Why Nonprofit Social Media is a Waste of Time

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Presence is not a social media strategy. Your nonprofit social media strategy mantra should be as follows:

Just as…

    I shouldn’t buy a drill unless I need a hole.

    I shouldn’t hire a cab unless I need a ride.

    I shouldn’t put in a new stove unless I intend to cook.



            1.  start a blog…

            2.  put up a FB page…

            3.  build Pinterest boards…

            4.  open a Twitter account…

            5.  create a LinkedIn business profile…

                                                                               …UNLESS I INTEND TO ENGAGE.

If you’re just tinkering around the edges, you’re not engaging.  You’ve just opened up the toy box and set the toys out on the floor.  But you’re not playing with them.  It’s no fun for you.  And it’s no fun for your constituents.

Intentional engagement is what makes social media for nonprofits worth the effort. It’s about building and sustaining relationships with constituents that may ultimately redound to your/their benefit, creating a true win/win.  Remember:  They’re just tools.  If you don’t use them properly, with care and purpose, they won’t do much for you.  What matters is how you use the tools (your purpose), what you say (your content), who else shares your messages (your fans/supporters/constituents) and when you listen (and apply your insights to your branding strategy).

I’m choosing to talk about my five favorite social media tools.  Of course, there are others.  The same mantra should apply. Where’s your intention?


Be honest.  Are you one of those nonprofits that put up a Facebook page because everyone said you “should”; then started promoting the heck out of it to your current constituency with email and newsletter blasts saying “Hey, we’re on Facebook now.  Like us!”  How did that work for you?  Do you have more donors?  Larger average gifts?  More volunteers?  Or do you just have a bunch of thumbs up?

What could you do to create an engaging dialogue with your Facebook fans? If you believe that “altruism is ultimately a social exercise and it’s the kind of activity that people want to share with others and celebrate with other people,” as the V.P. of Facebook Causes has defined it, then you’ll want to tap into the power of having your Facebook family share their love with their own friends and family.  Try some of these 10 Powerful Tips to Stimulate Facebook Fan Interaction from Social Media Magic.  Or check out these 5 Ways to Increase Your Facebook Fan Engagement  from Social Media Examiner. And while you’re at it, if you’re going after likes you may as well give folks a reason for liking you.  So check out 5 Ways to Perfect Your Facebook Welcome ImageAfter they give you the thumbs up, be sure to follow up and engage with them!


Do you tweet only when you want something from folks?  To tell folks about an event… a subscription… a membership… a workshop… a challenge grant… all ‘opportunities’ that require them to fork over some dollars? That’s not proactive engagement.  That’s a one-way monologue.  You’re simply generating transactions.  You aren’t building relationships that will hopefully develop, blossom and grow into lifelong, sustaining support. Commit to a two-way street.

What could you do to make Twitter an effective part of your branding/customer engagement strategy?  Twitter is a great medium for messaging folks with relevant content and inviting them to join in conversation. But to develop a constituent-centered content strategy requires listening. Always think: why would my supporters care about this? Make your messaging consistent with your other online and offline marketing strategies..  Above all else engage thoughtfully rather than randomly.  You should have a strategic social media plan of which your Twitter strategy is a piece. See Why Tweeting is Good Business: 7 Tips to Avoid Being a Twit.

  1. BLOGS

Do you think the root of “blog” is “blah”? If you blog from that perspective, there’s really no point.  A blog is your opportunity to showcase your point of view, share your passions and invigorate your constituency with news, little-known facts, behind-the-scenes notes and provocative commentaryThis is exciting stuff! But not if you don’t know your purpose and where you’re headed with your blog. Guard against just dialing it in.

A blog is only going to be read if you create relevant, purposeful content and publish consistently.  Otherwise, folks will get bored with you and/or forget that you exist.  You want them to be able to count on you and, dare I suggest, look forward to you!  So don’t begin a blog without an articulated purpose, content plan and editorial calendar.  There are many ways to make this work for you, even without significant resources (e.g., “Top 10” lists; Resource lists; “How To” posts; Repurposing of information you’ve already created, with the addition of a summary; Commentary on breaking news; Photos/Videos with captions, Guest posts, etc.). Check out Six Different Kinds of Nonprofit Blogs from Kivi LeRoux Miller.


Do you think Pinterest is nothing more than a scrapbook? Think again. It’s the fastest growing social medium right now, and it’s easy, popular, visual and powerful. It currently drives more referral traffic than YouTube, Google+ and LinkedIn combined, and is close to surpassing Twitter, so perhaps if you do any of the latter and not the former you may want to rethink your strategy.  Many for profit businesses are beginning to jump on board, and nonprofits are as well (e.g., Charity Water, Amnesty International, NRDC, AARP). Check Pinterest Media and Case Studies for lots of business usage examples.  Whatever you do, don’t put up two ‘pins’ and then stop. That’s worse than never starting. And recognize that simply pushing out content won’t do anything to build relationships.  Check out Tips to Boost Pinterest Followers.


Do you only have a personal profile, but no organizational profile? Are you working your personal profile to help you achieve your business objectives? If so, you may be missing the boat. Check out 10 Things You Can Do on LinkedIn You Haven’t Considered Part 1 and Part 2.

The bottom line:  If your social media profiles just sit there passively they may as well not be there at all.  It’s like buying a bunch of postcards, addressing them and never actually filling them with content and/or sending them. In fact, a passive profile can harm you more than help you.  A passive profile is anything that isn’t on a consistent schedule.

If you don’t regularly engage with your friends, before too long they’ll become disappointed they didn’t hear from you. Your connection to them will become more tenuous and remote. You can’t take a laissez faire attitude to business social media.  If your mantra is “whatever… whenever…” that’s how your constituents will behave as well. Maybe they’ll support you (purchase from you/give to you/advocate for you/volunteer for you); maybe they won’t.  If you don’t know, how can you count on them?  If you can’t count on them, where are you?

Some significant ways nonprofits miss the mark and waste time with social media were recently highlighted on the Social Strand Media post10 Social Media Mistakes Everyone Makes.  The key areas I find becoming huge time sucks for too many nonprofits are highlighted below.  It’s a shame, because we’re all working as hard as we can to do everything we think we should do; yet, often we’re not getting much out of all this effort. Be aware if you find yourself falling into any of these traps:

  1. Not listening.
    Too often we spew out information trying to develop ourselves as thought leaders in our industry and forget to listen to our customers. Monitoring your brand is far more than just setting a Google alert. Here are 10 free monitoring tools you can use to monitor your brand on social media.
  1. Posting too little or too much.

      It’s important to find the balance between overwhelming folks (so they disconnect) and not being there enough (so they never connect). Schedule the amount of time you’re going to be ‘social’ each day. To save time, consider using a management tool like Buffer, HootSuite, etc. so you can monitor and respond to your ‘peeps’ in one convenient dashboard.

  1. Not including a call to action; not responding when folks act.

      Social media without a purpose is a waste of time. So don’t forget to think about what you want your constituents to do or feel as a result of your post, tweet, pin, etc.  Then tell them! Don’t assume they’ll know what to do. If they engage, then respond back. Otherwise, you’re just pushing a lot of energy out into the ether but never recapturing it for the benefit of your organization.  It simply dissipates.

  1. Not capturing leads.  Let’s face it.  One of the main reasons we engage in social media, ultimately, is to build our supporter base.  But if we don’t set things up so that we can capture contact information (e.g., by inviting folk to subscribe to our e-newsletter), then collecting fans, followers, pinners, etc. does not always translate into increased support.  No wonder so many E.D.s question the benefit of directing resources towards something with no visible ROI. It’s imperative, therefore, to put in place strategies designed to reduce expenses and drive a positive return.
  1. Trying to bite off more than you can chew.  It’s better to pick one or two channels and work them effectively than to be everywhere and just dabble. For tips on how to pick the sites that are best for your nonprofit, see Nonprofits and Social Media: Which Sites Work Best for NPOs (and Why the Answer Isn’t All of Them).

Social media is a terrible thing to waste: Use it or lose it. Stop “blowing it” by simply putting up FB pages and starting Twitter accounts, but not really working the channels. And embrace the fact that it’s not free.  It costs money to make money. Your head-ache will not go away if you take only one aspirin and the required dose is two. That’s a waste of one good aspirin. No nonprofit can afford that.

How are you making your social media strategies pay dividends?  Are there any other time-wasting traps you would highlight for nonprofits to avoid?


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
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  1. says

    I think if there is a cautionary tale for non-profits on social media it would be the Kony 2012 campaign. While the intentions were good the execution was poor and it caused more harm to their cause.

    • says

       Thanks for reading/commenting Todd.  Lots of cautionary tales out there, for sure. Like anything else, if you don’t do it right social media has the potential to harm you big time.  Why?  Duh… it’s S O C I A L.

  2. Jim Matorin says

    Wow!  Claire, I have read numerous pieces you have written in the last six months.  This one kicks posterior.  Not just applicable to non-profits.  I also think you are walking the talk now, when you mention that you need to find a balance #5.  I am also an adovcate of listening, key attribute of someone that knows how to engage.

  3. says

     Thanks so much Jim (and sorry it took so long to get back to you; your kind words deserve a more prompt response!)  I truly hope this information is helpful to folks.  That’s really my goal.  I honestly want everyone to know what I know.  Why not?

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