Nonprofits and social media, do they mix?


I recently asked the CEO of a community foundation if  her organization used social media, and if so how. She replied, “Well, we have a blog.” Granted, the blog was one of the first breakthroughs that let citizen journalists create their own content, but if blogs are the only channel your organization thinks about for social media, think again.

In my previous blog posts, I talk about Twitter, building online communities, developing a social media plan, and how to measure social media initiatives. These strategies apply to all companies, including nonprofits.

As the nonprofit sector becomes increasingly complex and money grows tighter, it’s more important now than ever to brand your organization, programs and campaigns. This requires conveying credibility and value in a way that’s easy to remember and repeat. In doing this, your organization can build long-lasting relationships with donors, volunteers, community members and the media.

Beth Dunn writes about the pressure that nonprofits may be feeling amid the social networking phenomenon:

“Nonprofits all around us are making decisions right now about how to engage in social networks, and many of us in the field have to fight a desperate feeling of running hard just to keep up – the overwhelming conviction that everybody else is winning friends, donors, hearts and minds through the savvy use of social networking sites, and that we are missing out.”

Nancy Shwartz outlines how to brand a nonprofit organization through social media:   

1.   What a nonprofit brand is not:

  • A nonprofit brand is not what your organization stands for in the mind of your network.
  • A nonprofit brand is not your organization’s self-image, mission or logo.

2. What’s a nonprofit brand?

The intersection of…

  • What’s unique about the way your organization does its work and its impact.
  • The interests and needs of your network.

The brand that represents your organization must be authentic, or you run the risk of undermining everything your organization is trying to accomplish. Most people can sense when an organization is being fake and lacking transparency.

3. Branding is…

  • The art of creating a consistent, recognizable and clearly unified voice or personality that conveys your organization’s focus, credibility and unique contributions.

This is important when engaging with audiences, because it allows them to put a “face” to the organization. It helps build trust and promotes long-lasting relationships.

4. Why branding matters:

  • More and more nonprofits are looking to secure contributions, volunteers, board members, clients and customers.
  • The shortage in resources creates a heated competition.

If your organization doesn’t participate in the conversation through social media channels, competitors and people who are against your organization can fill that space with the wrong information. If your organization is present and engaged, people can ask questions and receive valid information.

5. How branding works:

A strong brand makes a substantial difference in developing and maintaining strong relationships with a network.

  • Strengthen or design your brand to ensure you stand out.
  •  Generate action and build loyalty with your audience.
  • Be consistent with your brand to build recognition and avoid confusion.

Now that you have an understanding of how to brand your organization online, it is imperative that you go out and find the tools to effectively market your organization. In some of my earlier posts you can read about how to create a community online, how to measure effectiveness, and how to develop a plan, and find links to other helpful sites. 

Social media is a good idea for any organization as long as it is committed to listening, learning and adapting while remaining transparent and authentic. Also, don’t be afraid to let go of control: become a participant.

Read Lisa Barone’s “Outspoken Media” for a list of social media channels that are useful for nonprofits.

5 thoughts on “Nonprofits and social media, do they mix?

  1. This is a great blog posts. I work at a non-profit hospital, and I’ve tried to get them interested in utilizing Twitter for coordinating volunteer efforts in the building. They didn’t really get it.

    Perhaps I should refer them here. 🙂

  2. being the ceo of a community foundation your intro to the blog caught my attention. So, can you present a brand in twitter? How?

    • Rose,
      Thank you for your comment and interest in my blog!
      Twitter is a great way to inform people about the good you and others around you are doing. Community Foundations have the opportunity to work with a variety of nonprofits, and therefore, have access to a lot of great stories, events and fund raisers. Come up with creative ways to tell those stories through a blog. Communicate with followers in order to build a relationship on Twitter. If you listen and engage opportunities to share what your organization is doing will arise. Be passionate and honest. Talk to your followers to build passion about shared goals, not just about what your organization is doing. If possible have someone who has the time to continuously talk with your followers and engage with them, I mean they care enough to follow and engage with your organization. Also, demonstrate passion, show that the ‘brand’ cares about what it’s doing without seeming like that’s the only thing it cares about. Social media takes time. The best practice is to listen and then engage. Figure out what your audience is interested in and apply your knowledge to fit with their interests.
      Hope that helps, and i enjoy your comments thanks for reading.

  3. Hi Mariah,

    Great post! I interned for a non-profit organization this year and constantly found myself saying “this would be a lot easier if they reached these people through social media.” Many non-profits are looking for cheap and easy ways to communicate with their public, and social media is a great way for them to do so. Blogs are great, but it definitely goes beyond that. Twitter is a great place for non-profits to post articles or event information. Not only will it get their audience interested in the cause, but it will also attract new audiences.

    Thanks for posting!


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