Nonprofit Social Media: Defining “Success” For Your Nonprofit

Social Media Success for Your Nonprofit

There’s a good chance at some point someone has told your nonprofit you need to be utilizing social media.  They’re right – there’s huge potential to leverage social media to help your nonprofit fulfill its mission.  But the use of social media is not an end on its own.  Far too many organizations are rushing into using social media without a reason to do so.  Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you should be too.

This is not a “How To” post explaining the ways you can use social media.  It’s a “Why To” post.  Before undertaking the use of social media, it’s worthwhile to figure out the role it can play in your nonprofit’s efforts to serve your community.  Frank Berry of Blackbaud points out that social media should in some way be supporting some of your nonprofit’s other various organizational goals.  If it’s not somehow helping you serve your community, it’s probably not a worthwhile endeavor.

There’s no universal “right way” to use social media.  This can be empowering in that it gives your organization a lot of flexibility.  It can also be daunting.  It’s easier to follow a step-by-step guide than forge a social media strategy on your own.  But a bit of initial investment in figuring out what you hope to achieve through your use of social media will reduce the amount of “wasted” time you spend on social media and save you time in the long run.  In order to determine the effectiveness of your social media usage, you’ll need some sort of strategy in place.

Measuring Organizational Impact, Not Likes or Retweets

The key question to ask yourself when beginning your use of social media is:

What outcomes will serve as indicators that you’re using social media effectively?

These outcomes should be metrics you’re already tracking, like:

  • Number of new donors
  • Number of repeat donors
  • Overall fundraising
  • Number of new volunteers
  • Number of repeat volunteers
  • Total number of volunteer hours

We’re not talking about social media-specific metrics, like Likes on Facebook or how big you’ve grown your Twitter following.  If social media is to truly serve your nonprofit, it needs to have a tangible impact on your organization’s ability to serve your community.  It’s up to you to figure out what impact makes the most sense as a starting point for your organization.

Below are five common social media goals as well as the impacts each can have within your nonprofit.  No matter which goals you ultimately choose to focus on, it’s important that you customize them to fit the needs of your nonprofit.

Increased Name Recognition

No one is capable of supporting a cause they don’t know exists.  Beyond simply getting your name out there, people are far more likely to support an organization they trust.  Trust is developed over time through repeated positive exposure.  But it starts with simple awareness of your nonprofit’s existence and mission.

Of course not everyone you get in touch with will ultimately become a supporter of your cause.  But the more people you’re able to reach in some way, the greater the likelihood you’ll reach people that are interested in your cause.

Organizational Impacts

The impact that increased name recognition has on your nonprofit will vary based on what kind of outcome you’re targeting.  But increasing your name recognition can have some of the following organizational impacts:

  • Increased New Donors – Increasing your nonprofit’s name recognition can help to foster relationships with new donors.  Awareness of your organization in some capacity is a precondition for anyone trusting you enough to donate.
  • Increased New Volunteers – Volunteers are more apt to support a cause they can identify with and need to know your organization exists before signing up to help out.
  • Increased Collaborative Opportunities – If you’re better known, there’s a good chance you’ll have more opportunities to collaborate with others in ways that further your mission.  This may be something as simple as writing a guest blog post for another organization or collaborating on an event.

Growing your following on Facebook and Twitter can be helpful, but those are not ends in their own right.  Increasing your nonprofit’s name recognition should lead to tangible impacts for your organization.

Example of a Nonprofit Doing This Well is leveraging Twitter to boost awareness for their organization’s efforts to empower youth.  They post information directly related to their cause, including facts about teens, helpful links to resources, news stories focused on youth and a variety of direct interactions with their supporters.  Since they started Tweeting in March of 2008, they’ve been able to successfully grow their following to more than 525,000 followers, thus significantly increasing the audience they are able to reach.

Calvin Stowell, social media strategist at, emphasized the benefits that growing their Twitter following has had on the organization.  Stowell said that Twitter has “afforded us means to acquire members for our various campaigns” as well allowing to position itself as a “thought leader in the not-for-profit space.”

Additionally, their use of Twitter led Mashable, one of the most popular blogs in the world with a Twitter following of over 2.8 million people, to include them in a list of non-profits on Twitter.  Inclusion in such high profile lists can significantly increase the likelihood potential supporters will find your nonprofit and start listening to what you have to say.

Stowell also highlighted the relationships Twitter has allowed to build with supporters.  “We are very familial on Twitter which helps us form a really personal relationship with our followers and makes them far more likely to become brand ambassadors for us.”

Maintain Relationships With Current Supporters

It can be tough to find donors, volunteers and advocates that are dedicated to helping your cause through donating or working with your nonprofit.  But once you’ve managed to find such people, maintaining these relationships should be of prime importance.  Cultivating long-term relationships with people that have demonstrated their willingness to support your nonprofit should be mutually beneficial.  While social media shouldn’t be the only way you actively maintain these connections, it can provide a powerful resource in your effort to do so.

Organizational Impacts

Maintaining relationships with current supporters through social media can have a variety of impacts, including:

  • Increased Repeat Giving – If you’re successfully maintaining relationships with your donors, they’ll be more inclined to continue to support your nonprofit in the future.
  • Increased Overall Fundraising – It stands to reason that if you’re retention of donors increases (and you don’t stop recruiting new donors) your overall level of fundraising should also get a boost.
  • Increased Repeat Volunteers – Much like donors, if you maintain relationships with volunteers, they will be more apt to return to volunteer again if they feel a sense of connection with your organization.

Example of a Nonprofit Doing This Well

Amnesty International is a strong example of an organization using Twitter effectively to maintain relationships with its supporters.  Their Twitter feed is full of shout outs to individual people, mentioned by name or Twitter handle.  They’re also mixing up the type of interaction they have with followers, including:

  • Recognizing supporters that work to further their cause
  • Answering questions posed by members of their community
  • Thanking donors that have Tweeted about their recent donation
  • Sharing information and resources their followers will likely find interesting

Small, personal touches like this can go a long way in maintaining the relationships you and your organization have worked so hard to establish.

Connect With New Supporters

No matter how good you are at retention, chances are you’ll need to recruit new supporters.  A person will likely be more receptive to your message if it comes with an endorsement from someone they value.  Social media provides a huge opportunity for such peer recommendations to help spread your communication to new people.  And since your supporters are the ones sharing your message with their friends, those friends will be more likely to actually listen to what you have to say.

Organizational Impact

This is where many organizations get lured into simply measuring Likes on Facebook or retweets on Twitter.  It’s important to remember these actions serve only as indicators of success and aren’t true metrics of success on their own.  If such sharing is actually helping your organization, you should see some of the following:

  • Increased New Donors – If your supporters are sharing their support with friends, there’s an increased likelihood those friends will follow suit and make a donation to your nonprofit.
  • Increased New Volunteers – Much like was the case with new donors, peer endorsements can make your nonprofit seem like an attractive place to volunteer.
  • Increased Collaborative Opportunities – Increased sharing of your message can help spread the word and make you appear legitimate, leading to more chances to collaborate with other organizations.

Example of a Nonprofit Doing This Well

The American Red Cross is leveraging both Facebook and Twitter to amplify its message.  Their posts are routinely shared by hundreds (and sometimes even thousands) of people on each of these social networks, helping them to reach a wider audience than they could alone.

But you don’t have to be a huge organization like the Red Cross to learn from their example.  If you share content that’s valuable and meaningful to your audience, they’ll share your content with their friends.  Such sharing allows you to reach people outside of your immediate community and connect with new potential supporters.

Share Your Nonprofit’s Impact

You’ve likely heard it time and time again but it bears repeating – you need to be routinely sharing your nonprofit’s impact.  This helps not only to recruit new supporters but also retain the support of those already contributing to your cause.  Regardless of whether someone supports you with a donation, by volunteering or advocating for your cause, they’ll likely want to know they’re contributing to making the world a better place.  It’s your job to make sure they’re able to see the impact they’re having through their involvement with your nonprofit.

Social media provides a variety of ways for you to showcase the impact your nonprofit is having in your community.

Organizational Impact

The results that effectively communicating your impact will have on your organization are a little harder to say since they’ll largely depend on how you focus your efforts, but you should see some of the following tangible benefits:

  • Increased New Donors – Many potential donors will want to have a concrete idea of the types of impacts your nonprofit has on the world before donating money to your cause.  In fact, one study found that 71% of individual donors want information on “effectiveness” (second only to information on “financials”) when researching whether or not to donate to an organization.  According to the same study, 90% of foundations said they want to see information on “expected impact” before giving money.
  • Reduced Donor Attrition – Studies have shown that donors are more likely to stop supporting an organization if they’re unsure of how their contributions are being used.  One such study on donors age 20-35 found that 78% of respondents said they’d be somewhat or very likely to stop donating if they “didn’t know how the donation was making an impact.”
  • Increased Overall Fundraising – More new donors coupled with better retention should help lead to better fundraising as a whole.
  • Increased New Volunteers – When deciding whether or not to volunteer, many people want to get a feel for the impact they’ll be having.  Effectively helping them visualize this impact can boost your recruiting efforts.
  • Increased Repeat Volunteers – Even after someone has volunteered with your organization, they likely want to know what impact their work had.  Sharing the fruits of their labor can improve the chance they’ll volunteer again in the future.

Example of a Nonprofit Doing This Well

The organization charity: water is using Pinterest to showcase the impact they’re having in the world.  More specifically, they have a “Photo of the Day” album where they share the daily impacts their nonprofit is having on people on the other side of the world.  They show a photo and write a short caption explaining the story behind what’s happening.  Something as simple as one photo coupled with a compelling story can help make supporting your nonprofit much more concrete.

Melissa Burmester, a project manager at charity: water, discussed the power that visuals can play in sharing the organization’s impact.  “Rather than tell you what it’s like to walk three hours a day for drinking water – we’ll use visuals to show you… When we complete a water project, we report back to the donors with photos and GPS coordinates on Google Maps,” Burmester said.  “It’s essential for our supporters to see their impact.”

Charity: water’s supporters may not be able to travel to rural Africa, but they can see the impact their donation is having in rural Africa nonetheless.

Establish Your Authority on a Topic

People are more likely to support an organization that seems to be knowledgeable in their field.  A study on donor behavior found that individuals are seeking to “give to a reputable nonprofit” and that they “care about [the] legitimacy [and] respect” of the organizations they ultimately decide to support.  By leveraging social media, you can help demonstrate your nonprofit’s knowledge related to your cause and increase the likelihood you’ll be recognized as an expert in your field.

Organizational Impact

Being seen as an expert can have a variety of impacts on your nonprofit, but perhaps the biggest two are:

  • Increased Collaboration Opportunities – If people see you as an expert, they’re more likely to reach out to you when discussing the issues that you focus on.  This may come in the form of requests for an interview, an invitation to write a guest post for someone’s blog, a post via social media or an email simply asking for your advice.  Increased collaboration can lead to more exposure for your organization and cause.
  • Increased New Donors – Supporters tend to respond positively to nonprofits that appear to be effective.  The more you show up in interviews and articles as an expert, the more likely it is potential supporters will believe you know what you’re talking about.

Example of a Nonprofit Doing This Well

Greater Than AIDS uses their Facebook Page to help establish their authority in the world of HIV and AIDS prevention.  They frequently post links to articles and info related to their mission they think is worthwhile reading for their supporters.  Greater Than AIDS also links to various outlets that are covering their organization, helping to draw attention to the fact they’re regarded as experts when it comes to HIV prevention.

As a result of their success, they’re featured on the Non-profits on Facebook Success Stories section, giving them even more credibility and exposure.

Be Thoughtful, Have Fun and Get Creative

Before getting started with social media, take a little time to figure out how it will fit in to your nonprofit and how you’ll measure success.  Determining the concrete impacts your social media efforts should have on your organization will not only help you know if you’re being successful, it will also help you demonstrate the tangible benefits of your efforts to others.

And lastly, don’t forget to have fun and get creative.  Social media is all about building relationships.  Keep an eye on the data, but don’t stress out.  If done well, social media can both help your organization serve your community and be a fun process along the way.

Continue Reading

How to Maintain Relationships with Donors Using the Internet

How to Maintain Relationships with Volunteers Using the Internet

How to Get More People To Your Events With Social Media

Nonprofit Marketing Bundle


Nonprofit Social Media Primer – Blackbaud

How Non-Profits Are Using Social Media [INFOGRAPHIC] – Mashable

Getting Social Media Right: A Short Guide for Nonprofit Organizations – Bridgespan

Non-profits on Facebook – Success Stories Page

Money for Good II: Summary Report – Hope Consulting

Millennial Donors Report 2011 – Achieve and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates

Image courtesy of webtreats, Flickr