Nonprofits and Social Media: How Even the Smallest Shop Can Join the Frenzy

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As social media takes the world by storm, many small non-profit organizations (NPOs) are being left behind in the digital realm. Despite the fact that 88% of NPOs are experimenting with social media, ask small shops why they aren’t diving into the social media feeding frenzy and the answer is often the same – they don’t have the staff resources or budget to pull it off. While the fear of how much time and money a social media campaign requires is understandable, the reality is that any NPO can join the frenzy.

The first step is to be realistic. As an NPO with three staff members and a bucket load of events and programs, you aren’t going to be blogging, tweeting and posting every minute of every day. Start small. The perception in many organizations seems to be if you can’t be everywhere, you have to be nowhere. Not true. Pick one or two social media platforms to start with and grow from there. Facebook and Twitter are user-friendly for newbies and give exposure to larger audiences. Start with two or three posts or tweets a day and work your way up from there.So now that you’ve decided which platforms to use, who is going to manage them? The small NPO already has staffing challenges. Everyone is wearing multiple hats and doing a handful of things at any given time. There’s no budget to hire someone new to run a social media campaign, so what do you do? Find someone on your staff with an interest in social media. With the rise of social media in recent years, you are likely to have someone in house who is at the very least curious about it. If not, turn to your interns for help. College kids make great interns for several reasons – they’re free, energetic and they know all kinds of things about digital media. It doesn’t take a great deal of time or effort to establish online profiles and create your online presence.

How much time do small nonprofits have to spend managing these platforms? The answer depends on what your objectives are and what outcomes you expect. For small shops just starting out, I suggest spending less than a half hour over the course of a day posting to your platforms three times a day. A nifty trick is to link your social media accounts so that when you post to one, it automatically posts to another. I have my Facebook page set up so that when I post to it, my Twitter account automatically picks it up. My Twitter profile is also connected to my Linked In account, so all Twitter posts show up on Linked In, too. In a matter of the two or three minutes it takes me to post to my Facebook page, I can share info over three platforms. It requires very little time and energy to start engaging people with your organization.

I strongly encourage all NPOs to put together a social media plan before starting down this path. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s helpful to have something that says this is the platform we are going to use, this is how much time we will spend using it and these are our objectives and key metrics. If you go into this process with no objectives or benchmarking tools, you will never know if you are getting any return on your investment. Social media is another form of marketing and cultivation. You wouldn’t spend resources cultivating relationships that you can’t measure the impact and you shouldn’t blindly use social media either. There are many online tools, like Google Analytics, that can help you measure ROI, but it doesn’t have to be that technical. Look at how many followers you have on Twitter, how many people are engaging in discussions on your Facebook page, how many people are visiting your Web site to get more information about the teasers posted on your platforms. All of these things can tell you a lot about what you’re getting from your social media efforts and also who you should be talking to offline once they’ve engaged online.

The most important thing to remember is that social media for nonprofits is about cultivation. As an NPO you never want to be the Great Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Getting out meeting people face to face will never be replaced by online relationships. What online platforms do allow us is the ability to find more people who want to know more about what we do and how we can help them. Social media is just the newest cultivation tool in a business that’s been around a long time. It’s not going away anytime soon, so every NPO should jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride.

Amy Stephan
This monthly Social Media and Nonprofits column is contributed by Amy Stephan. Amy is a consultant and non-profit professional with more than 10 years of field experience working in fundraising and development. She provides nonprofits with help in fundraising and major gifts, capital campaigns, board and volunteer development and staff leadership, working with organizations of all sizes to plan, implement and assess social media strategies. While holding leadership positions with local branches of organizations such as Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the American Diabetes Association, Amy developed a passion for all things related to fundraising and non-profits. In addition to her non-profit work, she is a freelance writer and blogger who has worked as a full-time writer and editor for daily newspapers and magazines. +Amy Stephan
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Comments

  1. says

    Good post, Amy. For small-scale tiny-staff NPOs, social media sounds intimidating and expensive, but there are so many tools out there nowadays that are virtually free, that if they could be helped with the initial implementation, they’d be able to take advantage of social without too much effort.  Visibility for causes is everything, and neglecting social for NPOs is definitely not an option.
    I’d like to see more of a concerted effort in the direction of niche platforms and networks where NPOs could share best practices, information and resources.  Something that might be worth building:-)

  2. says

    Hi Amy, I agree with your strong recommendation that the NPO create a plan, and not try do everything. I also suggest that NPOs seek help from their governing boards, who may be able to add resources to support these activities. Some thoughts on the subject here: http://wp.me/pEd0X-7n .

    • says

      Marjorie, thanks so much for the comment. I agree, if you can get your board to be active with social media and add resources it’s a win-win for the cause and the people trying to wear multiple hats and run the NPO on a daily basis. I am looking forward to reading your article. Thanks for the link!

  3. Christine Lafferty says

    Thanks for the post, Amy! I am curious as a relatively new fundraiser at a very small NGO what online tool you used to link your social media accounts? Is it a special app you have to use or is it a matter of knowing the right settings on each of the social media sights?

    • says

      Hi, Christine. Thanks so much for your question. As someone working for a small organization you probably won’t be spending a ton of time on your social media sites – at least not at first. I would suggest that you link your sites through the settings on your each site. For instance, my Facebook page has a setting that allows it to autopost all my status updates directly to my Twitter site. My LinkedIn has a setting that automatically picks up all my Twitter postings. So by changing the settings, when I post to Facebook it autoposts to Twitter, which is picked up by LinkedIn. It’s a great time saver to be able to post in one place and have it published in three! If you have more questions, please feel free to visit the contact page of my website – http://kindergartenmazetoconcretejungle.blogspot.com and we can connect there.

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