On Second Thought: Is Social Media Right for Your Organization?

The phenomenal impact of social media on the ‘08 Presidential election has spawned a tidal wave of nonprofits that want to put Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and similar applications to work as a fundraising tool.

But what is social media? For anyone beyond their 30s, such as board members and possibly chief executives, there remain questions. How does it work? What will it cost? How much time will it take, and what are the returns? Unfortunately, too few are asking these fundamental questions before launching head first into this exciting new arena.

Clearly there are many reports of success, but recent studies suggest that industry-wide fund-raising results through social networking sites are ineffective compared to traditional methods. Then are we advising against a move to social media? Quite the opposite. The suggestion of ignoring social media is akin to suggesting that marketing, branding, and public relations have no impact on fundraising results.

Social media can be an extremely effective and remarkably affordable tool, but it should be one instrument within an integrated strategy to overall Institutional Advancement. We believe that organizations should also evaluate on-line peer-to-peer fund-raising, e-mail marketing, as well as mobilizing your constituency through community building websites. It will help you cast a wider net to attract new donors, remain relevant in today’s fast changing social Internet age, and drive efficiency.

How to tie all of these new media tools together with your existing development strategies has been an issue we are carefully and diligently evaluating. Perhaps you too have evaluated early purveyors of new media applications only to reject it based on the significant costs quoted. As this new media marketplace has grown, there are now very affordable options that are delivering impressive returns.

Yet, no commitment of resources will be truly successful without an overriding strategy and plan. What works for a small private high school may not work for a national advocacy group, and what works for a community hospital may not work for an alumni association.

For most nonprofits today, social networking contributes more to their awareness and presence rather than their bottom line. Organizations who invest significant resources (be it time or money or both) solely on social networking are not likely to see a financial return any time soon. Take a coordinated, measured and strategic approach. Understand your objectives, your budget, available resources and how to measure a deliberate course to new media integration. Don’t get caught on the sidelines, and don’t chase a red herring.


click here for a pdf version: FRM53