Social media – what is right for you?

What is natural?

Consider only those media that your audiences have already naturally adopted.  For example, if you are only interested in major donors, choose LinkedIn and ignore all other media.

  • 55% of individuals who engage with nonprofits on social media take action (donate $, donate in-kind, volunteer)
  • online fundraising is growing 14% annually
  • adults online use social media (67% Facebook, 20% LinkedIn, 16% Twitter, 15% Pinterest, 13% Instagram)

(Source:  “Mobile for Good: a how-to fundraising guide for nonprofits”, Heather Mansfield)

What do you want more of?


Do you have enough content?

Are you already bursting with content (e.g. promoting events, new research about your cause, client testimonials, thanking volunteers)?   Or, is it a chore to make a regular newsletter?  Don’t get into social media and then hope some content will magically appear later.  Social media needs fresh content about topical issues consistently, not just fundraising appeals.  Here is a quick test.  Look at your newsletter or your website as an outsider would.  Ask yourself , “what is in it for the outsider to bother reading?”

Do you have enough photos?

Social media is becoming an increasingly visual media.

Do you have the expertise?

Social media is a conversation.  It will be quickly obvious to viewers if the person behind your voice is not well versed in the nuances of your cause.  And sometimes the most qualified staff are not willing or have the time to devote to the 24/7 demands of being a social media coordinator. Don’t ask volunteers to be your social media voice, since you wouldn’t ask them to write your brochures or write your web site.

Do you have a photographer who can think of creative ways to look at ideas and can capture them in one photo?

Do you have the time?

images-17A completely passive social media presence (e.g. a Facebook page), would require startup time and minimal effort. If you pick only one forum (e.g. LinkedIn), it could occupy a staff person 8 hours/week.  An active social media network could occupy one full time paid position because it requires staff time to research and write content, take photos, make videos and monitor what viewers are saying about your non-profit.  The more you put into social media, the more you get out.  If your resources are finite, ask yourself which project you will give up in order to make the time for social media.

Is the senior management team willing to set aside time to review analytics regularly?

Do you want to save costs on broadcast advertising?  Direct mail?images-21

Social media may be cheaper than TV ads and radio ads. Social media may have the same success rate as direct mail.

Usage of traditional media is falling and being replaced by online activity. A common goal of traditional broadcast media is to increase awareness … that builds the brand … that builds long term revenue; but broadcast ads rarely boost revenue in the short term.  Similarly with social media, the goal is to have a conversation, not necessarily to boost revenue.  It is hard to cost-justify money spent on expensive ads in traditional media such as print, TV and radio.  Similarly, it is hard to cost-justify money spent developing a strong social media presence.  If you didn’t pay for broadcast media ads in the past to further your advocacy mission, social media may not work for you either.  The same issue applies for direct mail, compare the costs and success rates.

Do you expect social media to raise funds?images-4

If you want to fundraise, then be cautious about reallocating scarce staff time away from traditional fundraising.  Is social media replacing TV/print/radio media? Yes.   Is social media replacing traditional fundraising tactics? No.  If you have enough staff, social media can be added to existing efforts to fundraise (through direct mail, writing proposals, telephone calls) but social media cannot replace these proven activities. Social media is more about “friend raising” than “fundraising”.  For example, a non-profit on Twitter might be expected to publish 1-6 tweets per day about their cause, of which only 2 tweets per month would ask for donations.   An acceptable rule of thumb for Facebook is 10% of messages can be solicitations.  Do you have content for the other 90%?

Do you want to promote events?

Social media is one of many ways available.

Do you want to connect with members?

Or is it easier to email them with a link to your website page?

Do you want to advocate/educate about your cause?

Social media may be more cost effective than than the time you spend on traditional advocacy tactics.

Are you prepared for a crisis?

images-51A crisis can happen anytime.  As part of a complete crisis management plan, having a presence on all social media can help you react faster.  If there is a crisis about you on Facebook, you can react quicker if you have already established a presence and attained a minimal level of proficiency.  Consider establishing a presence on the main social mediums but only update occasionally, e.g. annually.

Start cautiously.

Do not expect immediate or traceable results.   Select one social medium and do it well.  Pick a medium that is natural for your employees, donors or clients.  For example, connect with the LinkedIn accounts of your major donors, Facebook your volunteers.

Create a one-page Web Strategic Plan (see template) to summarize for the Board what your staff are doing.

For further information, please read this excellent book “Mobile for Good: A how-to fundraising guide for nonprofits” by Heather Mansfield.  And you can follow her at   If you decide to proceed – her book is a great step-by-step learning tool.