This article is the first in our Knowledge For Nonprofits series, which is made up of articles, interviews and tips for the nonprofit sector. The series will be rolled out on It’s All About Revenue over the coming weeks.
A little over a year ago, Sarah Vela was watching a local nonprofit’s pledge drive and noticed a rise in corresponding chatter on Twitter. Those most passionate about the cause were more likely to encourage others to give via social media. And she started to wonder, Is there a way to monetize that enthusiasm?
“What if every time I updated my Twitter profile it was worth money to something,” Vela said.
So she launched HelpAttack!, a startup that allows users to automatically donate a self-designated amount of funds to the cause of their choice every time they tweet. It’s one of the many companies popping up all over the country that promise to help nonprofits tap into social media to engage donors and raise cash. They have names like Crowdrise, Jumo and Wiser Earth. The big question: Will the nonprofit sector take advantage of all these new offerings?
When it comes to adopting new technologies and channels for outreach, the majority of the sector is seen as notoriously slow. According to a survey by The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, email marketing and websites were considered the most important communication platforms followed by print. But only 33% of those surveyed considered Facebook very important with 46% considering it somewhat important. Only 9% considered video or Twitter very important.
“A lot of nonprofits are being dragged kicking and screaming into social media and social giving,” Vela said.
And many of those who are jumping in are doing so in a piecemeal fashion, said Katya Andresen, Chief Operating Officer of Network For Good, which provides online giving support for more than a million charities. “The majority of nonprofits are using those tools but they are dabbling, and they are not using them effectively,” she added.
Too often, nonprofits treat Twitter, Facebook and other forums strictly as broadcasting platforms, rather than as a means for creating conversations with supporters, Andresen said. They build a Facebook or Causes profile and then rarely update it. They don’t bother to retweet others’ messages.
In many cases, nonprofits also fail to measure the ROI of their marketing efforts, segment their messaging based on supporters’ histories and preferences, establish lead nurturing programs to keep donors engaged with their brand, or ask the right questions about what defines a successful campaign before launching one. “Measurement has this negative connotation that it’s going to be boring, it’s going to take a lot of time,” said Beth Kanter, CEO of Zoetica.
Part of the problem is culture, Andresen said. Within nonprofits, employees believe so strongly in their message that they feel it’s enough to just blast out emails and direct mail without measuring the results, she said. “It just comes back to this missionary mentality where (nonprofits) think, ‘What we’re trying to do in this world is right and it should be enough just to talk about what we’re doing,” she added.
Another issue is that nonprofits can suffer from chronic beleaguerment. Thousands operate with too few funds and staff, and so investments in new technologies are the farthest thing from their minds. “Change – even change that will lead to less expenses – initially cost money to get up to steam,” Vela said.
But there are signs that those attitudes are changing, say experts in the field. President Barack Obama’s success leveraging social media to raise campaign contributions in 2008, and a wave of funding coming through social media channels for relief work in Haiti after the earthquake, are signs the sector has turned a corner, Kanter said. “We have kind of crossed the chasm already,” Kanter, who has raised over $200,000 using social media, said.
That’s welcome news for HelpAttack! and the dozens of other startups aiming to help nonprofits manage social media for social good. “We’re going to see an interesting new trend,” Sara said. “We know that it works.”
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