Yes, I know that I am using Facebook as a verb in the title. It’s at that level. The social medias have made an often incomprehensible imprint on our culture as a people such that it is difficult to remember what we did before their genesis. According to Huffington Post Tech blogger, Brian Honigman, Facebook’s active monthly users now total nearly 850 million people as well as 250 million photos are uploaded everyday (source: Jeff Bullas). That’s a lot of people with a lot of pictures! One more fun fact: As of 2012, 210,000 years of music have been played on Facebook (source: Gizmodo). Now that is very compelling about its size and scope!
Along with the proliferation of social media sites on the world wide web (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pintrest, Google+, YouTube, etc.), so too have there been a plethora of writings, lectures and webinars (ad nauseam) on their fundraising uses by and potential impact on the non-profit community. In addition to the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter, the advent of sites like Google+ and YouTube have made it easier than ever to promote non-profit organizations with photos and video of events and activities. Social media is a wonderful invention and can be an excellent accompaniment to a non-profit organization’s marketing or development plan but it plays a very prescribed role in the activity of fundraising.
A discussion about the role of social media in non-profits needs to be prefaced by a key concept. A non-profit organization’s website is the foundation of its on-line presence. In other words, the organization’s website is like its on-line “home-base” of operation, including a place at which visitors and supporters are able to make secure on-line donations. The website serves as a reflection of the organization’s mission in the community and communicates it’s values and philosophies to all who visit it. Sounds beautiful, right? But perhaps the single biggest problem for organizations and their websites is maintaining them. The organization’s website needs to be as current and timely as possible at all times. There is nothing worse than going to a non-profit’s website, clicking on the ‘News’ tab and finding that the latest news is from 2010. Thud! Did nothing happen since then? When potential donors – both seasoned and newcomers – feel that they are not being actively engaged in the current events of the organization by visiting the website, they may move on to other organizations that do. Typically, the management of a non-profit’s website may be a task of the development director or department; however, smaller organizations that do not have the luxury of a development staff are encouraged to select a point person within the organization to perform maintenance and update tasks on the web site on a routine basis.
The value in non-profits utilizing the power of social media to raise funds is not in all the millions they will rake in simply from being on Facebook or Twitter. Rather, the value of social media in non-profit is to bring donors to the organization’s website. That is where the real “business” of the organization happens and why it is so important that it is functional and current. The real “job” of social media like Facebook or Twitter in a non-profit organization is to generate interest in the organization and the mission, prompting the potential donor to think, “I’d really like to get involved there” or “I’d like to contribute” and subsequently leading them back to the website where they can make a contribution or volunteer. Social media can be used to inform or teach lay visitors about the mission of the organization, often in creative ways. I saw one organization place a quiz about homelessness on their Facebook page in order that visitors can test their own knowledge of the social problem. Social media can be used to highlight the organization’s partnerships with businesses and other organizations in addition to thanking them publicly. Moreover, the social medias are fun and they can and should be used to create excitement or anticipation about the organization’s activities or events – and again, take donors back to the website when they have “bought” the idea on Facebook or Twitter. If an organization holds an annual fundraising golf tournament; for example, Facebook and Twitter are very good social media to not only raise awareness of the event but also to increase the excitement and anticipation for it with strategically timed posts and tweets – and with the added result of possibly bringing more people on board!
Similar to the organization’s website, a non-profit’s social media sites need to be just as well maintained. Once a social media page or account has been established, it does a non-profit little good if it just lies out there in cyberspace. It looks like nothing happens at the organization and in some ways that can be fatal. I have followed several local non-profits on Twitter; for example, but quite honestly, I’ve lost interest in them because they never put any tweets out. They are not telling us anything about their organizations and thereby letting their presence be known by not communicating often enough. Finally, a non-profit organization’s social media is likely going to be as effective as the organization itself. The bottom line is that there needs to be substance behind the posts or tweets. In other words, when an organization is merely taking up (cyber) space just for the sake of being there and there is no real “meat” in the posts or tweets, it tends to come through. If a non-profit organization is struggling – for whatever reasons – it may be best to focus all of the organization’s resources and energy on resolving those issues before moving forward with a social media marketing plan.
The Huffington Post; Tech Blog by Brian Honigman; “100 Fascinating Social Media Statistics and Figures From 2012”, November 29, 2012. Retrieved from: