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« Can Small Nonprofits Reap Success With Social Media? (Giving away a copy of Twitter for Dummies) | Main | NTEN's Ask the Expert With Seth Godin: My Notes and Takeaways »


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Adin Miller

I think this is an important conversation Beth. I too would caution against dismissing social media because it might not have an immediate and dramatic affect on fundraising or volunteer generation. (I would also caution against relying on too little data; this field is developing so quickly that a study that ended in March may already be missing some key development). In my opinion, nonprofits should keep framing social media as an integral part of the organization's overall communication and marketing efforts that affect fundraising, advocacy, and branding. In the end, the ultimate concern might be the growing divide between those nonprofit organizations that use social media effectively and those that don't use it all -- and how the funding community might assess the two groups.


an important point of clarification, at least from my perspective. We interpret the results of our study as saying that nonprofits should abandon social media when the primary purpose is fundraising. It just doesn't work very well for that purpose, yet.

That doesn't mean that social media should be abandoned entirely. It does work well for other purposes. There's plenty of evidence (which we point to in the report) for other valuable uses for social media than fundraising.

But we do strongly believe that nonprofits committing significant resources to social media for the purposes of fundraising isn't wise. They are much better off waiting and watching and learning (which implies some level of engagement, not abandonment) and letting best practices evolve than putting themselves on the bleeding edge.

Of course there are exceptions, and some will benefit from being on the bleeding edge. But that should be a well-considered conscious decision to take the risks associated.


Tim Ogden
Philanthropy Action


We are providing our service, Viralheat, free for Non-Profits. If any company wants to engage, please contact us on our site:

Beth Kanter


Thanks for the clarification! I've been advocating for "Listen Learn Adapt" or return on insight before dollars for a long time now

Also, the other point is that social media strategy needs to:
-Focus on offline outcomes
-Be part of a multi-channel communications plan

Frankly, from my vantage point - a lot of reasons why social media doesn't work well with nonprofits is because it isn't integrated into a communications/internet presence plan - it is driven by shiney object syndrome.

Beth Kanter

Looks like other people are taking the same message away from your post Tim - social media - forget about it. Here's one:


I just hope nonprofits get some training! 95% of the Facebook Pages are shells of what they could be... and seemingly very few nonprofits are listening on Twitter. I think it is a very common mistake in the nonprofit sector to assume that if an individual uses social media in their personal life, then they know how to use it for branding a nonprofit. Many still struggle with the basics... what's an App? What's the difference between a Facebook Group and Page? Why does our organization want to be on Twitter if it is just used by those crazy teenagers? Etc.

This fundraising season will be very telling about social media ROI. I think many donors that have been engaged successfully by nonprofits on Facebook, Twitter, etc. this year... will end up making donations on the nonprofit's website. That why Apps and widgets are not good tools for gaging fundraising ROI.

The nonprofits I donated to 2 years ago are not the one's I donate to now... or plan on donating to this year end. I donate to the nonprofits I see on Facebook and Twitter.

I can't remember where I saw it... but a study was released a month or so ago that said that donors check out a nonprofit's website 64% of the time before making a donation (if they are getting a print fundraising appeal, newsletter, etc.). And then just this week a new study was released about consumers who see brands on social media sites also then go to the brand's website 34-48% of the time before making a purchase/donation. That's the case with me. If I see a nonprofit doing good work on Twitter... I check out their Website and bookmark them for the donation... either on their website or on, but never through Apps and widgets.

So, rather than gaging ROI by dollars raised on widgets, Facebook Causes, etc... nonprofits need to track/poll where their online donations are coming from. And this year, I think they will be pleasantly surprised... those at least that know how to use social media. Many don't. They really don't. Going back to the point you make by getting the infrastructure, training and expertise necessary to make it work the organization.

Social media is going to play a huge part in the mobile web... that's when it's really going to get interesting... and those nonprofits that have built communities on social media sites are best positioned to be early adopters of the mobile web. :)


agree completely on the "listen, learn, adapt" approach (and we point people to you and Allison as a source of the right kind of metrics for social media).

I think the most interesting "alternative" view of the data we collected is how many orgs reported no success on the metrics that they initially cared about but that they were planning on investing more. There are two possibilities to explain that: 1) they are caught up in shiny object syndrome and thinking "the reason it's not working is we haven't invested enough", or 2) they are finding value other than what they expected and that value is enough to justify increased investment.

Unfortunately the comments in the "Why are you increasing investment?" question indicate more of the former. But there is reason to believe the latter is also a major factor.


Jason Inman

Whale Song

I represent a mid-sized ($35+ million) organization that adopted a ning social network about a year ago and within the last 4 months adopted twitter, facebook, linkdn, youtube etc. The ning site is not really paid much attention and isn't doing much. Twitter and Facebook are doing well with an organic 1000+ and 7000+ respectively. In these communities we have seen numerous tangible benefits including increased attendance at an event, donations and GIK connections. The thought of ignoring social media is a surprising one.

I'm thinking non-profits ignoring social media would be tantamount to a lone humpback whale ignoring that silly echolocation noise happening all around him.



Thanks for sharing this information - do you have a case study or would you like to do an interview?


Beth Kanter

@heather - I agree there is a lot more to learn about best practices at this point - we're still in early stages. When you look at all the shell Facebook pages - or ones that are just streaming an endless march of content without engaging or interacting with people - no wonder there are poor results.

One pattern that I'm noticing is that the organizations getting better results, use social media as a strategy in their communications plan. If you don't have a strong communications strategy in place, than adding in social media as extra thing in the hopes to win the lottery - isn't going to happen.

Lauren Klein

Without looking at the actual age of those surveyed, I'm only speculating that Executives or Senior Leadership are fall in a particular age cohort and will likely have their preferred communication and proven business development proven methods. I am on the Board of Directors for the Northern Nevada American Lung Association and they do have a very traditional approach to business development. Direct mail and Christmas Seals are still programs that they actively support, more than social media. Their strategic plan will look at the number of individuals that consider them as 'fans' versus are active in a blog, community or participating in micro donations.

Paternalistic cultures will likely not adopt these new social mediums or until there are forcing mechanims occur.

Very interesting! I'm sure that much of the reluctance to use social media is because top managers and board members don't use it and thus have trouble understanding why a nonprofit should. As the second study says, it's tough to "quantify the impact of social technologies in terms familiar to executive directors and boards." The key words here are "quantify" and "familiar." We talk a lot about convincing the boss, but, I think, first we just need to get nonprofit professionals in general to use it. One of the reasons we see resistance is that social media started as personal conversation, not as a business tool. It's hard to get away from the vision of a teenager texting on her cell phone, and the feeling that this may just be a passing fad of the young. This has to be a bottom-up movement. When people use social media for professional reasons, they see its worth, and eventually start exploring how it can be applied to donors, volunteers, marketing, etc. For instance, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are all terrific professional tools to make connections, stay up with the field, look for jobs, and build one's own credibility. You don't really need any institutional support to engage in this way. I think acceptance of a broad use of social media by nonprofits will come through many little doorways opened by individuals who then become evangelists in their organizations. Maybe we're trying to "quanitify" and "convince" too soon. As you point out, Beth, "social media for nonprofits is still in its infancy."

Cathy Kujala

Tim's clarification made a big impact on how I understood the results. It got me to thinking about using social media for fundraising, and how we do that here for AIDS Walk Boston.

We connect with our participants through our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and then encourage them to use their own social media accounts as a way to fundraise for us. I think the important thing is that we are out there on these websites with them and having two-way conversations, instead of sending an email asking them to tweet about us, for example.

By having this disconnect -- having SUPPORTERS use social media to fundraise, instead of the organization itself -- we see positive results. Last year we developed a Facebook fundraising application that saw a significant increase in average fundraising for participants that installed it and had also raised money the year before.

The value of social media for organizations can't immediately be translated strictly into numbers, such as dollar amounts and numbers of volunteers. But I don't think it should be given up on as a way to increase fundraising and support, you just have to be careful.

Joe Mueller

Thanks a million for sharing these studies. A couple of thoughts:

-Adaptation of social media as part of an organization's strategy will be slow until nonprofit communicators determine what they need to stop doing to make time for this. Most are one-armed paper hangers.

-Executive directors and other staff must realize they may not like what's going to be said in social media conversations. They will resist social media because they can't control it.

-The data will be used by some executive directors and other staff as an excuse not to be innovative or creative. Communicators and marketers would be wise to go forward with some social media strategies. Ask for forgiveness instead of permission.


I think it's interesting that so much of the attention is paid to fundraising and volunteers. I'm sure most/a lot of nonprofits rely heavily on those two factors, but the nonprofits I have worked for don't necessarily place a lot of importance on the two.

Working for an orchestra, most attention was focused on ticket sales. Social media wasn't used for fundraising or volunteer recruiting. Sales and awareness mostly.

Now working for a research center, again I don't see fundraising and volunteer recruiting as key items. For a research center, it's all about research dissemination, building relationships and knowledge sharing.

Also, how can we determine whether social media is seemingly not working for nonprofits raising funds and volunteers because social media an sich is not working, or because they are not implementing social media tactics correctly. I suspect the latter is mostly the case.

Rae Bassett

I have to agree with Admin Millar - the landscape is changing so quickly, so unfortunately a survey completed in May is no longer very relevant. We have noticed massive changes in social media referred traffic ROI since August this year. Like Marc I'm talking about real sales, not fundraising. I do think there is some difficulty for non-profits in keeping up - the features of both Facebook and Twitter are changing so rapidly (like the transition from groups to page, and the recent changes to FB promotion rules) it does make it difficult - but I believe non-profits are agile and creative enough to cope!



Put this on Armchair Founder where you had posted and wanted to share it here.

A great discussion, thank you both for sharing your views. As a management consultant working with nonprofit organizations in the Louisville Kentucky area I tell my clients that social media is an important stewardship opportunity. We get hung up on the money.

According to a study last year from the Center on Philanthropy the biggest reason a donor stops giving is because they no longer feel connected to or engaged with the nonprofit ( How do you keep a donor engaged and informed? If a donor checks Facebook twice a week to see what their friends are up to, and also sees what the nonprofit he or she made a gift to is up to, it's a win. When a donor reads a Tweet from an organization to which he or she has made a gift, that's one way to keep them engaged, and increases the likelihood that they will make another gift.

Personally I don't like making contributions online (I know, blasphemy), it's a little too impersonal for me and I want the ask to be personal. So when I write that check, yes I still have a check book, it does not appear as a data point related to online giving, but online activity influenced the decision. I don't know how you begin to measure that, but there is rarely too much communicating with donors about how an organization is working to accomplish its mission.

Fund raisers focus on closing the gift, because that is how they are measured. Social media provides an inexpensive, opt-in, personal and intimate way to thank donors, to communicate with donors after the gift, helps ensure the gift returns the following year and that the donor feels appreciated. We get frustrated with donors who don’t read the newsletter, or didn’t open a letter because they thought it was a solicitation. You keep donors engaged by keeping them informed and we need to communicate with them in a format that works best for them.

What organization would not like to be able to share a different success story every week or every day with each of its donors? Delivered to their in-box or to their cell phone. No organization could afford that much direct mail, no one can make that many phone calls, and none of my clients have time to write full stories every week for even an e-newsletter, but short updates, 140 characters, they can figure that out. Social media also offers an opportunity for more staff members to be involved in communicating with donors and telling the organizations story. So it’s not always in the voice of the development director.


I wanted to chime in on the ROI and measuring/improving theme. Fully agree that initially ROI measurements can't be so narrow, but I suspect that many folks are not clear on how to evolve what's possible (and recommended) to measure as their social media strategy evolves. For example, in the early phases of social media implementation you might measure eNewsletter sign-ups, or event sign-ups that directly result from Twitter posts. But over time those may become lesser important than measuring Facebook/Twitter fundraising campaign success and/or evidence of viral PR/buzz spread of your org's mission.

My question: in the wealth of information out there is there a recommended source for what metrics are possible/recommended to measure in the various phases of rolling out social media? Tying those metrics to the tools that best support their collection would be nice. And finally, tying them back to ROI (even if initially soft) would certainly help the NPO advocate to gain internal support for their efforts.

I browsed around but didn't find anything quite like the above but may have missed it. Appreciate any pointers.

Darren (@thecommunityguy)

Beth Kanter

Hi Darren:

What you are describing is what I just wrote a chapter about for a forthcoming book - chapter is called The New ROI.

Look at the all the blog posts I've written in the ROI, Social Media Metrics section of this blog.

Saabira Chaudhuri

Hi Beth,

Thanks for referencing my post above and also for leaving a comment on it. As usual, your points about how non-profits can develop an effective social media strategy are constructive and very helpful. The one thing I wanted to clarify was your comment to Tim Ogden about my post assuming social media for nonprofits is pointless. I think his survey was actually very valuable because it highlights that nonprofits need to take a step back and re-evaluate what their goals and expectations are and how their social media strategy fits with these. I don't think Ogden thinks social media is useless for mid-sized nonprofits, just perhaps that harnessing it is a difficult task and one that hasn't proved very effective so far in two very specific domains- raising funds and attracting volunteers. This doesn't mean it's pointless for these nonprofits to use social media, it just means they shouldn't dive straight in without careful consideration. What I liked about the survey is that offered a realistic picture while at the same time laying out constructive suggestions about what these nonprofits should do... Much like you do all the time.

Big fan of your blog by the way. I interviewed you for fast company about a year ago and have been following it ever since.

Online Surveys

I think this is quite an important discussion that you have posted. It clarifies many peoples’ point of view on non-profits use of social media.

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