Posted At: October 10, 2011 12:32 PM
by Maria Sanders
In 2006, Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), began a Myspace page. His intent was simply to sell enough T-shirts he had printed so a friend could get the help she needed. Five years, and 150,000 messages responded to later, TWLOHA has lead a movement across the world, fueled by the power of social media.
Building on its start with Myspace, TWLOHA’s online presence now includes a Facebook page, Twitter profile, YouTube channel, multiple Tumblrs and a Flickr account. The organization staffs six full-time employees and eight full-time interns to monitor its various social media sites, and to respond to the thousands of messages pouring in.
Unlike TWLOHA, many nonprofits aren’t started online, so they are learning to adapt their messages to an online audience. With 500 million Facebook users and 100 million tweets being sent every day, social media is valuable tool that offers several advantages to not-for-profit organizations.
Beth Kanter, in a blog on Mashable.com, listed four ways social media is changing the world of nonprofits. First on Kanter’s list was the ability to deepen relationships and engagement with your audience through the use of social media.
An important element of social media and social networking is relationship building. This is an element that traditional communication methods may lack. People look to Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and other networking sites to keep in touch with others and find out what’s going on with things they care about.
“We try to communicate our message in a way that is meaningful to our audience,” a spokesperson for TWLOHA said. “Social media sites play such a big role in our daily lives so it feels only natural for us to use this as our main form of communication.”
A strong source of audience engagement for TWLOHA comes from its street team, which is organized online. “Our fancorp street team has allowed us to empower our supporters who have been really keen to become more involved. Street team allows them to be active members completing tasks and promoting TWLOHA,” the spokesperson said.
Hannah McDaniel, director of marketing and communications at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Alabama, said her organization currently uses Facebook and Twitter to deliver key messages. “For us, the main goal is to keep people talking aboutBGCCA. We use social media to let people know what is going on that day, and remind them that we are still here,” McDaniel said.
She uses social media to make announcements that BGCCA’s closest stakeholders would need to know. “I think [social media] helps parents and donors stay informed with what we’re doing.”
Updating social media accounts with event information, news or volunteer opportunities is a chance to engage your audience directly.
The ability to have direct communication and develop relationships with your supporters and the recipients of your service is a great advantage indeed. But, for a nonprofit, the bottom line is always a huge factor. With the current state of the economy, what financial advantage does the use of social media offer nonprofits?
According to a report from the National Council of Nonprofits, as the economy worsens, the demand for service from nonprofits around the country grows. For many organizations, however, funding from donations is stagnant or even plummeting.
“It is both unrealistic and unsafe to those depending on services to simply assume that nonprofits will somehow be able to continue to deliver more services that cost more with declining revenues. The math just doesn’t work,” Tom Delaney, president of the National Council of Nonprofits, said.
While traditional communication methods such as direct mail can be costly, social media gives communicators a less expensive and typically free way to send their messages out. In the current recession, social media has become more important for organizations such as McDaniel’s. “We are also using it to cut a majority of the costs created by direct mail pieces, such as our newsletters and annual reports,” McDaniel said.
Ridge Haven Retreat is a nonprofit camp in Brevard, N.C. In the past, the camp used postcards and information packets to keep individuals and other organizations aware of what the camp was doing. Another service the camp offered was printing and mailing pictures to parents of children who had attended a camp session. Through Facebook, the camp has been able to cut costs considerably while offering better service.
“We don’t have to put every piece of information on a postcard anymore,” Thomas Sanders, recruiter/group coordinator for the camp, said. “We are able to put information about the camp on our Facebook. The pictures we now post on social media cuts costs for us and gives parents the chance to print pictures in whatever sizes they want rather than the basic size we were sending.”
Social media also gives nonprofits the advantage of being more direct with requests for assistance. Riz Shakir, founder of Project Team Up, a nonprofit helping to rebuild the communities of Holt and Alberta, Ala., after the tornadoes of April 27, 2011, said his organization uses social media as a way to connect with individuals all over the country.
With the work Project Team Up does, the organization is often in need of specific pieces of equipment or people with certain skills, and by using social media it is able to have those needs met more quickly than just with word of mouth. “We put out a tweet asking for people with specific skills, and it’s surprising the response,” Shakir said.
Social media is a powerful tool for the nonprofits who use it. Social media offers affordable, convenient and personal communication with and from organizations and their audiences.
“At this point in time, there is no more cost-effective means that can literally reach hundreds of thousands of people than through the use of social media,” John Panico, co-owner of Social Media Dudes, said. In short, if your nonprofit is not using social media, you should expect to literally whither away and die. It is THAT important to your survival. Don’t wait.”