Social Media and Your Non-Profit

When clients and potential clients ask me to help them with their social media, I often groan (silently) and wonder what I should say. Social-Media-IconsYour social media tells a story about your organization. Are you telling the story of an active and dynamic organization that is mobilizing and engaging supporters in the passion of their mission? Or are you telling the story of an organization that would prefer your supporter hand over their money and let you get on with your work?

Social Media is not just another leg on your marketing stool. It's a whole different seat at the table.

The problem most non-profit organizations and for-profit companies have with social media is the social part. This isn't old-school, get-your-message-out promotion… Creating a successful social media presence requires you to actually interact with your customers, constituents and supporters.

Which is why I cringe when nonprofits ask me to bid on writing their social media content. I write my own tweets, Facebook posts and LinkedIn updates for my consulting practice, and I really believe it's critical that you have an organizational insider conducting your social media.

It's easy for a consultant to come in and say something like, "You should make sure you tweet your message XX times per day." or "Engage your supporters in conversations on Facebook."

But an outsider will have a much harder time creating engaging social media content and building authentic shaking handsrelationships than an insider will have.

Social media is another way of telling a story -- the story of how your organization functions on a daily basis. How do you treat supporters and staff? How do you view your mission? How nimble are you when news breaks or a crisis rises up? Social media is a big plate-glass window into all of these areas.

And an outside consultant -- even one specializing in social media -- cannot deliver that authenticity you need. A consultant will never, for example, be able to walk out of an energizing meeting and tell your donors and supporters about the excitement in the air around the office.

When you have an actual social media professional leading your SM efforts, you'll get

  • Someone with their finger on the pulse of the organization.
  • Someone who can seamlessly integrate the rest of your marketing, communications and fundraising plan into your social media.
  • Someone who can explain social media to those in your organization who might not understand what it can do…and what it can't.
  • Someone who can be the "voice" of your organization on a ground level.

Better yet, make sure your social media person also has a working knowledge of donor-centered fundraising, so they can give your SM-savvy supporters a more personalized, high-touch experience.

Of course, social media isn't (yet) a fundraising powerhouse. But like fundraising, social media is about creating and nurturing relationships. And investing in key relationships is something that all successful nonprofits are committed to.

Social media isn't going away, and it is increasingly the way people are checking out the organizations they decide to support. What are you doing to make sure your social media plan is as engaging and authentic as it can be?

Lessons from a Soccer Fundraiser

I have two daughters who play soccer with the local youth soccer organization. It makes for some action-packed weeks in the fall and the spring! It also puts us in line for every fundraiser the soccer organization conducts -- team photos, individual photos, MLS and college team partnership promotions and ticket sales. Most of the time, I'm happy to participate and feel glad to be contributing to sports programs for kids in our community.

But the other day, I received an email from someone affiliated with the soccer organization demanding that each parent on my older daughter's team purchase two tickets to a local university soccer game, chiding those who had not yet contributed.

Now, as it happens, we'd already purchased tickets for our family through our younger daughter's team. I explained that to the representative who emailed me back saying, "Okay, you're fine then."

Whoa, whoa, whoa! I know this person is almost certainly a volunteer, but somebody with the soccer club needs to give their volunteers a lesson in donor relations!

So let's examine what went wrong with this Ask and figure out how it could have been done better.

The Offer

The first email we received about this particular fundraiser contained no details, just a vague mention of the need to purchase tickets to a soccer game at the university. I didn't know who was playing the game -- was it our kids? Or the university team? Or an exhibition game for our local MLS team? I didn't know when the game was scheduled. Would we even be able to attend if we did purchase the tickets? And how was the money raised going to be used by the club?

The Ask

I know that no fundraising professional out there would demand a gift. But do you train your volunteers and program staff how to ask for donations? It's all too easy for a volunteer to take a simple request that each family buy two tickets and turn it into extortion. Make sure they understand that donations are voluntary. And no one should ever be chided for declining to participate.

The Thank You

And of course, every donor should be thanked, genuinely and promptly. Tell them what their contribution means to the organization. Do my tickets to the university soccer game help pay for club equipment? Or scholarships for budding soccer phenoms in need? Make sure I know that up front and remind me when you say a heartfelt "Thank you."

Don't let anyone in your organization -- staff, volunteer or friend -- inadvertently create ill-will as they try to help raise money. Drill in the importance of treating donors with respect and gratitude, and you'll see donations rise.

Three Ways to Collect Testimonials

We all know we should be collecting testimonials from our Members, board members, constituents, volunteers and those affected by our organization's work. They're the stuff of fundraising gold, able to leverage gifts more effectively than any facts and figures can ever do.

But how do you collect them?


Nonprofit professionals work long, hard, often thankless hours. By the time you answer that 50th phone call or head off to that Friday night Member event, it's hard to remember what your own name is, much less to muster the energy to actively chase down testimonials.

So don't.

All you have to do is listen. People want to tell you their stories. They want you to know why they support your organization and what your cause has meant to them. Give them the space to say what they want to say, and they'll give you the gift of a shining testimonial. (You might have to take notes, though!)

Ask the Right Questions

Some people need more guidance than others. If you find yourself with someone who has a story to tell but doesn't know how to tell it, ask them a few questions to get them thinking in the right direction:

  • How did you become involved with this organization/issue?
  • Why are you passionate about it?
  • What have you seen personally that drives you to support this organization/issue?
  • What does the organization's work accomplish? For you? For your community? For the world?
  • What would the world look like if this problem was solved?
  • What are the barriers to solving it?

Any one of these questions can get people's testimonial juices flowing -- and give you oodles of great stuff to use in your fundraising.

Get Everyone In On the Act

Testimonials are great for fundraising, but collecting them is not just the job of fundraisers. In fact, the best testimonials often come from program staff as they're out in the field because they're the ones who see firsthand what needs to be done and how your organization is progressing.

All staff members -- program staff, executive staff, board members, interns and volunteers -- should be on the lookout for good testimonials.

Make it easy for everyone with these ideas:

  • Create a special Testimonials folder on the file server
  • Put a box on the conference table for collecting handwritten stories
  • Make a My Story form donors and friends can fill out at events
  • Learn how to use the audio recording feature on your smartphone so you can capture stories in the moment
  • Give a prize for "Testimonial of the Month"
  • Start every staff meeting off by reading one or two of the stories you've collected to inspire and inform

How does your organization collect and share testimonials? I'd love to hear your suggestions!