I have discovered the advice of nonprofit and for-profit business experts is helpful for gauging what will work best when it comes to managing an organization’s online presence. There is a strong and growing cadre of respected nonprofit experts in online communication, but I admit, some of my favorites in the for-profit sector are sometimes even more persuasive.

A colleague pointed out a 2012 study regarding consumer behavior by The Nielsen Company. Nielsen studies trends and habits in more than 100 countries.

Lego Satellite“The voice of fellow consumers continues to be strongly heard when it comes to the most trusted forms of advertising. Ninety-two percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth or recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising—an increase of 18 percent since 2007.” -The Nielsen Company, Global Trust in Advertising and Brand Messages (April 2012) 

I have recently been advising two nonprofit organizations. I have asked them to consider including the role of “online ambassador” to the job descriptions for their board and advisory board members who are active on social media. Could these valuable “insiders” set aside time weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly to share positive experiences online, and to encourage their colleagues to support your nonprofit organization? As ninety-two percent of those studied by Nielsen trust recommendations from friends and family, this simple activity would indeed be powerful.

A normal part of serving on a nonprofit board is to be a community advocate and to say positive things about the organization’s work and accomplishments, whenever and wherever possible. If your advocates are also active online, consider suggesting they set aside time to share their opinions and experiences on social media. In this way, your nonprofit will amplify its online presence, attract greater public attention, and lend greater credibility to your mission.

Not only can board members and volunteers share their opinions randomly as the inspiration strikes, they can also be “corralled” to support well-planned online communication campaigns surrounding specific events and activities like galas, membership appeals, festivals, exhibitions, contests, emergencies and the like. Last but not least, should your nonprofit find itself in a difficult position, these same supporters could help alleviate public misconceptions by sharing positive information within their respective online communities.

One might think online advocacy is the preserve of “small” gift fundraising, but having been enticed onto Facebook by a major gift contributor originally, I know those capable of making substantial donations are also active online (as are their professional advisors). In fact, one way to cultivate major gift donors could be to engage them in simple tasks like online ambassadorship.

In Engaging Online Ambassadorson my own blog, I share insights from a number of professionals like Justin Ware of Benz Whaley Flessner, Jenna Hanington of Pardot, Jeff Livingston of Razoo, and outstanding resources like Pew Internet & American Life, NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, and the new “crowd-speaking” platform, Thunderclap.

In the end, not all nonprofit leaders have discovered the power of social media; you may have an uphill battle on your hands (as in the case of the two organizations I have been advising). These resources can be put to good use as you strive to convince your colleagues of the genuine merits of an online ambassador program!

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Carolyn Appleton
Carolyn Appleton is a nonprofit fundraising and marketing executive based in San Antonio, Texas. She is the recipient of a national “NTENy” award for outstanding volunteer service from NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network.