Does Your Nonprofit Need a Social Media Manager?

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This is a question I’m asked a lot. And for 2013 it’s kind of a funny question.

In fact, late last year Mark Schaefer wrote a blog post that had me laughing out loud. He titled it: Your 2013 Social Media Strategy: Grow a Pair. He was writing about for-profits who haven’t a clue where to fit social media into their existing management infrastructure and therefore stick their heads in the sand pretending it will go away. Why? Mark concludes they fear change. Does your nonprofit fear change? My guess is yes.

And that’s kind of funny, really, since the social benefit sector is all about change and innovation. Yet, let’s face it, change is hard. My laughter was the laughter of recognition. Because it’s the same story in nonprofit:  “Isn’t social media just a fad?”  “Can’t we just get a high school intern to do it?”  “Do it if it’ll be free and not take up any real time.”  “Show me that it will raise money before you do it.”  I’m one of those folks that did not cut their teeth in the digital world, and I’ve always been a late adopter of technology.  Yet even I have seen that the 21st century is here.

So… back to the original question: Do you need a social media manager? The short answer is yes, of course. The long answer is to another question: Do you need to hire a full-time person to do this? But let’s begin at the beginning.

Yes, you need a social media manager.

By the very definition of management, you’d be foolish to think anything else: The organization and coordination of the activities of a business in order to achieve defined objectives. Everything needs to be managed. As Jeremiah Owyang reminds us: manage your online time as you do money. If you’re not actively managing social media – if you’re still doing social media on a wing and a prayer – you’re making a huge mistake.

Ready to right your wrongs? Let’s take a quick look at the different components of management to see what your nonprofit social media manager might do. They’re obvious, but the common sensical is often what we miss.

  1. Coordination: To get the biggest bang for your buck you’ve got to integrate your content marketing strategies. It’s just plain smart. When strategies are layered one upon another a synergy is created. One channel feeds another. Given that most nonprofits are under-resourced, coordination is the best way to make up for lean staffing.  Otherwise you end up working too hard (e.g., you don’t need to develop new content for Twitter if you already have that content developed for Facebook or your blog).
  2.  Activities: Which channels are right for you? How much of that strategy should you engage in? Are you incorporating a feedback loop into the activity and a way to measure success? You must put thought into the activities you’re selecting.
  3. Business:  Never forget that the point of social media is to keep your business in operation. This means you must attract investors – purchasers of your products or services or philanthropic donors. If you think social media is window dressing or a just a pastime for an administrative assistant (“See if you can get us more fans and followers”), then you’re missing your purpose.
  4. Achieve: Who determines where you’re trying to go with your social media, and whether or not you’re on track to get there? If you’re not results-oriented you’re likely to end up with little to show for the time you spend. You need to be driving some type of “action” that brings your organization value. Social media, to be valuable, should be about true engagement and not merely counting likes and follows.
  5. Objectives: Whatever your goal is with social media, you must be specific as to how you’re going to get there. Objectives should be measurable (e.g., “To establish our expertise in the area of reducing incidences of human trafficking we’ll post 4 tweets/day with links to other sources describing the problem and 1 tweet/day with a link to our own content – research, legislation passed or a call to action).

Okay.  Now you know what your social media manager needs to do. S/he is the person who will align all your resources (time, people, budget, expertise) and put them into a realistic plan oriented to achieve your goals and objectives using digital means.

Do I need a full-time person?

A year ago I’d probably have said you could get away with a part-time position. But increasingly social media is the way people find you and communicate with you. In fact, I imagine we’ll soon retire the term ‘social media’ and simply include these tools as part of all the media channels available to us. In other words, your social media manager will become your marketing manager.

I’m not saying this is a simple decision at this point in time.  We’re in transition. And it’s tricky these days to find just one person who can manage all marketing communications. There is a divide between “old school” and “new school” marketing folks. And, yes, this tends to divide along generational lines. It can be quite a challenge to find someone with both (1) really great marketing experience — all the traditional skills of writing, editing, design, production, project management, media relations, publicity, events, advertising and branding, and (2)someone with digital skills and experience.

But we’re in a digital world. You need these skills. And you can’t just pile them onto someone’s already long list of job responsibilities.  We all have more on our plates today and everyone feels they’re working harder and longer hours. Maybe someone can do it for awhile, but at some point it becomes obvious the workload is not sustainable. Nor can you divide up the social media responsibility among several staff. First, it tends to happen piecemeal and not according to plan. Second, the brand messaging and ‘voice’ can be inconsistent. Third, there is always a lost opportunity cost. Presuming that all these folks already had full-time jobs, what are they allowing to drop off their plates? All too often it is face-to-face donor contact. There’s only one cure I know: Become more and more focused and effective at what you’re doing. In short, manage the workload.

What skills does it require?

Call it what you will — a social media manager, a new media manager, or a digital media manager — you want someone who is specifically hired for the skills they’ll need to be effective. Which means you need to consider allocating funds to this position (or perhaps retiring a previous position that’s becoming less relevant and redirecting funds to online marketing).

Too often nonprofits think they can bring in a volunteer or intern to do the job.  Or they’ll assign tasks to the administrative assistant because she’s 23 and knows Facebook.  In most cases this just won’t work. You need someone who has both communications and online fundraising skills, knows how to write effectively for the social web, understands your programs, knows how to match your mission, vision and values to your constituent’s needs and interests and generally has a sense of you big picture goals. Sending out occasional tweets is not a strategy any more than having an occasional bake sale is going to meet your annual budget needs.

How much time will it take?

It’s not just a matter of how much time it takes but how you are managing that time (again, this is why you need a “manager”). Beth Kanter, nonprofit social media guru, covers this in How Much Time Does It Take To Do Social Media? For some basic guidance there’s an excellent book by Heather Mansfield, Social Media for Social Good, detailing what a full-time social media manager could accomplish in a 40-hour work week. She recently updated this with the following hours-per-week guidelines:

Facebook, Twitter, G+, YouTube     15
Flickr, Pinterest       5
LinkedIn       5
Blogging     10
Niche networks (Instagram, Tumblr, Ning,, Care2, Wiser Earth, BlackPlanet, Quepasa, New Myspace5 – 10
Peer-to-Peer, Crowdfunding        5
Location-based communities (Facebook Places, G+ Location, Foursquare) and Mobile networking        5

You can see that if your nonprofit does all these things it’s more than a 40-hour work week. Of course, if your expectations are low then simply having a Twitter account and Facebook page are just swell.  But be careful what you wish for. You’ll reap what you sow.

Here’s the deal: it takes time.

Social media is not free. It’s way beyond time to retire this quaint notion. If you’re going to engage in marketing you better invest enough to do it right.  If you’re going to build communities who will support your work, you’ve got to develop thoughtful strategies to actively engage folks. This means hiring someone, at minimum, who can write persuasively, create visually compelling photo and video campaigns, and do graphic design for the web. Too many nonprofits still have a passive approach. They have static websites that look like brochures and don’t drive any repeat business. E-newsletters look stodgy and are not optimized for mobile. And, in my opinion, every nonprofit at this point should have a blog as the hub of their content strategy. Blog content can be repurposed for every social channel (i.e., shortened) or you can simply link to your blog post and drive folks to your website.

You need to hire someone who understands what resources are needed to do the job and can be an advocate for those resources within your organization.  There are lots of social media management and measurement tools out there (you can check out a bunch of them in Social Media Strategy: Look For New Opportunities Under Your Nose), and they’re relatively inexpensive, but many nonprofits don’t know about them, aren’t budgeting for them and aren’t buying them. Instead they’re trying to do everything manually.

Do you need a social media manager? It depends upon your goals.  If you just want to do it because everyone else is doing it, then no. If you want to build brand awareness, drive more traffic to your website and get more people engaged in your calls to action, then the answer is a resounding “yes.” It’s 2013. The end of business as usual. The present and the future are digital. If you’re not staffed for it, you’ll be left behind.

Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE contributes a monthly column on Social Media and Nonprofits. Claire brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing leadership experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Claire teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, is a web and audio presenter for Good Done Great Nonprofits and was recently honored as “Best Fundraising Blog” by FundRaising Success' 2013 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards. Her passion is instilling an institution-wide culture of philanthropy to help organizations build constituencies and drive increased income to sustain and expand missions. +Claire Axelrad
Claire Axelrad
@24jbrooks Would love to chat about it Josh. Just followed you so you can DM me if you wish. :-) - 6 hours ago
Claire Axelrad


  1. says

    Fantastic read! *Thank you* for breaking it down; so hard to convince nonprofits to adapt and change, AND that social media is a huge component of rallying support and visibility. Most challenging is getting them to actually believe there is value in hiring a social media consultant or manager. So many nonprofits (and companies) think because they have an online presence that they have a social media strategy. Again, awesome read. :)) esta

  2. Jefferson Phillips says

    Good post! I recently discussed this topic with someone in the throes of change and of the tensions that develop as a result. Thanks!

  3. says

    Thanks for your sharing! It is still quite helpful post, though in 20015! Non-profits tend to ignore the effect of social media and do not know how to deal with it. Your post is very convincing! Thanks!

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