Common misconceptions about nonprofit social media

Bill Jacobs writes the best nonprofit-focused, no BS blog out there. If you are at all involved or interested in nonprofits, visit his website and subscribe.

In Bill’s most recent post about nonprofit social media use, he has three main points:

  • 1. Some nonprofits think social media will replace direct mail as the major fundraising channel and are investing heavily in it.
  • 2. Other nonprofits believe that social media is better for engagement than fundraising and are not trying to quantify its value.
  • 3. A last group of nonprofits doesn’t see value in it and is instead taking a wait and see approach.

My response:

This is the Microsoft or HTC approach: Let Apple do the innovating, and they will copy and follow. from Bill’s 3rd point.


I’d actually flip the last comparison and say that Apple is the one that sits back and waits. Interestingly enough, Microsoft (a former client) is one of the most aggressive and successful users of social media in the corporate world, and developers love them because they provide libraries, documentation, a more open platform, etc, and they also really push the boundaries of innovation. Microsoft faces many problems of course. One of them is that they are often too early to the party and aren’t able to sustain through the time when things really get going.

Regardless, it’s a common misconception that Microsoft is not innovative.

Apple waits until something has been proven a success and then jumps into the market where it sees opportunity. It obviously didn’t have the first smartphone, but it had the first iPhone, and as any iPhone owner knows (and anyone who knows an iPhone owner), iPhone owners see them not necessarily as smartphones, but as iPhones…something special, something different. If we apply this to social media, the Apple approach would be to wait and see how Dell makes money on Twitter, how Cisco uses blogging for business, how Delta does customer service, and so on, and then, they would smoothly combine all of the best practices from each of those examples into a market dominating beast.

Nonprofits could do this. Actually since I know Bill, I’d be willing to bet that he could give them some good guidance on it.

To address Bill’s first two points, there is a popular, and oft derided quote, that basically goes, “What’s the ROI of social media? What’s the ROI of your mother?” Basically, the person that said that was trying to make a point that the quantitative measurement doesn’t matter. If you ask me, that’s pure horse doody.

Social media metrics matter.

Sure, they might sometimes be fuzzy metrics. And other times, they might be variations of mainstream metrics that we can’t match up to, for example, magazine CPM apples to apples, but it’s important to have measurements like reach, frequency, amplification, and so on that give you at least directional insight.

In my opinion, there are two big benefits to social media: retention and awareness. Credit for consolidating the first in my mind goes to Jay Baer. Credit for the second goes to the SEO world.

Nonprofits, social media MIGHT bring in donations, but it’s unlikely to be much.

Social media will however help you to retain and upgrade your current donors. Take this scenario for example.

I might donate to the American Brain Tumor Association┬ábecause some of my family members have unfortunately passed early as a result of brain tumors. Without this organization doing anything, I already have feelings for them. They don’t have to do anything to make me care…at least at first. When I visit their website and donate, receive a direct mail piece, or get an email, I notice that they’re on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Since I’m active there, I follow and like them.

If nonprofits focus on making sure their audience is engaged and frequently reminded that they are there, they succeed.

Why? Because they might already have me on their direct mail or email recipient list. They don’t need to solicit me. Social media offers nonprofits the ability to build feelings of compassion, love, and friendship in the minds of their donors. All they have to do is cultivate that, and tomorrow or the next day or the next, when I check my mailbox or my email and see that I have something from them and another organization, I’m much more likely to at least respond positively to their message, if not also give.

Think about it in terms of person relationships. Your friend posts things that are actually interesting to you to Facebook now and then. Every time they post, it’s not a conversation. It’s one way communication, but if you enjoy their status updates, like seeing pictures of their kids, and care to know how their vacation went, you feel closer to them than if you did not have that channel. Then, let’s say they and another friend come to you some day asking for help. Which one are you more likely to assist first? The one whose statuses you’ve seen and had a positive response to or the one you haven’t seen or have maybe gotten less information from?

Social media is an effective, but small, channel for building awareness.

Social media can be effective at building awareness because of two things:

  • 1. Influencers, taste makers, and social hubs (bees/butterflies) live in social media by and large. If you are there, you might be able to connect with a person that can influence their friends, their business, or any other group.
  • 2. Social media affects search results, and nearly every internet user uses Google, Bing, and the like.

Nonprofits that optimize their social media activity by improving their Edgerank scores, putting out content that their audience responds to, and paying attention to topics, times, and days of the week that people react to them have a better chance of showing up in search results, getting listed in the news feed, and being recommended to others than nonprofits that do not pay attention to how and when people respond and instead just post because someone gave them a posting schedule with no logical reasoning behind it.

“Post at least once each [insert time frame].” *shudder*


2 thoughts on “Common misconceptions about nonprofit social media

  1. Thanks, Abbott. Yeah, I think of it a bit like people saying that b2b marketing is just as much about people as b2c marketing. Just because you’re an organization doesn’t mean that your constituents don’t think of you as an entity…much like their friends are entities. While it’s hard to build a relationship with a logo, it’s still possible to develop possible feelings toward a brand that engages you and creates/shares content that means something to you.

    Thanks again, Abbott!

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