Social Media for Nonprofits
By Sean Horrigan

Sean Horrigan
Sean Horrigan
Social media takes your donors beyond the brick and mortar, inviting them to engage with your organization on a more personal level. It humanizes your organization.

A recent poll by Weber Shandwick shows that 85% of nonprofits are now experimenting with some form of social media, perhaps in hopes of recruiting and retaining donors, finding new audiences, or simply keeping up with the times. Some organizations have already hit on the best use of social media, many are just getting their feet wet, and others are still wrestling with the terminology.

While social media and social networking are closely connected, they’re not quite the same. At its core, social media is content created for the web by the public. Social media allows you the opportunity to be a citizen journalist, video producer, author, and radio engineer.

Social networking is the act of communicating with a chosen community on an established web platform. Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace are all social networking sites. As such, they provide a platform to upload and share social media.

Social media is about creating content for the web. Content is king on the web. It enhances search engine optimization, drives traffic to your website, establishes instant credibility, and builds brand awareness. It creates an unprecedented opportunity for your organization’s materials to reach thousands of people instantly.

Take the case of a three-minute nonprofit video that reached six million people recently. In November 2009, the staff of the Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Ore., partnered with Medline Medical Supplies to create a simple video to raise breast cancer awareness. The video features 200 hospital staff members sporting Medline’s pink surgical gloves and dancing to Jay Sean’s “Down.” Since its debut, the video has been featured on ABC and CNN news, made headlines on The Huffington Post, and received over six million hits on YouTube. While the video raised awareness and funds, it accomplished something equally as important: it gave the hospital a voice and a soul.

Keep in mind the following when developing a social media strategy:

Determine Your Organizational Goals

Align your social media strategy with your organizational goals. Maybe you want to augment membership sales by 15 % each quarter? Boost ticket sales by 30 %? Increase online donations by 20 %? Your goals should be specific and provide measurable metrics.

Once you’ve determined your goals it’s time to understand your target audience.

Create a Buyer Persona

Author David Merman Scott recommends that nonprofits build a buyer persona profile for each group they’ll target. A buyer persona is short biography of a typical donor. It includes information on the donor’s background, daily activities, media preferences, and solutions to their problems. The buyer persona will help you make informed decisions regarding content and how to effectively deliver your message.

Think Like a Publisher

Now you need to start thinking like a publisher. Publishers create content with their audience in mind. This is not the time or the place to drone on about your mission or vision. This is an opportunity to create authentic content that resonates with your audience.

Create an Editorial Team and Calendar

Organize a team to brainstorm content ideas. Remember, there are no right and wrong answers in a brainstorm. Don’t let the realities of budgeting or staffing hold you back. You can deal with realities later.

Think blogs, video, podcasts, email newsletters, white papers, etc. While you may connect with a portion of your target audience on your blog, you may be missing an opportunity to connect with those who hate blogs but love video. Different strokes for different folks.

For instance, a community health center could brainstorm ideas to launch a blog that addresses patient concerns around such topics as H1N1, diabetes, and chicken pox. They may also choose to launch a video series that promotes healthy eating habits or a podcast series for new moms.

Once you develop your ideas, select one or two projects to bring to fruition.

Appoint a Social Media Czar

In order for your campaign to succeed, appoint someone (not an intern) to manage the campaign. The czar should activate and enable the entire organization to take part in the social media campaign. Everyone has something valuable to add. Your czar should commit to becoming a permanent learner as the field of social media continually evolves introducing new technology and platforms.

The good news is that most social media applications can be created on a shoe string. Blogging platforms like Blogger, WordPress, and TypePad are free and easy to use. The pocket-sized Flip camcorder produces high-quality video and audio that can be immediately uploaded to the web. The average cost of the Flip is around $100.00. As for podcasting, all you need is software to record and edit and MP3s (most computers already have this application) and a desktop microphone, which retails around $30.

While social media may not be replacing traditional methods of fundraising, it is continually evolving and offering new opportunities to strengthen relationships and connect on a deeper level. In fact, according to Sree Sreenivasan, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, we’re still in the Jurassic era of the revolution. “The social media scene today is where radio was in 1912, where TV was in 1950, where the web was in 1996. A lot of wonderful opportunities lie ahead of us.”

Sean Horrigan creates and manages PR and social media strategies for nonprofits. Contact him at 617-304-7899 or email