Non-profit social media: The tortoise or the hare

Social media for non-profitsWhen Craig Newmark, the founder of Craig’s List, jumped into the charity/non-profit world with last week’s announcement of craigconnects it added yet another potential fundraising platform to social media.

From Facebook causes to Jumo to Swipegood – there are literally hundreds of new ways for non-profits to seek new revenue streams. Add to that the tragic events unfolding in Japan and – once again – social media appears to be a boon to non-profits seeking to raise their profile along with new funds.

However, are these really a boon to the non-profit world or yet another platform they have to learn and manage? More importantly, as each new flashy opportunity arises is it right for your non-profit?

Now, before I continue let me be clear. Any time a charity or non-profit can gain exposure to their mission – it is a good thing. Given that most of these platforms are free (in the monetary sense) – any revenue they generate is a good thing. I have nothing negative to say about any of these attempts to make the world a better place. The aforementioned opportunities have done and will do a great deal of good.

The question that I raise is – are these platforms right for your non-profit?

From Katrina to Haiti to – now – Japan – social media is a tremendous way to spread vital news and raise much-needed funds. The needs are acute and immediate and social media provides an easy way for people to contribute in any way they can. For that we can be thankful. These are fast-moving situations that grab attention and then fade from the front page. In effect, they are the ‘hare’ of charity needs.

But, what if your non-profit’s mission is more of a tortoise? What if the difference you make is more subtle and long-term and not subject to the whims of the moment? What if what you do does not solve an immediate need but provides a vital service for any segment of society?

I am fortunate to work with several non-profits who do an incredible amount of good on a daily basis. However, most of what they do is not front page news. They make a difference in daily lives of people but their results are not iconic. They are the tortoises of the non-profit world. Plugging along day after day. How does social media benefit their missions?

By doing exactly what it is supposed to do – build relationships, explain their missions in precise human terms and show how their mission makes a tangible difference. They do not use the ‘hares’ of social media because they cannot splash the picture of a hungry person on their page or show the horrific after effects of a tsunami. Their call-to-action is more subtle. They build their relationships the old-fashioned way in the new-fashioned media – one person at a time.

I have quite a few friends who are Directors of Development and they tell me that fundraising is all about relationships. If someone cares enough about what you do they will donate to your cause.

That is the big social media win for non-profits. Creating and nurturing a caring community that will eventually turn into either evangelists or donors. If the only thing these people ever do for a charity is to share the message – it’s a win.

This is a long-term process that requires a solid strategy and a willing investment of time. While the budgetary impact is relatively small the time commitment is substantial. You must factor this into your social media planning.

As in the Aesop fable – the tortoise always wins. Today’s non-profit – in today’s economy – is famished for funds. It would be easy to look at all the shiny new toys that social media offers and think this is a quick way to alleviate budget woes. That may work – it may not. Take the time to investigate each opportunity. Learn how much involvement it requires for your team. Understand what kind of attention – and people – this will bring to your cause.

Your long-term goal is to create a kind of affinity that an impulse donation cannot offer.

Slow and steady wins the race. Use social media to tell your story in human terms. Use social media to raise awareness of the tangible difference your mission is making – every day. Using an old politician’s term – shake hands and kiss babies.

Social media – especially for non-profits – is a marathon not a sprint.

Your thoughts?

Steve Allan, social Media Specialist


About Steve Allan

I am a Social Media specialist uniquely focused on the management, messaging and marketing of social media platforms for non-profits and small businesses.
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