ridley offered a stirring review of the success of the worldwide Earth Hour initiave, reminding us to ‘let people make their own messages’ to promote your cause.

Oxfam America extensively uses social media because “it’s the best way to reach supporters quickly” and “allows for instant response / feedback.”  Bob Ferguson offered these suggestions on how to help Oxfam:

  • follow us on Twitter and retweet our posts
  • join our Facebook fan page and repost
  • sign up for our e-advocacy list
  • volunteer
  • tell others about Oxfam

Humane Society has made a strong commitment to ephilanthropy and was an early adopter of social media.  They have 25 (!) staff in online communications, 6 which focus on social media.   Everyone in the organization “gets it” – their CEO is tech savvy and blogs regularly.  They’ve raised over $400,000 in Facebook Causes (still doubt that this platform can be a significant contributor to fundraising revenue?).  While brand monitoring “can be very time consuming,” Twitter offers the best way to keep in touch with what others are saying about your organization.   Take advantage of tools such as Tweetdeck and Google Alerts.

WWF explained their social media strategy as a way to build community, not just do fundraising.  They’ve also worked with MobileCommons to build a mobile subscriber list and were recently featured in the Facebook Gift Center.  They’ve also built relationships using eBay Giving Works and SocialVibe.

LiveStrong described their recent Global Cancer Summit, which was promoted primarily in Facebook and Twitter, and attracted 4500 online attendees.  Their goal: “make those online feel like they are at the Summit and are participating and learning.”

Beth Kanter has long offered a wonderful blog on social media;  her in person presentation was equally stimulating.  Beth suggested we use three R’s to connect with our constituents: relationship building (don’t just connect when asking for money), rewards and reciprocity.  She also used her personal connection with Cambodian children to demonstrate the power of establishing an emotional connection with story telling.  Read Beth’s comments on conference.

Drew Olanoff, recently diagnosed with cancer, offered a stirring description of how he’s created Blame Drew’s Cancer to promote Livestrong.

All for Good‘s Jonathan Greenblatt described how his organization is using open source to transform volunteerism and to engage all Americans in service.

My take aways from the day:

  1. Organizations like HumaneSociety are succeeding online because everyone in the nonprofit is involved, not just a ‘department’ which has been charged with the role of promoting and monitoring their online brand
  2. It’s important to support organizations that have charitable goals.  My wife has a large shoes collection, but we’ve never known about Tom’s Shoes.
  3. While online connections are important, so are face to face conversations.  Some attendees I tried to speak with at the conference seemed so involved with their computers / phones that I felt that any attempt to speak to them would not be welcome.
  4. We need to all find a way to make volunteering part of our lives.  I’ve slipped a bit and will do my best to rectify this by year-end
  5. Use social media tools to engage with constituents, not just build a large list.  The organizations profiled above have set a wonderful example of us to follow.

The end of the event featured a surprise ‘announcement’:  Mashable’ COO Adam Schwartz, who hosted the event, proposed marriage to Sharon Feder on stage.  We all cheered and she said yes.

What’s New in ePhilanthropy

Usability testing is a great way to find out how well your web site is really meeting the needs of your audience.  Take a look at Userfly and how Beaconfire is helping Nten to redesign its web site.

Often projects fail because of a breakdown in communication.  No Surprises: The Key to Good Communication offers suggestions on how to keep all stakeholders on the same page.

Need a general list of online services?  Try 100 Online Tools for Non-Profits.

Beth’s Blog consistently offers wonderful material, even when she’s not the author – 4 Keys to Building a Successful Nonprofit Web Site.

Blackbaud is offering a good review of online strategies in a webinar series later this month.  Registration and details.

Some great Nten offerings coming up in September, offering an online version of events usually held live:

Personally, my wife and I are finally moving into our new home Monday, Aug. 17 after living in temporary quarters for the last month.  We’re looking forward to entering the next stage of our lives together.

How to Attend a Conference – Web 2.0 Style

This week I’ve participated in the International Fundraising eConference which has demonstrated a completely new way to learn more about ephilanthropy strategies.  There is no physical location;  all sessions are online and are recorded so that if you can’t attend in person, you can watch/listen whenever it is convenient.  There are attendees from all over the world.  Online discussion boards have been created to continue a dialog beyond the sessions, which have been offered at multiple days/times this week.  While I miss the opportunity to personally meet many of my peers, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to participate at my convenience.

This morning I attended an excellent workshop on Community Fundraising led by Bryan Miller of Cancer Research UK.  He offered many examples of how we can help our supporters to help our nonprofits by engaging in their own fundraising initiatives.   In response to my question on how traditional nonprofits can maintain some level of ‘control,’  he suggested that we provide quality content to describe what our organizations are doing, which constituents can then use to ask for support.  Bryan also suggested that we seek out who’s already committed to our causes (e.g. look for your organization’s name on Facebook to find out how many pages have already been setup) and help them to use social media tools to spread the word and raise money.

Bryan also introduced the concept of crowdfunding, offering many examples of innovative event and cause specific fundraising at sites such as Kiva, Global Giving and a soon to be launched See the Difference.   Anyone can do fundraising now;  you don’t need your own web site, you don’t need strong technical skills.  In today’s difficult economic times, you can help someone save their home using Small Can Be Big. He also suggested a new focus in fundraising:

  • from contact lists to communities
  • from campaigns to developing strong content
  • from campaign managers to community managers

Even a large retailer like Target, which has always been a large supporter of nonprofit causes, uses Facebook to help it choose which organizations to support.

The eConference continues through today but registrants will have access to the sessions and discussion boards for the next six months.

News From NTC: New Reports on Social Media, Donor Management Systems

During this week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, two new reports have been released:

  1. Nonprofit Social Network Survey Report by Nten, Common Knowledge and The Port shows that social networking has become an integral part of nonprofits’ online strategy.  A recent Washington Post article suggested that Facebook’s popular Causes application has not been successful in fundraising in comparison with email appeals and other more traditional ways to generate donations.   But Beth Kanter points out that the value of tools like Facebook can’t be measured only in terms of money raised.  I agree – when my marketing director recently asked me for fundraising results from our Facebook page, I pointed out that generating buzz and engaging constituents in our organization is also valuable.  Beth suggests we seek a metric to measure this.
  2. Idealware and Nten‘s Consumer’s Guide to Low Cost Donor Management Systems suggests looking at what features you need in managing your donor relationships before reviewing specific products.  Sadly, how often do our organizations go through this type of detailed evaluation before selecting a product?  Sometimes the problem isn’t the product, it’s the processes within the nonprofit and the training (or lack of training) that is provided to staff.  Make sure your database has a way to integrate with your existing systems – see my recent post on Reporting Across Multiple Systems.

Nten has also provided a way for those of who couldn’t attend NTC this year to participate online.  Make sure you take a look at Holly’s version of Beyonce’s Single Ladies.

ePhilanthropy Tips from Around the Web

Do You Really Need an Online Community – Also, do you setup your own community using a tool like Ning, or do you establish a presence on existing communities such as Facebook?  It’s important to consider your organization’s objectives, not just to keep up with other nonprofits are doing.

10 Best Web Content Practices – Are you taking the time to review content before it goes live, or are you just pushing updates through quickly so your site is ‘fresh’?

Tips for Entering Your Nonprofit Into the Social Media Environment – There’s much talk about social media, but many of us are still trying to figure out the best way to integrate these tools into our other online strategies.  For more ideas on this topic, listen to Common Knowledge webinars.

A Few Good Tools for Online Distributed FundraisingIdealware’s articles are always helpful, and this look at how to host third party fundraising is no exception.  Make sure your organization is making it simple for your supporters to raise funds through their own activities (not only the events your nonprofit plans).

Five Things We’re Forgetting When We Take Our Fundraising OnlineNetwork for Good explains how offline fundraising concepts still apply when you move onlne.

How Much eMail is Too Much – Are you overdoing a good thing?  Here’s a look at one organization that took a hard look at its email marketing frequency.

Congratulations to Holly Ross at Nten for selling out the Nonprofit Technology Conference for the first time ever – and kudos again for establishing a scholarship fund to help many of us to attend.  Happy Passover and Easter to everyone.

Staying Positive Despite Bad News All Around Us

A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article mentions that not only have many nonprofit organizations (including my own) already had to cut staff, but that worse times are ahead.   A Foundation Center forecast describes how foundations are dealing with the economic crisis.  According to this New York Times article, rising unemployment is threatening worldwide stability.  Is there any good news left?

In a recent enewsletter, usability guru Jakob Nielsen recommends email newsletters and search engine marketing as the two most cost effective Internet marketing techniques.  Network for Good’s Katye Andresen offers 5 Keys to Pulling out of the Economic Nosedive.   Commenting on Donor Digital‘s recent findings, Sue Woodward recommends that despite a slight drop in average gifts, the number of donations has so far remained steady and that nonprofits should continue to use the tools, strategies and techniques that have made your your fundraising plans successful in the past.

Fund-It offers a way to raise funds every time constituents search, adding functionality over past tools of this type such as GoodSearch and Freelanthropy.

John Kenyon offers tips for creating your 2009 online fundraising plan.  Network for Good advises on a simple way to make donating easier for donors.  Heather Mansfield offers Five Things Your Nonprofit Needs to Know About Web 2.0 Donors.

With our resources so constrained, is social media still worth the investment?  Social Velocity thinks so but this Non-Profit Tech Blog post seems to indicate that other priorities must come first.

Finally, Internet Strategy Forum founder Steve Gehlen offers the State of the Internet Executive, a synposis of a recently completed study on how differently online strategies are managed in a wide range of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations.  The updated study is now available.

Meanwhile, at my organization, while I feel fortunate to still have my job, I’m busier than ever trying to keep up.  What ways have you found to stay upbeat while so many nonprofits are struggling?