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8 Actionable Nonprofit Social Media Tactics

Social Media’s Role in Giving Tuesday
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How to Use Social Media to Improve Donor Loyalty

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nonprofit social media tactics

There’s no free lunch anymore, if there ever was.

At least not when it comes to social media.

In the early days it may have seemed like “free marketing” – no stamps, no paper, no printing – but it always took time. So even then you may have been kidding yourself. It’s a bit like saying your event raised $100,000 when your direct expenses were $50,000 and your indirect expenses, including direct staff time (not just the event coordinator, but also the executive, development, marketing and finance directors), volunteer management and lost opportunity cost were another $50,000 – or more.

Today, with so much noise in the digital realm, it’s time to call your social media spade a spade.

The market is saturated.

Any advantage you may have reaped by being an early adopter is gone. Everyone is in the social space, and your competition is not just other nonprofits but legions of businesses, small, medium and large.

Your constituents are all there too, and it’s not just Millennials. Per Pew Research Center, seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves. You’re dealing with “Generation C” – generation connected – and it knows no demographic boundaries.

So… you need a strategic social media plan to which you devote real resources. People. Infrastructure. Money.

What can you do to stand out and maximize the return on your investment?

Begin by understanding the broad marketplace

If you’re the fundraiser you still need to understand how folks learn about you, interact with you and share information about you with their peeps.  

Since you’re the “bottom line” person (i.e., reaching folks to inspire philanthropy is your raison d’etre; you aren’t after counting ‘likes’ and ‘follows’) you may want to add in your two cents — or more — about how and where you’re messaging folks. Honestly, this has always been the case (IMHO); it’s why I’ve been a broken record on the subject of integrating marketing and fundraising since I began in this business nearly four decades ago (I started in the womb?). To my mind, ‘development’ is just an invented word for ‘marketing,’ coined during a time when nonprofits wanted nothing to do with “business.”  That time is long gone.

You are in business, you’re competing against business, and you better do it right.

Or suffer the consequences of being the proverbial “best kept secret.”

Here are some data to share with your team, garnered from the annual UMass Dartmouth Social Media Research analysis of the Inc. 500 small businesses.

1. 94% of small businesses use some form of social media

You need to use it too if you want to be where your current and prospective audiences spend their time. In other words, we’re getting to the point where people will begin to simply say “media,” and not “social media.” It’s not optional if you want to see and be seen.

ACTION TIP: Claim ownership of your brand on social media platforms where your audience spends their time. Complete your profiles. Use strong avatars. Start and contribute to conversations. Keep your social media branding consistent. This includes images, typeface and voice.

2.  LinkedIn and Facebook are reported as the most effective platforms

If you’re using Facebook and Twitter more than LinkedIn; you may want to rethink. LinkedIn is where people with jobs and money congregate – including C Suite executives – so you don’t want to give short shrift to this communications channel. Also, engagement on LinkedIn (click throughs) is higher than Facebook or Twitter. Of course, what’s effective for you may be different. The point is to track return on investment among different channels; not just guess.

ACTION TIP: If you use LinkedIn, claim your LinkedIn Company Page and keep it current. Make sure you optimize your profile by filling everything out, updating it regularly (this alerts your followers to check you out) and even publishing articles on LinkedIn to establish yourself as a thought leader and create engagement. Also suggest to staff, volunteers and lay leaders that they add you to their own LinkedIn profile, thus extending your reach to their networks.

3. Blogging is the third most effective social media tool

I’ve long been a huge proponent of blogging for nonprofits, and it turns out it’s now adopted and maintained by at least 50% of companies. And this includes the larger Fortune 500 companies as well. Maybe they know what they’re doing?

ACTION TIP: Integrate a blog into your website to give yourself an owned digital home base. Not only will this support email list building and search, it also provides a dynamite means of building ongoing supporter relationships. You can offer lots of relevant content that helps more than it sells, thereby fulfilling your part of the nonprofit value-for-value exchange bargain. If you want gifts, you must give them. [See Nonprofit Blogging that Drives Engagement Playbook].

4. 56% of small businesses track online conversations

Business executives understand how important it is to be aware of the opinions and perceptions their customers share online. Their brand identity, and potentially sales, depend on having a positive online presence. So they use a monitoring tools to pay attention to what people are saying about their brands, products, or industry and, especially, what they’re sharing with their networks. Do you know what people are saying about you through their online actions and interactions?

ACTION TIP: Monitor your social media environment. Invest in tools to review what’s being said about you, what folks are interested in as it relates to your mission, where they’re coming from and so forth. You can use something as simple as Google Analytics (free version); supplement this with tools embedded in your nonprofit CRM or database. Be on the lookout for (1) problems to which you may need to respond and (2) opportunities of which you may be able to take advantage.

5. There is a growing appreciation about social media effectiveness for different purposes

While there is no consensus social media automatically results in increasing the bottom line, small business leaders do see positive outcomes. Increasing awareness is seen as the biggest win.

ACTION TIP: Support employee engagement to leverage social media effectiveness. Define what you want employees to do on social media to support your mission; include this in job descriptions. Get buy-in to assure values are aligned and staff feel comfortable as an online advocate. Provide staff with the training and tools they need to participate and use consistent branding. Develop and share a set of social media guidelines.

6. Businesses see the need to plan and manage social media more specifically

In 2018 21% of the Inc. 500 companies reported having a stand-alone social media plan, compared with just 12% a year earlier. 43% have a social media plan incorporated into their marketing/business plan (38% in 2017). 35% still have no written social media plan, but that’s a decline from 50% in 2017. Without a written plan, it’s not always clear to staff what should be done or what should take priority.

ACTION TIP: Develop a written social media plan with bottom line business goals, measurable objectives and trackable metrics. Don’t simply fall back on brand awareness and other easy-to-track metrics that don’t necessarily yield an addressable audience, leads or desired action responses. Also, don’t shuttle your social media plan off to the side. Maximize your effectiveness, and reduce costs, by assuring your plan works well with other elements of your integrated marketing communications and fundraising strategies.

7. Websites are the spending target of choice

 Email marketing, tracking software, and paid social media are also priorities. The least targeted area for increased spending is print advertising.

As a fundraiser, thinking about how to allocate online marketing resources may not be your area of responsibility. But if you want to succeed in your job, it’s incumbent on you to talk with your IT and management staff about this critically important aspect of your overall online marketing and fundraising plan. M+R found nonprofit homepages took 3.181 seconds on average to load content visible to the user, while the main donation page on each site loaded in 2.816 seconds. Yet nearly half of web users expect a website to load in two seconds or less. Uh oh. Research shows a one-second delay in page load time can lead to an 11% decrease in traffic, and significantly fewer conversions. How much are you thinking about investing in your website to make it easier for folks to find you, share your messages, and follow through on your calls to action?

ACTION TIP: Talk with your IT and management staff about this critically important aspect of your overall online marketing and fundraising plan. [Tell them M+R recommends using, a Google-supported tool that evaluates several metrics relating to how quickly a web page loads.]

8. Executives aren’t considering the total expense of social media

They’re looking largely at elements with outside price tags (see above), not so much at infrastructure, tools, SEO and content curation and creation. In other words, most plans are half-baked and supported by insufficient budgets. You don’t have to allocate money for everything, especially where resources are tight. You do need to determine priority areas for expenditures, based on how well these strategies work with other elements of your marketing mix.

ACTION TIP: Create an integrated marketing and social media strategy. Social media is not just about the medium, it’s every bit as much about your message. Or, as I’ve written previously: “social media without a content marketing program sucks.” You need a comprehensive roadmap that considers every element of your marketing communications plan and how everything works together. [Download Online Approaches to Build and Sustain Donor Loyalty]


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  • Natalia R Blair

    Hi Claire Best piece i've read so far on Fundraising and Social media. I really appreciate the hyperlinks to other articles too. thank you, Natalia
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