Social Media for Non-profits

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by Steve Holt on September 8, 2012

I was recently asked by a personal friend of mine whose name begins with Rick Herron (@rick_herron) for some advice on using social media for non-profits, and it occurred to me that I have never written anything specifically for that industry. There are many folks out there who are doing fantastic work with non-profits and showing them how to be successful in marketing, social media, and a host of other disciplines, like my good friend Dave Bratcher (@davebratcher) and the legendary Beth Kanter (@kanter), and a simple Google search will lead you to folks much more knowledgeable than I. However, if you will indulge me, let me share with you on a high level my 2 cents on what non-profits can do to be successful.

1. What’s your mission? – If you haven’t articulated your mission then jumping into social media is going to be a waste of your time and resources. Your outreach should support your mission. Is your mission to raise awareness? Is your mission to promote a specific event? Is your mission to change behaviors? What you post and what you promote should always keep the mission in mind, and it will help you remain focused on what you are trying to do.

2. Support from the top – Just like a for-profit business, if the folks at the top of the food chain don’t support the time and effort that social media requires, then you will fail.  Social media outreach can be a mission-critical piece of the puzzle, but only if it is articulated as a mission-critical piece of the puzzle.  If it is something you plan on doing ‘when we have time’ or ‘occasionally’, then don’t waste your time.

3. Share the load – Social media takes time. No way around it. Even if you assign the job to someone full-time, they will need help. Solicit help from everyone in the organization to come up with ideas for posts.  Let multiple people help with posting on all the various networks. And for heaven’s sake, make sure that every social network has multiple people designated as ‘administrators’. Volunteer organizations are notorious for having people come and go all the time and you don’t want to get stuck when that one person who set everything up leaves.

4. Share and discuss… don’t broadcast – I have been a part of many non-profit and volunteer organizations in my lifetime, and it is very easy to morph into an organization that spends all its time ‘preaching’, if you know what I mean. When you are passionate about your cause it is easy to fall into that trap. When all you do is preach, you are no better than commercials that come on TV that everyone hates. Social media networks are about community. Communities share and discuss.  Spend your time sharing everything…. information, opinions, advice, etc. If you want to change hearts and minds toward your cause, then respectfully share and discuss with them, even if they disagree with you.

5. 10 to 1 – I don’t care who you are or what you do, social media is most successful when you talk about others 10 times before you talk about yourself. It is difficult to be a non-profit who needs support and money and NOT talk about yourself, so I know what I am asking here. But hear me out. There are other organizations out there who have the same mission as yours. You are both fighting for the same thing. So give them some love. You have supporters who love you.  So talk about them. You see, here’s the little secret… when you are talking about them, they will naturally talk about what they love…. you. So everybody wins. Talk about yourself… it looks conceited. Talk about others… you care.

6. Humanize the brand – That sounds like marketing fitter-fatter, and maybe it is. But it works. Old Spice resurrected itself by humanizing the brand around Mustafa, ‘the man your man could smell like’. Put a face on your organization. Put pictures of actual staff and supporters on your website and social media channels. Take videos of them and post them everywhere. The bottom line is that you need to get good at storytelling. That is perhaps the single best way to raise awareness and change hearts and minds. Tell compelling stories that draw people in and keep them engaged. Before the crash and burn, there is no arguing that the Kony 2012 folks knew how to do this. They didn’t just hammer away at Joseph Kony. They told stories of those affected by him. THAT is why it was such a powerful video.

I will be writing more in the future about ways that non-profits can leverage social media marketing to grow their organizations, thanks to Rick (Appreciate the nudge Rick!). So how about you? Are you doing something creative with social media in your non-profit? Post your comment below so we can all benefit from your ideas!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dave Bratcher September 9, 2012 at 3:01 am

Right on Steve! The mission is the most important part. And yes, people are not interested in what you are doing until they are interested in you! Thanks for sharing your expertise with the nonprofit community and I look forward to much more.

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