Friday, May 1, 2009

So, why should I care about Facebook? Choosing the Right Social Media and Web Tools for Your Organization

From CRC's May E-Line Newsletter:

For nonprofit organizations that are not already using social media and web-based communication tools, the reasons to embrace them are continuing to pile up. Now, the impact of the current economy is providing a strong incentive for many previously reluctant organizations to think about utilizing some of these tools. Choosing the right tools for your organization can mean cost-savings and increased effectiveness, and getting started now will mean that your organization will be able to stay current with today’s communication practices.

CRC’s work with a wide spectrum of nonprofit organizations suggests that many organizations simply don’t know where to start with building their online presence. We’re here to help you get started with this introduction that will cover:

Key strategies for integrating social media and web-based communications:
· Complementing your existing website
· Consistency
· Relevance
· Appropriate to your audience
· Match tools to your organization’s goals and manage your expectations

Uses for social media and web-based communication tools within nonprofit organizations:
· Communications
· Building a movement or organizing
· Advocacy
· Programs
· Getting work done with staff, board members, and volunteers
· Fundraising

And, we provide a list of about 20 common social media and web-based communication tools to help you get started.

So, why should you care about Facebook and all the other social media tools?
Web-based communication tools and social media are changing the ways in which people access information, including how they interact with the nonprofit organizations they support or stumble upon online and might choose to support. With women over 55 comprising Facebook’s fastest growing demographic, it is clear that these tools are no longer just for tech-savvy digital natives.

If your organization is not utilizing these tools, you are likely missing opportunities to engage new constituents, build relationships with current constituents, communicate your message in new ways, and possibly raise money. In addition to having an up-to-date, functional website, nearly all nonprofits can benefit from using some of the tools discussed below to achieve their missions more effectively, or at least more efficiently.

First Things First
A functional, up-to-date, well-formatted website is the critical partner for many web-based communication tools and social media platforms. If your organization does not have a good website in place, creating one first is a good place to start. While some of the activities discussed below can be independent from your website, a good website will likely be your organization’s primary mechanism for communicating online and it should likely receive your attention first. Web-based communication and social media tools can be added to complement the information you have available on your organization’s website.

Key strategies
When identifying which social media and web-based communication tools your organization should use, you need to consider which tools will help your organization meet its goals instead of signing on to use a certain service because of its popularity (for example, micro-blogging service Twitter may be popular but it might not be right for your organization).

For CRC, we have considered four things in deciding which strategies to try and which tools to use:

Relevance: Web-based communication tools need to serve as mechanisms for communicating information that it relevant to our constituents. This may mean segmenting your communications between donors, volunteers, and other constituent groups to ensure that the information you are sending out is relevant to the person who is receiving it.

Consistency: Consistency is essential for effectively using social media tools, so only choose the tools that your organization can use consistently given its current capacity. A good example of a tool that can tax capacity is Twitter, which requires constant attention and participation to be effective. One you identify a strategy, stick with it and be consistent.

Appropriate to your audience: Consider which tools your audience already uses. For CRC, communicating about our programs and services using email marketing is a natural fit since most of our constituents engage with us in “nonprofit-to-nonprofit” relationship and frequently use email as part of their jobs. In terms of social networking for CRC, Facebook or LinkedIn are more natural fits than something like MySpace, primarily because they are both more professional forums. When I worked for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, their message boards were a highly popular mechanism for online communication because they allow women with breast cancer to engage in a supportive online community. Choosing the tools that are natural for your audience will increase your success.

Match the tools to your organization’s goals and manage your expectations: Don’t expect to raise $100,000 with Facebook – ever. If using social media as a fundraising tool is a primary goal for your organization, be realistic with your expectations and identify benchmarks to track your success. As with any other activities that allocate organizational resources (like staff time), you should establish some goals and benchmarks in advance to help track your progress and return on investment. For example, do you want to have 300 people on your e-newsletter list or drive people to your website? Do you want to raise more money? Spell out these expectations in advance and then monitor your progress.

For CRC, we have increased our use of email invitations to our events, have online registration capability through our website, and have created a blog and Facebook page. At this point, these strategies will help us meet our programmatic goals in a more cost-effective way, will help us demonstrate our statewide impact, and can be maintained in a consistent way with our current staff capacity. We have also selected strategies that will help us build our brand and promote our mission.

How Your Organizations Can Use These Tools
Nonprofit organizations use social media and web-based communication tools for six primary purposes:

Communications: Having a strong online presence is becoming an increasingly essential component of organizational success. Online presence now means a lot more than having a website for many organizations and can include things like integrating electronic communications through electronic newsletters, blogs, having a presence on social networking sites, and establishing more robust online giving portals. These communications are typically focused on engaging new constituents, deepening relationships with current constituents, driving donations, and communicating with clients or customers.

Building a movement or organizing: I attended the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network conference in Washington, DC last weekend and the event was a prime example of how web-based communication tools are being used to build a movement of young professionals within the nonprofit sector. A significant number of conference participants were live blogging, twittering, or posting updates about the conference on their Facebook pages in real time to virtually engage like-minded individuals across the country in the conversations that were taking place at the conference itself, with the goal of building momentum for the organization’s activities.

Other organizing activities using social media tools can achieve real-time results. A good example is the role Twitter recently played in uncovering a “glitch” at and creating an online uprising related to their re-categorization of books with GLBT themes as adult content. Nonprofits engaged in movement building and organizing could find success with these same tools.

Advocacy: For organizations engaged in formal advocacy and public policy activities, social media tools can significantly expand your organization’s reach through viral communications (encouraging people to share information which can cause its reach to grow exponentially). Services like CapWiz can help your organization send out legislative alerts, organize lobbying campaigns, and communicate your organization’s position on policy issues. Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a good example of a large organization that is using social media and web-based communications to advance their policy positions. This type of approach can be replicated on a local level within smaller organizations using some low-cost tools and your organization’s existing website.

Programs: Many organizations successfully use social media tools to achieve programmatic goals in a number of ways, from using tools to make programs more efficient (like saving on postage by using online invitation and registration systems) to providing services or programming over the web. For example, the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition uses YouTube videos to educate parents about the importance of vaccination. Social media and web-based communication tools can help organizations deliver services online, provide information and resources, and connect clients to the organizations from which they receive services.

Getting work done: CRC, for example, works with groups scattered across Colorado and uses some web-based communication tools to help us get work done. Web-based tools, like GoogleDocs or BaseCamp, can help people who are not co-located work collaboratively. Tools like BoardVantage and Board Effect help board members work more effectively by keeping track of projects, centralizing information, and helping them engage outside of board meetings. Online volunteer portals can help your organization advertise for and recruit volunteers. These activities can help streamline your organizations operations and help you work more effectively.

Fundraising: I have listed fundraising last on this list because it is often the first thing people within nonprofits think about when discussing social media, but it is often the most difficult to implement in terms of effectiveness. For most groups, focusing a lot of energy on fundraising through Facebook or other online social networks will be futile (see article about fundraising through Facebook). For most organizations, Facebook and other social media sites serve best as a communication platform that can help engage constituents, invite them to events, and keep them up-to-date on organizational activities.

Instead of focusing on social media as a fundraising tool, most nonprofits will benefit most from investing in an effective online donation system that will allow their current supporters to give online and will integrate with other efforts to get new supporters to give online. This kind of system can help increase gifts through setting up recurring donations or linking to donation opportunities after program impact stories in your online newsletter – things that will have a much higher return than setting up a cause on Facebook.

Some Common Web-Based Communication and Social Media Tools for Nonprofits:
Once your organization decides on a few strategies to test out using social media and web-based communication tools, you will need to link up with a service provider that matches your budget and needs. This list includes the most common tools used by nonprofits and most are free or low-cost. All can be easily found through a Google search.

· ConstantContact and ExactTarget (affordable e-newsletter services)
· Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, Wordpress (free blog services)
· MicroPoll (free website poll service)
· E-vite (free online invitation and RSVP service)
· Social networking sites: Facebook (through groups and causes) and MySpace
· Twitter (microblogging)
· CapWiz (online advocacy tool)
· Civic Network and CollectiveX (online collaboration forums)
· Convio, Kintera, Blackbaud, e-Tapestry (integrated platforms)
· Google Checkout, PayPal, Network for Good, Acceptiva (online giving tools)
· YouTube (video-sharing) and Flickr (photo-sharing)
· LinkedIn (professional social networking)
· Reg Online (online registration system)
· (event portal)
· YahooGroups (free message boards)
· GoogleDocs, BaseCamp (project management and document sharing)
· Board Vantage and Board Effect (online board portals for improved governance)
· StumbleUpon and Delicious (social bookmarking)

To learn more about social media and web-based communication trends and tools, and read some differing views about the future of things like Twitter, check out some more resources here.

Written by Sarah Fischler, Interim Co-Director of CRC. Contact Sarah at fischler at crcamerica dot org or 303-623-1540, ext 27 to learn more about how CRC can help your organization integrate these tools to help you better achieve your mission. You can find her on Facebook or through CRC’s blog if you would like to continue this conversation.


  1. I love the blog! Thanks for all this great information.

  2. Very timely for us - we're revisiting our social media tools. I also recently found two platforms to simplify using all these different social media outlets. Check out Gnip at and Social Thing at (both Boulder based companies).

  3. There are lots of 'white label' applications (mostly open source, free) to integrate social media--information is so overwhelming!

    My blog about beginner social media for NPOs has a few Facebook, and other, posts--feel free to search, comment, and use any info that's valuable to you.