Making SocialNetworksWork for YourOrganizationBrought to you by FundRaising Success, a Target Marketing Group Publication. www.FundRaisingSuccessMag.com
Making Social Networks Work for Your OrganizationSocial networking? That’s that Facebook thing, right? Who needs it? It’s a world for kids, and your donors are all older, wellinto their 50s. Right?Wrong. On a few levels. First off, as of July 2009, there were more than 6 million users on Facebook older than 55, with totalgrowth of 513.7 percent in the previous six months alone. That makes your main donor demographic (or close to it) thefastest-growing Facebook user segment. (By the way, we got that figure from a status update by one of our “friends” on — youguessed it — Facebook.)Plus, your donors are aging, and unless they know something the rest of us don’t, they won’t be with us (or you) forever. If youaren’t at least starting a conversation with the younger set — and yes, that means all the way down to Gen Y and younger —your fundraising program could hit a wall sooner than you care to think.Facebook isn’t all there is to social media. There’s also Twitter, MySpace and YouTube; blogging; and myriad other opportunitiesfor engaging donors, potential donors and other supporters via the Internet. Can it be daunting? Sure, especially to organizationswhere time and money are at a premium.But is it worth the time and effort? Absolutely. Engaging supporters online is more than just a good idea. It’s an absolutenecessity these days, and that doesn’t look to be changing any time soon.“Online outreach is a cost-effective and efficient way to reach people at a time when we’re all low on resources,” says Network forGood’s Katya Andresen, who writes the To the Point column for FundRaising Success, maintains Katya’s Non-Profit MarketingBlog at nonprofitmarketingblog.com and is the author of the book “Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to SellJust Causes.”“You have to make it happen because it’s a way to find new constituencies and reach a new, younger generation of donors,” shesays. “Because giving up control of the message and having a conversation can strengthen your relationship with the peoplewho support you. And if none of that moves you, remember that people tend to donate more money online.”Still not convinced? Consider this scenario. It’s hypothetical, but it’s happening every day across all sectors: A worried motherbrings her child home from the doctor’s office with a disturbing diagnosis. Her friends are there to offer support, but they don’tknow much about the disease. Mom Googles it and gets thousands of results. The ones that interest her the most are links tothe Web site of an organization that specializes in the disease; two stories from the national media; a handful of online supportgroups for patients and their families; a general health Web site with online communities dedicated to the disease; and one sitefocused exclusively on a heartsick father’s negative experience with an operator at one nonprofit’s support line.The people who are affected by your mission are talking about you. Your donors and supporters are talking about you. Andthe people who don’t like you all that much are talking about you, too. If you aren’t involved in those conversations, whereverthey’re taking place, you’re missing out on valuable opportunities for constituent care, donor engagement, friendraising and,in some cases, damage control.It’s a complex dance with a lot of partners, and in this day and age of instant gratification and immediate feedback, no nonprofitcan afford to be a wallflower.Fortunately, much of this chatter is going on online. Consider it the cyber water cooler or virtual cocktail party. And eventhough — despite the common misconception — online communications aren’t free, they are a lot less expensive and a lotmore immediate than other forms of outreach, like direct mail. Online offers a ton of opportunities for organizations toconnect with donors and other supporters, including blogs; message boards; and social-networking sites such as MySpace,Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, etc. If you’re not already engaging them, you’re kind of late to the game.“Larger organizations and those with very social-media-oriented audiences have been investing in staff here for the past coupleof years,” says Sarah Durham, who writes the Web Watch column for FundRaising Success and is principal and founder offundraising consultancy Big Duck. “If you’re not proactively monitoring the buzz online about your organization, you’resticking your head in the sand and pretending the world isn’t there. If people are talking about your work and your issuesonline, you should be there.”
Many organizations, especially those entrenched in a static modus operandi when it comes to outreach, seem to be put off bythe language surrounding social media and other e-communications. Or many think their audiences are too old to respondwell.But don’t worry, no matter where you put your message, this is still a matter of communications, pure and simple. It’s whatyou’ve been doing all along; there are just a few new bells and whistles to wrap your brain around.“Word-of-mouth marketing has historically been the most powerful way to engage people with your brand, and social marketingis really word-of-mouth marketing at its core,” says Atul Tandon, former senior vice president of donor engagement at WorldVision U.S. and current executive director of International Network and executive vice president of investor relations at theUnited Way. “It is a relational way to engage the communities that support your brand and mission.”Fundraising? Not yetSites like MySpace, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are not truly viable for fundraising. Sorry — they just aren’t. Sure, somedonations might trickle in as a result of having a presence there — and certainly President Obama’s campaign went a long waytoward changing things — but generally, it would be foolhardy to divert resources from things like direct mail and e-mail to tryto raise a significant amount of money from your organization’s social-networking pages. For now, at least.Rather, think of these sites as engagement devices, or brand-building opportunities.“Social media is not a large source of direct donations [at World Vision U.S.],” Tandon says. “Social media builds brand,awareness and credibility. It is halfway between a relational tool and a mass-marketing tool. It creates one-to-one connectionsand dialogues, but those dialogues can go much farther, [and have] wider impact, than those one-to-one relationships.”Kim Cubine, principal and senior vice president at fundraising agency Adams Hussey & Associates, agrees: “The ROI would behorrible. It would require too much staff time and show too little results to be worth it.”That said, no one has written off social networks as an entrance to the donor pipeline entirely. It’s just a matter of time. Andthe signs are there.“We find that if a donor is engaged in our online community, their average gift is 50 percent higher than a donor who is onlyresponding through direct mail,” says Roy Jones, director of development at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.Kenneth Grunke, director of individual and major giving at Pillars, a social-services organization with locations throughoutIllinois, definitely sees the potential, explaining: “Starting the conversation about a charity or cause is usually how we seeprospects become donors. To us, it’s no different than a current donor mentioning to one of their friends, who isn’t a currentdonor, about the program and that individual eventually becomes interested enough to want more information.”That interest, one would hope, eventually leads to a donation.It takes timeEven if you aren’t trying to fundraise via social-networking sites, just having a presence there does require resources. That’swhere a lot of organizations seem to go wrong — underestimating the time and effort it takes to maintain a significant,consistent presence in this world. Blogs have to be updated regularly. Message boards must be monitored for off-topic, off-coloror other inappropriate remarks. Comments and messages require responses. Sounds a little like child’s play, but it’s prettyserious business.Ideally, a nonprofit would have at least one person whose job, eight hours a day, would be monitoring blogs, message boardsand profiles, etc. But what are the chances of that happening at your organization?More likely, the work will be divided among a number of staffers, or even more likely than that, one or two people will do it intheir “off ” hours.Durham says social-network updating is a great way to give capable volunteers an important role within your organization— “as long as you trust them to draw the line where you would,” she adds.A practical approachAt this point, some of you are now shaking in your boots even more than before you started to read this paper.To calm your nerves, we’re offering these straightforward tips on finding a place for your organization in the virtual world. Let’sstart with a basic, six-point plan that Newtwork for Good’s Andresen talked about recently in her To the Point column.
First off, a simple definition: “All that social-media stuff is simply people using the Internet to 1) be seen and heard; and 2)connect with each other.”“That’s it,” Andresen says. “And that’s as basic and human as you can get. Social media is about the social, not the media.”According to Andresen, social networkers want a platform for personal expression (think a MySpace page), and they want toconnect with others (think online “friends”. So do people (including your kids) who love instant messaging. Bloggers andvloggers want a platform for personal expression, and they like connecting with people who care about their content. (In caseyou’ve been living off the grid for the last few years, blogs are personal, online journals/columns. Vlogs are video blogs.)Connecting, and being seen and heard are the needs that drive social media, and they should drive your online outreachstrategy, as well.“This should be a relief to all of us who think we lack the technological chops to successfully participate in the online world.You don’t need to be under the age of 20 or an IT director; you just need to grasp what makes it work,” Andresen says, offeringthis six-step way to make that happen.1. Stop! If your executive director is commanding you to start a blog or get a Facebook presence today, stop right there. Spenda bit of time thinking more strategically. You want to figure out who you’re trying to reach online, where they are and how tobest communicate with them. If you’re starting a new blog (and there already are tens of millions of blogs), you want to be surethere’s a case for it.2. Look and listen! The beauty of the Internet is you can quickly find the people online that are predisposed to your cause. In aworld where there are active online communities of people fascinated by medieval pottery or support groups for people struckby lightning, there surely is a constituency that loves your cause somewhere out there. Find those people, watch where they arecongregating and listen to what they’re saying. This is very easy to do by setting up simple alerts so you’ll be notified any timesomeone mentions your organization or anything related to your cause online. Check out www.google.com/alerts, and watchlists on www.technorati.com.3. See and hear! Start acknowledging what potential supporters are saying. Post friendly comments on their blogs withconstructive thoughts and useful information, openly identifying who you and your organization are. Bloggers love those kindof comments. They like having an audience! Do the same on online communities, MySpace pages, etc. Give online communitiesuseful tools and interesting content from your organization. Be generous.4. Choose! At this stage, you’ll have a better sense of whether there’s a need for you to blog or participate more formally in asocial network. Be strategic about concentrating your efforts in a few high-yield areas.5. Be easy to find! Part of social networking is going out and connecting with people. Also make sure your organization’s Website and social-network pages are easy to find so people can connect to you. Be sure your Web site can be easily located viasearch engines. If you decide to have a social-networking page, give it an obvious name. Don’t be so clever you don’t show upin search.6. Ask! Once you have relationships with supporters on social media, give them different ways to help you — not just by givingmoney, but by telling their stories, spreading the word and expressing other opinions about your issue in their own words. Turnthe conversation into collaboration for social change.“Give up control,” Andresen says. “You never had it anyway.”The do’s and don’tsNo matter how you choose to engage people online, you need a plan. It’s not something that, despite appearances, “just happens.”Maybe your teenager can get away with updating his status every six weeks or inundating friends with stream-of-consciousnesstirades, but you — as an organization — can’t.Adams Hussey’s Cubine offers these tips for connecting online:1. Map out an engagement timeline. Plan on daily updates, blog entries, and photo or video posts, etc., perhaps, for example,around an important issue on Capitol Hill or about a big event sponsored by the organization.2. Create a contact strategy. Divide responsibility daily or every other day between two or three key staffers to determine whowill do what and when. For example, staffer A checks and responds to postings between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., and staffer Bchecks and responds to postings between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.
3. Be prepared. Trying to think of something witty to post or comment on is sometimes difficult. Treat these posts just like ane-mail series or direct-mail letter, and plan on regular discussion topics and other elements.Cubine also suggests identifying one or two key bloggers in your mission area, nurturing relationships with them and keepingthem updated with news from your organization in the hopes that they in turn will talk more about you in their blogs.Christina Johns, senior manager of direct-response television, telemarketing and social media at the International Fellowshipof Christians and Jews, is a 20-something fundraising pro who lives and breathes social networking as part of both her job andher personal life. She offers these tips for creating and maintaining traffic to your social-networking sites.1. Repurpose. You probably have a ton of material that would be great to post on social-networking sites. If available, one goodresource is your organization’s e-newsletter. Many times there are brief snippets or intros to articles that work well in socialmedia because they’re short and usually include photos of some kind.Another option is scanning brochures or direct-mail appeals as PDFs and making them available for download on your social-media sites. This works really well with educational materials. Even your annual report is a viable piece of content to keep theflow of information moving. Make it available to download, tweet the link and have it direct back to your official Web site fordownload. Many marketing efforts can be repurposed, tweaked and abridged to allow repurposing on social networks.2. Conversation and contribution. Everyone gets writer’s block. When this happens, it sometimes helps to find outside stimuli.Odds are you aren’t the only organization of your kind. Visiting Web sites and blogs of other organizations that do similar workmight help spark an idea for an original blog post of your own. Commenting on other sites also comes in handy.“When I’m suffering from writer’s block, it helps to just read other authors’ or organizations’ blogs and comment on theirentries,” Johns says. “Reading someone else’s work gets the mind moving and starts a dialogue. Some of my favorite writingshave been spawned from comment threads in blogs where alternative viewpoints create an atmosphere for breeding newideas.”3. Create video. Video is a great tool to have when developing social-media sites. The kind of video that works best in socialmedia (luckily) is the “homemade,” original, get-to-the-point kind. Creating this kind of video doesn’t take a lot of work, andit can be easily put together using basic programs like Windows Movie Maker. By linking photos and adding a soundtrack andvoice-over, you can create a video short perfect for YouTube with little to no video editing experience.“Video like this is a good way to tell a story of a special project or campaign in a brief but powerful way,” Johns explains. “Keepan open mind. Many very simple things your organization does have potential to make effective online videos.“For example, let’s say your organization is doing a big clothing drive for the homeless. Take a video camera (or a digital camerathat doubles as a video camera) with you and record as you load up the truck with all the coats, shoes and sweaters collected totake to a homeless shelter,” she says. “Have a member of the organization talk about the difference these clothes make duringthe winter as you load up the truck. This has all the earmarks of a great YouTube video. By showing the clothing being loadedinto a truck or homeless shelter, you show viewers the need and tell them how they can help.“Finally, and most importantly, having a narrator explain why this clothing drive is so important gives the bullet-pointexplanation that tells the story in under five minutes. Don’t forget to always end the video with how the viewer can help and alink to your Web site,” Johns concludes.4. Ownership. Your organization’s Web site and social-media sites are different, so it would make sense that the content usedon them also differs. A video made on Windows Media Player might work on YouTube, but not on your organization’s officialWeb site. It’s important to share across the organization what videos you’re using, but what is good for one is not necessarilygood for all in terms of online placement. This also goes for linking to other sites.“Social media is a great place to find and pass along relevant information. You don’t always have to own the material to post it,but you should always credit where you found it,” Johns cautions. “Posting a link to someone else’s original content (as opposedto posting the work in its entirety) is the way to go to avoid copyright infringements. If Newsweek does a great article on globalwarming and you work for an environmental agency, tweeting a link to the article gives you an additional resource to keep yourvisitors interested.” (Tweeting, by the way, is posting a 140-character or fewer message or status update on Twitter.)5. Speed. Social networks are ever-changing. In order to keep up with the never-ending flow of information, set up a processinternally to allow for quick approval and delivery of information to be available for use. Making sure there is a clear and definedprocess for the receipt and approval of posting new videos, photos and stories will help expedite the process of updating allnetworking sites.
Some pitfallsEven with a plan, there are many pitfalls that make it a tough road for organizations venturing into the world ofe-communications. Aside from underestimating the amount of resources needed to maintain relationships (including stafftime and IT investments), others are:Trying to control the conversation on message boards and online communities too aggressively. “[Online communications]tend to be decentralized and organic in nature, so the nonprofit must be comfortable with not controlling the message. Ifan organization becomes obsessed with controlling the message, they’ll end up cutting off the conversation and alienatingpotential supporters,” United Way’s Tandon says.Using blogs to bombard audiences with random or off-topic content that undermines the organization’s credibility. “If youuse [blogs or social-networking pages] for work, be careful what you say, do and post,” Big Duck’s Durham says, warning thatorganization staff should avoid blurring the lines between personal and professional use. Don’t undermine your organization’scredibility by posting pictures of your development associate’s wild party last weekend, for instance.Not reading comments/messages carefully and responding thoughtfully and promptly. Responding to comments andmessages both on your own site and those run by others keeps the conversation going and underscores your organization’sinterest in the community. Pillars’ Grunke likens “commenting back” to making a prompt gift acknowledgment to a donor.“A prompt greeting and invitation for conversation is important,” he says. “It doesn’t just start the dialogue, but it also lets the‘friend’ know that you are interested in their interest.”This is equally important — if not more so — when you see negative comments about your organization. Letting a negativecomment go by without a response is, in many users’ minds, tantamount to admitting that the negative comment is accurate.Or at least that you don’t care enough to pay attention.Creating a blog, then not updating it regularly. “Blogs need to be changed daily, if not more often. If not, people stop visiting,”Liberty University’s Jones says. “The more often you update, the more viral your blog becomes. Just remember — you arecreating a dinosaur to feed. The bigger it gets, the harder it is to feed.”Using a blog, profile or message board as just another public-relations vehicle. “The dialogues need to be authentic,” Tandonsays, “not just corporate-speak. People want to hear from an authentic voice, the person(s) behind the brand, doing the work,making things happen at a grassroots level or receiving help from the nonprofit.”Finally, Tandon cautions that while they shouldn’t control the conversation, organizations can’t just let their online presencerun on autopilot.“Ownership needs to be clearly defined for each social entity, or it will quickly become an empty shell or, with too many[voices], a cacophony of noise,” he says. “The social-media community will realize that quickly and stop returning.”But will it fly?Finally, many savvy fundraisers are finding themselves ready push their organizations into the social-media frey. However,they’re finding reluctance on the part of their executive directors or other higher-ups.In a recent To the Point column, Andresen talked about ways to work with the powers that be at your organization to ease theminto the idea of social networking.Among her suggestions:1. Don’t talk about the value of social media in general. Instead, talk about the value of social media in regard to how it willhelp your organization reach its goals. “Your objective should be to show what you want to achieve for your boss — with Web2.0 being the means, not the end,” she says.2. Depersonalize social media. Make the conversation about your target audience’s preferences rather than a philosophical tugof war between you and your boss. “A little audience research is great fodder for advancing your agenda. Show how many ofyour donors already use Flickr, or share e-mails from supporters asking how they can find you on Facebook. If you can showdemand from existing supporters — or interest from new ones — you’ll have a better case,” she explains.3. Get your boss into the loop. Set up Google Alerts and TweetBeep for your boss, so she or he can see that there already aremany discussions about your organization online. Once you do, it’ll become clear that your organization no longer controlsyour message online. Plus, it’ll be hard for him or her not to want to join in.
4. Set some ground rules. When should you react to what you’re hearing? Who reacts? How? What do you do when people aresaying bad things about you online? “Lots of questions will be raised,” Andresen says, “and answering them with policies youcreate with your boss will do much to dispel any fear of experimenting with Web 2.0 — as well as prevent misunderstandingsthat can derail your efforts down the road.”5. Start clear and small. By now, you might have a tiny bit of support for doing something on Web 2.0 — or at least monitoringonline conversations. If you’re going to start an initiative, make it a small one with clear goals. What are you going to do, andhow will you measure success? “Make sure you and your boss are on the same page with the goal, because ‘raise money’ vs.‘build awareness’ vs. ‘grow our community’ all have very different measures of success,” she explains. “The other advantage ofstarting clear and small is you’ll avoid spending excessive amounts of time or resources on your project, thus enhancing itsROI.” Finally, Andresen advises that you share every little bit of progress, and give your boss credit for it.“The more your boss is part of the journey and congratulated for the progress, the better off you’ll be.” She says, adding onefinal caveat: “Don’t think you have all the answers. This isn’t a crusade; it’s a learning experience for everyone. Your boss’srecalcitrance might be well-founded. Make sure there is a good case for your initiative, and if it does fail, share and learn fromwhat went wrong. There is no shame in gaining knowledge from mistakes.”One of the earliest adopters of social media in the nonprofit sector was none other than the venerable American Cancer Society,which has been engaging supporters online for years and even holds one of its biggest fundraising events — the Relay forLife — both in the real world and in the virtual-reality world of Second Life.In the June issue of FundRaising Success, Managing Editor Abny Santicola examines ACS’ online strategy and success, andtalks to Chief Mission Delivery Officer Terry Music about how the organization went about jumping into the world of socialmedia.One of the most important points Music made in that conversation was about organization leadership and how constantcommunication was key in getting buy-in from the top.“Beginning in 2002, we’ve brought the leadership of the American Cancer Society along very well in realizing that the customeris going to drive the decision making when it comes to marketing,” Music says. “And [ACS leadership has] never been shy aboutthe new avenues, particularly as we explain to them that this is where the new world order is, and this is where people reallyare gathering.“It’s been a relatively easy sell,” she concludes.No one is guaranteeing the same in your organization, of course, but the time has come to start or expand your presence onsocial-media sites. With these tips and a little time and patience, it can add a whole new level of engagement opportunities andbecome an invaluable part of your overall marketing and fundraising strategy.