Entries for April 2010

Social Media for Philanthropic Non-Profit Organizations

The use of social media for philanthropic non-profit organizations (NPOs) has been well-documented on blogs all over the internet – it’s rapidly becoming a more widely-accepted tool for promotion and (sometimes) fundraising.

The best use of social media from a charitable org perspective is for raising awareness. Just like many for-profit companies are using it to raise brand awareness, non-profits can do so as well – often with great success. Some great examples of this are the American Cancer Society and the 1010 Project. Both organizations use Twitter to raise awareness of their cause (Cancer and poverty in Kenya, respectively). The American Cancer Society tweets facts about cancer and news about the Society, while the 1010 Project tweets facts about Kenyan poverty and interacts with followers.

Another great use of social media for philanthropic NPOs is to recruit new volunteers. This is closely linked to raising brand awareness; as more people become aware of your organization, your pool of potential volunteers widens. Plus, with social media, you have an easy way to contact them. In the case of Facebook in particular, people who become supporters of a “Causes” page are those who already have some interest in the organization – so the likelihood that they’d be interested in volunteering is significantly higher than that of a random person off the street. Social media enables you to target volunteer coordination efforts specifically to people who are already interested. 

Social media can also be used to get current volunteers and interested parties fired up and active about your cause – having a near-constant level of contact about your efforts keeps the cause fresh in people’s minds. On Facebook, your organization can create groups and events to connect volunteers with one another. It also enables you to listen and respond to supporters, giving you feedback on what they’re interested in, how they can help, what they think of your organization, etc.

Two companies who have really gotten social media in a philanthropic sense right are the Nature Conservancy, and, surprisingly, the for-profit corporation Target. Chances are if you’ve been on Facebook at all in the past year, you’ve gotten an invitation for an application called (Lil) Green Patch. This app, which was developed for The Nature Conservancy, enables users to trade virtual plants with each other, and for every ten plants a person receives, sponsors contribute money to save one square foot of rainforest in Costa Rica. The Nature Conservancy’s social media strategy is simple and effective: “find where people spend time online and engage them in those places.”*

Retail giant Target has taken a slightly different approach. Target gives 5% of their income to charity, which amounts to about $3 million per week. For their “Bullseye Gives” campaign, Target allowed Facebook users to vote for their favorite charities. They then divided the $3 million according to the percentage of votes – for example, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital received 26.6% of the votes, so they received 26.6% of the money ($797,123).

While social media is a great tool for philanthropic organizations, it does have limitations. The main one is that it really is not an immediate donation-gathering device. Many organizations tend to think that “if we build it, they will donate,” which simply isn’t the case. Social media users are wary of being “sold” something, even if that something is a cause to donate to. Social media is much stronger as a tool for raising awareness – and through increased awareness eventually increased donations can come. Plus, social media may simply not be the right market for soliciting donations. Michael Nilsen of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, an industry research and advocacy group, has said that “These sites are attracting younger people who probably aren’t in their giving prime yet,” he said. “But it’s a great way to spread awareness and build relationships that could lead to donations in the future.”**

So, social media can be a great (and powerful) tool for charitable non-profit organizations. It’s excellent for raising awareness, coordinating volunteers, and getting people fired up. While it does have limitations, they are certainly possible to overcome with a strong social media strategy and a little bit of time and energy.

How does your favorite non-profit use social media? Tell us about it in the comments!

*Chaudhuri, Saabira. "Innovative Giving: The Nature Conservancy and (Lil) Green Patch." FastCompany. 15 Dec. 2008. 28 May 2009 <>.

**Hiskes, Jonathan. "Facebook, Twitter, MySpace become latest way for organizations to connect with potential donors and raise awareness." Charlotte Business Journal 31 Oct. 2008. 28 May 2009 <^1726170&brthrs=1>.

Do’s & Don’ts of Social Media for Nonprofits

Social Media is a swiftly rising trend in online communications, and nonprofits are jumping on board right along with everyone else. But it can be difficult to figure out what the best practices are, at first. To help alleviate some of that difficulty, we here at MemberPath have put together this short list of what we believe to be the most important "DO'S & DON'T'S" of Social Media for Nonprofits.


Listen, Listen, Listen
When you’re just starting out with Social Media, the most important thing you can do is to get a “lay of the land” and a feel for how the community interacts. So for whichever type of social media you employ –Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, etc. – take the time to observe and listen before jumping in. That way, your interaction and relationships will be more sincere and more tailored to the audience.
Be Personal
One of the greatest things about social media is in the name itself – it’s social. People like it when they feel like they have a personal connection to an organization. So be personal in your communications. Focus on individuals, and the relationships that are formed between them.

Be Honest, Open and Sincere
Nothing bothers social media users more than insincerity and dishonesty – and they’re incredibly quick to sniff it out. Always be honest and upfront about your affiliations and intentions – several large companies (Sony and Wal-Mart, most notably) have been burned when trying to pass off corporate-sponsored promotion blogs as being unrelated to the company.

Participate – but not right away
After you’ve spent some time listening and observing the online community, participation is key. Interacting with other community members will increase your reputation and creditability. Engage in conversations and develop relationships.



Use Social Media as a push-sell method
Social Media is not actually the most effective way to sell a product, or solicit donations and memberships. Since social media is more about relationships, users tend to dislike blatant sales pitches and donation solicitations. The real value in social media lies in promoting awareness and visibility for the organization – from that, the rest can follow.

Never, ever, ever use social media to send out identical mass messages over and over. Sending the same thing out more than once isn’t going to make more people read it – if anything, it will alienate your audience and create hostility.

Neglect Social Media accounts once you start them
If your organization is unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to maintain a social media account, then simply don’t. Starting an account that then doesn’t get actively used can make the organization look like it doesn’t care, or like it’s unresponsive to members.

What other "DO'S & DON'T'S" do you follow when using social media for your organization? Tell us about it in the comments!

Social Media for Associations

Social media may seem like an obvious tool for charitable organizations – after all, its uses for awareness and fundraising have been well-documented. However, social media can also be implemented with great success for associations as well. The top 3 most useful social media tools for associations are Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace.

Facebook is one of the largest and most popular social networking sites on the web. One of the best tools for associations on Facebook is the “Groups” feature – you can create a “group” and invite members to join. They (and you as an administrator) can then post messages on the wall, upload photos and video, and have forum-style conversations on the discussion board. This can build a sense of cohesiveness and community. Furthermore, groups can be organized at several different levels of detail – you can have a national or global group for your association, or a more localized, regional group. That way, members from the same area can connect, as well as members from across the globe.

Another useful feature of Facebook is the ability to create “events.” With Facebook events, you can inform members of upcoming conferences, conventions, meetups, etc. Like groups, events give members and administrators the ability to upload multimedia like photos and videos.

Another powerful social media tool for associations is Twitter, a “microblogging” service that allows users to post short, 140-character updates. With Twitter, associations can post updates on current news and events within the association, as well as carry on one-on-one conversations with members.

One interesting and more unusual use of Twitter is the concept of “livetweeting” events – that is, posting Twitter updates from events as they’re happening. Not only does this keep attendees in the loop as to what’s happening, but it can also give members unable to attend a sense of connectedness to the event. The Vans Warped Tour, a national music festival, has used Twitter at concerts to facilitate secret giveaways – they’ll tweet things like “2 free tickets to see [a band] – look behind the stage left speakers!” and fans with Twitter-enabled mobile devices can then participate in the giveaways and other contests.

Finally, there’s Myspace. Generally, Facebook and Twitter are stronger tools for associations, but if your membership base has a younger demographic, then Myspace might be the right social media outlet for you. Although the general consensus of Myspace is that it’s populated by a high-school age group, statistics have shown that, much like Facebook,  Myspace’s fastest-growing demographic is the 34+ age group. Really, the most important thing to do is to examine your target market – if they appear to already be using Myspace, then it could be worthwhile to explore as a possible option. Much like Facebook, Myspace has a “groups” feature that can be utilized to connect members.

In addition to their uses as connection media, all three of these social networking sites can be used to help raise awareness of your organization – which can lead to an increase in membership and participation. These are just a few of the social media options out there - the three sites we've talked about are the biggest. If you’ve not already done so, your organization should absolutely explore social media as an option for promoting and enhancing your image and connecting members.

How does your association use social media? Let us know in the comments!

See Also: “Is Social Media Right for Your Organization?

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