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« WeAreMedia Webinar on September 23rd: Choose Your Own Adventure | Main | Guest Post by Michael Hoffman: YouTube’s Game-Changing New Feature for Nonprofits »


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I don't think nonprofits are particularly better or worse off than any sector with regard to their adoption of social media. As you say, change is hard for people, full-stop.

Also, I have some problems with some of Seth's original arguments. He calls Twitter a "a free tool" but I think we all know that's disingenuous. Sure, it's free to set-up an account and tweet but doing it well and getting real results from it, that's a rare skill. The last time I checked, people with rare skills can charge LOTS of money. Getting on the front cover of the New York Times is free too, but I don't know too many PR people who will work to get me there for nothing.

Sure, many nonprofits are make an honest effort on sites like Twitter, but you need look no further than a recent ClickZ headline "Nonprofits Still Far from Connecting Twitter to Tangible Activism" ( to understand the challenges they face. As that article points out, "like brand marketers, advocacy and nonprofit groups are struggling to measure how their social media numbers translate to real action and real donations."

And BTW Seth's example about Squidoo is a bit funny -- does anyone EVER talk about Squidoo outside of the context of it being Seth's own site? Squidoo is interesting but if I was a nonprofit with scarce resources, I'd stick to creating content for Twitter and Facebook.

Peter Campbell

I think Grodin's piece is pretty pathetic. Since we know (from the metrics provided by Pew and others) that the vast majority of Twitter users never tweet, my guess is that if you could take a successful NPO on Twitter -- like NWF or Red Cross -- and rank the quality of conversation on those accounts against the quality on Oprah's and Ashton's, you'd have a metric that easily proves that NPOs are far more productive, engaged and effective with social media than the average trend seeker. He chose a really lame metric, and it does our community, which has been one of the most innovative on Facebook and Twitter, a real disservice.

Of course, as you point out, and as is true in any established industry, we have our luddites who aren't venturing online because they're scared of it. And they have no idea who Seth Grodin is and they aren't reading his blog. If they read (the print version of) NP Times, they'll skip over Michelle's article as soon as they see the word "Twitter".

Seth seems to be complaining that nonprofits don't operate the same way that startups do. Well, a lot of nonprofits aren't startups. Why would we? My org has been around since the 70's, and the one I was at before that for about 100 years. But both those organizations are innovative and savvy about social media. They'll also hit you with traditional mailings (unless you opt out) because we know that the Seth Grodin's are still in the minority. Again, with a Target survey showing that 90% of our donations are coming through the traditional (not online) channels, dropping our direct mail programs would be organizational suicide.

Grodin should follow a rule that I know I try to: write about what you know. This was a really misplaced piece.

Roger Carr

I am surprised that ROI is not at the heart of this discussion.

It may not be the latest, shiny technique, but nonprofits continue to be successful at raising funds using the 40 year old, stale direct marketing tactics that Seth seems to believe should not be used.

At a time when many nonprofits are concerned with being able to meet payroll and continuing current programs, too much risk could put them out of business and their ability to support an important cause is gone. They need to do what has the highest payoff for the organization, even if it is not the latest technique being pushed by marketers.


Roger: Thanks for your reminder about ROI in the discussion.

On Tue, Sep 15, 2009 at 7:36 PM, wrote:

Ted Fickes

Seth Godin is talking about passion, not Twitter. About transparency. About how non-profits conceive of and relate to people. It's not about the top 100 on Twitter or Squidoo (yeah, I've also heard of it but never had it come up in a conversation. ever.)

My interpretation is that it reflects some frustration with nonprofit marketers and communicators that think that once they have the "top three ways to use social media" training out of the way they'll be able to distribute their messages in these new channels. The same frustrations probably exist with for profit folks (the subject of 99% of his posts).

Godin was talking to nonprofits about transparency, community and "flipping the funnel" long before Facebook. I suspect (hope) that his underlying message about how to openly interact with/engage/relate to/interact with your audience would apply to stale direct marketing tactics as well... most of which, unfortunately, are evaporating as fast as the water in the Mojave (or the age of list members).

In other words, it is about how you interact/relate and the passion/relevance of your message to the audience... not the channel.


I work for a non profit and we're the only museum in Arizona to be on the "Top Museums on Twitter" list. (Old rankings for ref:
We adopted twitter and facebook (and other social media outlets) as soon as myself and another colleague began working for the company. we're not luddites even though my organization has been around for 80 years.....and I sort of resent being a generalization, but I can see where his point is coming from. I agree with Nick :) I will say that older employees are pretty excited about what they are seeing happening with social media. They may not "do it" but they support it. And thats good enough for me most days.

Here’s a simple example from my day job: on a regular basis, Squidoo writes $10,000 checks to charities. And yet, virtually no “major” causes have sent their volunteers over to use it as a fundraising or attention raising or action generating tool.

Sounds like someone has Facebook and Twitter envy ;)

Not saying Seth doesn't have a point about some NPO's resistance to adopt new tools and methods. It's just that his delivery stinks and it reeks of someone upset that his site doesn't get the play that others do. But to make a big stink like this, maybe that's just good marketing for Squidoo. No such thing as bad PR.

For all the NPO's doing it right (there are literally thousands), keep it up. Those of you doing it well are the leaders for the sector and more and more everyday follow your lead.

Beth, you just tweeted this article as I was writing this...


Nick Temple

Great, balanced post Beth. Nice to wake up and see I wasn't alone in not agreeing with the original Godin post.

As you say, the irony of the situation may be that the people engaged (or enraged) by Seth's post are the social change people who are MOST involved in using social media already.

From our point of view at the School for Social Entrepreneurs, we've had our best year ever: doubled in size + the number of people we support; therefore doubled potential impact; doubled turnover; and created new jobs within our org as well. In addition, @SchSocEnt was called an "essential tweep" on social entrepreneurship by @SocialEdge, but it will be sometime before that features in a report to our board, our funders or other potential supporters....!


To be honest Seth's post truly resonated to me and I think Nick Temple is right: most of the "enraged" people here are already using social media.

However the reasons that I think Seth is right is that I am not from the States, and to be honest I don't know a single Eastern Europe non profit that uses effectively technology, not to say social media, in their work. That goes for Asia and Africa as well, and I truly believe that technology and social media would make a huge impact in these areas... would make the things so much easier.

But even for the States, can you point me a small non-profit website or Facebook profile (when I say small I mean working in a neighborhood or city) that really helps the organization do their work better? I haven't been able to find one and I hope that is because I don't know how to look well enough.


Is it a case perhaps that everyone who is so angry with Seth are the ones who are doing things and probably doing them well? But there are 100's probably 1000's that arent, 1000's that are doing exactly what Seth is saying. Dont take this so personally folks, Seth really isnt that far off the mark.


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Abby Ravera

Hi Beth, I'm in the "Seth-is-slacking" quarter.

UN World Food Programme has been making leaps and strides with online media and social networks in the past 1 year or so... really consciously driving our presence there.

We're just on the brink of launching a pretty incredible campaign calling on the active online billion to help the hungry billion - it's entire premis is using online new media and web 2.0 (check out in the next week or so!)

Danielle Lanyard

This post is both well thought out, and part of a new wave of good ol fashion egotism. Whether its social entrepreneurs denigrating nonprofits as having an outdated model, PR firms w/ new causes of the day that marginalize grassroots initiatives with their media savvy, or the pop futurists who don't care to hear from the soldiers on the front lines of now and yesterday - the days of divide and conquer must end. This "otherness" is at the root of all our isms, and goes much deeper than Seth Godin's whack attack on nonprofits.

Seth Godin, whose built his whole platform on community as ecosystem, should know better than to separate himself from the whole in order to assert dominance. Even Darwin would question this kind of evolution...

Kate Brodock

Beth -

Thanks for bringing the Godin post to our attention.

We work a lot with non-profits, and I work more so on a personal basis in implementing social media strategy. I think Godin is missing a big point here, and that's one of resources.

While implementing social media strategy may be "free" it is a huge time commitment to get it right, and often there aren't the people resources to do it effectively.

Almost every non-profit we've come across is actually quite eager to get into the social media space somehow. They recognize the ability to reach new volunteers, to fundraise, to get their message out, etc. I find more fear in our corporate clients than our non-profit ones.

However, it comes down not being able to dedicate the time resources that are already strapped more often than it is about fearing change.

So I agree that Seth is way off. It's not about a fear of change, it about the fact that it's much more difficult for them to change quickly given what they have available.

I would also urge Seth to use the time to "fix" the situation he sees. I would bet he would have incredibly eager eyes and ears at attention to use his knowledge and expertise for their organization. Already this year, we have done two pro bono social media reports for Boston-area non-profits, which were voraciously and enthusiastically soaked up and implemented (albeit slow...due to resource-constraint).

OK, I'll admit it, I am a Seth Godin devotee. But now, I'm a disappointed devotee, for several reasons.

First, you're right, Seth didn't do his homework. He based a very well-written, yet flawed post based on his (clearly) limited personal experience with non-profits and his frustration with the organizations with whom he deals. For example, I guess Seth did not look at Children's Defense Fund and The Humane Society of the United States, just to name a few great non-profits that lead the pack on social media implementation.

The sad thing about the post is, for the first time, I realized how inaccessible Seth makes himself in the social media world. He's still stuck in the old world of one-way communication. He's not accessible on Twitter and his blog does not allow comments. Interesting. Chris Brogin and Guy Kawasaki are not only accessible, they are personally responsive. HMMMM.... Is Seth stuck in v.1 of Internet culture? One way communication?

Finally, I am disappointed that Seth uses such simple and mainstream metrics to try to illustrate the lack of SM activity on the part of Non-profits. Many of the organizations and "people" listed in the Twitter 100 use the "mass-media" approach to gathering followings. They may broadcast very general, broad, or pop-culture content, frequently may have unusually deep experience in marketing strategy, and may have financial and human resources to dedicate to gathering their followings.

Non-profits, by contrast, frequently have very targeted messages and very targeted audiences, which clearly will make their share of the SM universe smaller. They don't need to appeal to the masses, they need to appeal to people who will give to, advocate for, and otherwise support their causes. They use a "tweezers approach" to gathering followers, not a bulldozer approach. They often do not have deep commercial marketing expertise, and often have fewer resources than those listed on the Top 100.

Come on, Seth, talk to Beth before you blast your missives through your blog. Perhaps you should direct your frustration DIRECTLY to the EDs and Boards of the organizations to which you refer. And, BTW, the bully-pulpit is typically not the best way to encourage change!

Peggy Clements

I took Seth Godin's article as a challenge to nonprofits to do a better job of telling their story and mobilize others who share our mission to do the same. Particularly the line "When was the last time you had an interaction with a nonprofit.. and were blown away?" We (nonprofits for lack of a better term) need to remember that we do have a great idea and plenty of people are willing to help if we just ask them, in an engaging way. I do think he's apparently unaware of the nonprofits who are doing a terrific job of embracing social media. Lots of us have jumped in and are learning daily with the help of people like Beth Kanter. Thanks!

Rick Calvert

Great post Beth, and I haven't read Seth's post but if his mission was to raise awareness and get a discussion going then mission accomplished.

I think people need to realize the Non Profit classification encompasses hundreds of thousands of entities. I just did a quick search and came up with this statistic: 771,501 non profits and associations in the United States!

I have personally worked in the Association / trade show world for the last 12 years and can tell you from first hand experience most of them are not using social media. In fact I just gave a talk to several major trade show organizers in Orlando last Friday. 90% of them were run by non-profits and had no clue what I was talking about. It was a two hour talk and people asked lots of questions.

The good news? everyone of them was very interested in the subject and came away from it with an even stronger interest and realizing they needed to get in this game now.

I don't attribute that to my speaking skills, it was the message not the messenger. So Seth may be right or he may be wrong, but what I know from first hand experience is that the non-profits I know are very interested in social media if not actively using it to advance their mission just yet.

More evidence of that would be the announcement we made yesterday about a non profit track at BlogWorld this year (Thanks to Ebay) and the huge twitter buzz of people voting to send their favorite non profit to the event for free.

Comcast's non profit meet ups have been very well attended both online and offline as well.

What a great post...I especially liked Fran's comments. Non-profits and government alike (I have worked for both) are holding organizations in trust for the public. We cannot just turn to the mass media approach of gaining followers. Rather, this is about a larger commitment of time and resources (under the constraint of a usually tapped budget) to building relationships with our customers and partners.

For those of us doing the legwork in this sector, I would venture to say we actually have to prove more upfront. We have to show case studies and practical application by others in our sector and mitigate concerns at many levels--employees, management, boards, and constituents. It can sometimes be a slower process, but that is because we don't come into it with a sense of responsibility to just the company or the profits. We know upfront that if we screw up, we directly impact the people we serve.

I see nonprofits every day in Columbus that blow me away... COSI, the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, and more. The best thing that the "rock stars" of social media can do is engage in your own local non-profits. Talk to communications and marketing leaders in local government and local universities. Sometimes all we need is a little guidance, support, and encouragement.


Hello Beth,

Yes, I was taken aback when I read this post by Seth, someone whose opinion I usually respect.

I appreciate you leading the charge to set him right on what non-profits are doing to engage social media.

For one thing, he is erroneous in assuming that because there is not a non-profit among the top 100 Twitter users that non-profits are reluctant to embrace social media.

When I was Director of Emerging Technologies at a top scientific honor society (I have since left the organization), I led initiatives (in 2006) for the organization to use blogging, create online forums and to use (then new) services such as Twitter. As scientists we were open and willing to experiment, see what worked, dust ourselves off when something didn't and move on.

Hopefully Seth will have the decency to recognize his mistake and make amends by reporting accurately on non-profits' efforts to embrace social technologies.

Beth Kanter

Thanks for the great comments. Here's some more responses

Geoff Livingston

Hildy Gottlieb

This is a great conversation and kudos to all who are partaking on and off-line. This may be a rare perspective, but recently a colleague told me that she nor her staff has time to be on Twitter/Facebook. "It's only a craze. Most of our donors aren't using it. We can't sit behind a computer all day --we are doers!" Although studies point to many nonprofits as early adopters and users of social media, she has a point. Once they adopt, test the applicability for their organization,the challenge is how to manage online immediacy/presence with everything else. This said, a new chapter has emerged. I found a recent NPower study of interest, perhaps you will, too:

I took Seth's post to say that there aren't many nonprofit organizations that have really committed to social media as a channel, and there are many that are not involved at all. Given the resources of some of the big, famous nonprofits, and the clear picture of the value social media brings to nonprofits, one would expect to see a bigger effort and a bigger return from these big nonprofits.

I wrote a fairly lengthy response to Seth's post via the Digg comments, and in that forum I seemed to be the one of the only one who didn't think the post was brilliant, but instead, deeply flawed. Glad to see other people are taking issue with him as well.

I think, Beth you are so right and concur whole-heartedly that perhaps Seth coulda' done his homework. I think his article is s a "hard charge" and reflects his limited experience with the nonprofit sector period. Business Marketing Guru-sure. Doesn't mean it translates to NP's.

Victoria Pacchiana

Great post, Beth. I'm not at all surprised to see so much talk about Godin's post -- it definitely stung.

I do think though that while much of what Godin said can be interpreted to include all nonprofits, he had the intent of inspiring latent social media users.

The line, "When was the last time you had an interaction with a nonprofit.. and were blown away?" should sound a familiar tune to those who've heard that social media is about conversation, it's about storytelling, and about making your organization's mission more human. This is something that a lot of nonprofits have heeded, but there's always room for growth and improvement.

Godin should have done his homework if he intended to commend the great work of the nonprofits who are rocking social media, but perhaps he wasn't speaking to that audience.

Either way, the response that his post has seen is definitely starting a conversation that will hopefully lead to more action, more participation, and a stronger nonprofit sector.

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