I need to start this post off by confessing something first.  The title of this post is Fundraising Best Practice Series: Volume 5, Social Media.  But you need to know that I make no claim of social media expertise.  I’m not a social media expert, guru, sherpa or anything else.

I’m primarily a direct response fundraiser, but I happen to understand the role and value of social media as a tool for fundraising and communication in the nonprofit setting.  So it is through that lens that you’ll see my recommendations on this topic.  I look forward to your comments and feedback.

Focus on the message, not the medium.  Too often we get caught up in the shiny new objects.  A lot of nonprofits (and for profits, for that matter) fail at social media because they view the tool as the goal, and not the message.  Don’t be so focused on the lates, coolest new features on Facebook or Twitter that you fail to hone your message for the appropriate audience.

Get comfortable giving up control.  Social media is not a public relations tool you can use to push out your one-sided, brand approved messaging.  It is a platform for dialogue and open communication.  If you seek first to control the conversation, you’ll fail at social media.  If, however, you seek to engage a community in support of your cause – and are willing to give up some of the control in order to garner that engagement – then you’ll do just fine.

Develop a calendar for posting updates and a specific schedule for responding to community feedback.  If you don’t post regularly people won’t have a reason to continue coming back to your page.  And if you aren’t prompt in replying to questions and comments from friends and fans, you won’t be taken seriously.

Understand your audience.  Are your fans/followers mostly donors?  Members of your organization? Clients? Alumni? Until you understand your audience you won’t be able to tailor message content to them.  Before you spend time on eye-catching graphics and other cool stuff, spend it here, getting to know the people you’re connected with.  Getting this part right (as in other media channels) will pay off big.

Focus on your cause. Social media is most effective when used to rally people around a compelling cause.  Not around a specific organization (mostly). If you lack a compelling cause, go find one.  Quickly.  Then offer people exciting, interesting opportunities to engage with your cause.  For example, people don’t engage with World Vision because they are World Vision.  They engage with them because World Vision is out saving lives and caring for the neediest people on the planet – and that’s important to their fans and followers.

Facilitate a conversation and equip your fans and followers to share.  For social media to succeed, you need a lot of people having a robust conversation about an issue they care deeply about.  And for your cause to grow significantly, you need to equip these people to share your cause and recruit their friends, colleagues and family into the fold.   

Provide interesting opportunities.  Don’t just view social media as an online billboard for your brand messaging.  If that’s your goal, don’t waste your time.  Give people reasons to interact with you. Offer unique, interesting opportunities like competitions, petition signing, advocacy days, team challenges, volunteer and Gift in Kind requests.  And it’s ok to ask for money too, so long as the ask is framed with the channel in mind.  Just don’t do it every week, ok?

Know what to measure.  Remember that old addage, you get what you measure? The same holds true in social media.  So you better have a handle on what the important metrics are for your organization, and put systems in place to measure those on a regular basis.

Test a social media dashboard.  Dashboards like Hootsuite (there are probably others – this is the one I’m most familiar with) let you update and track multiple social media platforms from one central location. You can easily monitor trends across all your social media properties, schedule future posts, and engage with your community from one single location.  This should make your job a lot easier.

Maintain a consistent voice.  This means designating one, maybe two people as your official social media content filters.  Too many people posting for your organization just increases the potential for conflicting messages, confusion and errors.

Invest wisely in social media. This is not a magic bullet that will cure all your fundraising and communications ills.  You should be testing in this channel, and you need to be active. But please, oh please, don’t take budget away from proven revenue producing strategies (like e-mail, direct mail, SEM or major gifts) to spend on social media instead.  The ROI in social media just doesn’t justify the shift (yet).

You don’t have to be everywhere. I can’t even count the number of social media sites that proliferate the web these days. There are dozens, if not hundreds.  But you don’t need to be everywhere.  And you shouldn’t be.  The majority of people that use social media are on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Flickr.  And those are really the only sites you need to focus on.  However, if you find that your target audience is saturated in another location (maybe Foursquare or Google+), then by all means, be there. Just don’t waste your time in an area if you don’t have the audience there to warrant it.

Hire someone to focus specifically on social media. This is tough to do in small nonprofits, and can even be challenging in big organizations because you’ll have a difficult time articulating the ROI on this position. But research shows that nonprofits that are most successful in social media have a dedicated resource managing their SM program. Those that are less successful do not.

Get resource and input from everyone, but don’t edit by committee.  Get as much information as you can – story resource, special event information (dates for upcoming events and recaps w/photos for events that recently took place), news stories, etc.  When collecting content you want a big tent approach.  HOWEVER, remember that you’ve assigned just a few people to filter your content. Let them do their jobs, identifying the most relevant and engaging content to share.

Keep it brief. Social media, like most of the web, is about skimming and scanning. Share bite-sized content. If you have more to say, tease it out via social media, but link back to your website for full stories, videos, etc.

Beef up your website. Ok, this isn’t specifically a social media tactic, but it is critically important.  If you’re going to be active in social media, people are going to check out your site. So have a best practice site in place, designed to engage your audience in many ways.  Focus on providing relevant information and giving visitors at least a few different ways to engage with you (i.e., registering to receive your e-newsletter, making a donation, signing up to volunteer, visiting for a tour, signing your online petition, etc.).

Be a copycat. Watch what other successful nonprofits and for profit organizations are doing to engage their audiences, and copy them.  There’s no law against this – and besides, it is the smart thing to do.

Invest in a high quality Facebook landing page. Becoming a fan on Facebook and getting dumped directly into an organization’s news feed is a lot like waking into an one of their special events for the first time.  You don’t know anyone, have never been to this event before, and aren’t really sure what to do once you get through the door.  A quality landing page can act as your personal concierge for new fans and visitors, easing them into engagement with your organization. 

Follow back. Nothing says arrogance like a nonprofit that wants fans and followers but refuses to follow back. Again, this is part of being engaged and actively in dialogue with the audience. If you aren’t willing to do this, you might as well not invest in social media at all.

Capture data. Use social media to capture as much information as you can about your fans and followers.  Using online petitions, surveys and other tools, you can capture e-mail addresses (and sometimes postal addresses).  Once you have these pieces of data you can begin to market to these fans and followers through other channels as well, further enhancing your relationship with them.

Promote. Promote. Promote. Link to your social media properties in the footer of your e-mails, on your website and in the automated thank you receipt sent from your online giving program.  Put up TV screens with live Twitter feeds at your special events.  Include social media icons in your direct mail and newsletters so your offline readers know how to connect with you online. 

Want more on this topic?  Buy a copy of Heather Mansfield’s Social Media for Social Good: A How-to Guide for Nonprofits.


** Please note that I am not compensated in any way for mentioning or promoting any product or service listed in this post. **