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Is Social Networking Working for NonProfits?

Social Networking and NonprofitsHailed as the saving grace for businesses and nonprofits alike, social networking specialists and efforts are as plentiful as cash donations once were. But are new tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube delivering on their promise of added money and support for struggling nonprofits or is social networking just another passing phase?

"Some nonprofits view social networks as a panacea for expanded membership and increased giving," says Frank Ramirez, president of KindClicks, a web service using creative capitalism to support nonprofits. "However, social networks are only a single tool within a larger integrated strategy needed to ensure future organizational sustainability." 

Like any tool, success with social media depends more on the craftsmanship of the user than on the availability of the tool. “The common pattern with nonprofits that are getting success is simple – they have a plan,” says Steve MacLaughlin, Blackbaud’s director of Internet solutions. “Organizations like the National Wildlife Federation have seen an increase in website traffic, activity, participation, and giving because they’ve put a social media strategy in place.” 

Plans vary by organization and the goals they hope to achieve., a non-profit focused on atrial fibrillation patients, uses Twitter, their own blog and a soon to be launched YouTube channel. “I use social media to get the word out to fellow patients about breaking news stories such as research studies and FDA approvals or the latest info of benefit to patients,” says Mellanie True Hills, chief executive officer of and the American Foundation for Women's Health. She is also author of A Woman's Guide to Saving Her Own Life. “It's much faster than press releases and other distribution mechanisms.”

Hills tweets from medical conferences and posts links to the blog and other news sources to keep patients and families informed of latest developments. The blog contains more information than the 140 character limit of a Tweet can provide and it too spreads the word. “Our blog gets reposted elsewhere using RSS feeds, including over at the blog of the Journal of Atrial Fibrillation as well as LinkedIn and Wellsphere,” she says.

Hills say metrics of social media referrals showed the following attributions for blog visits:

  • Wellsphere (blog aggregator): 10.28% 
  • Afibbers (an afib discussion forum): 3.92% 
  • Twitter 4.34% 
  • (discussion forum): 2.27% 
  • AFIB-Support & A-fibcures Yahoo groups afib forums: 2.21% 
  • Trusted.MD (blog aggregator): 1.60% 
Some interesting data points, she added were:

1) Pages per visit and time on site tended to be at, or much higher than, the average for those coming from the sites above, except for Twitter, which is a bit under the average.

2) The percentage who were new visitors was high (60%-80%) on all of the above except for Twitter, which was just 19%.

“What these two data points say to me is that we're getting new community members from other social networks (blog aggregators and forums), and they are then following us on Twitter, watching and waiting for the latest news stories to break,” says Hills. “I think this is fascinating.”

As fascinating as the flow reads are, the telling metric is how well nonprofits fare after the exercise. “Every month we donate services to non-profits to help them get up to speed with how to use Facebook to promote their cause,” says Hazel Grace Dircksen, founder of Socialbees. “Of the non-profits I've worked with we've seen some do well and some not-so-well depending mostly on how they ultimately position and manage their presence.”

Here are a few examples Dircksen provided:

1) Feel You Boobies Foundation
Supporters: More then 1 million supporters and growing
Donations: $5,044

“This cause has done very well at attracting members in large part because of the youthful, hip branding and messaging and the use of the Facebook Causes application (a Facebook partner application that receives a default profile tab and news feed exposure),” she says.

“The one negative with this cause is that their member number to donation ratio is way off (something I've been brought in to fix,” she added.

2) Andy Balwin / Got Your Back Network 
Supporters: 700 fans / 5,000 friends
Donations: unknown

“The issue Andy Balwin has faced with using social networking for his cause is that he started out using a personal profile and has found it very difficult to transition his ‘friends’ over to become his ‘fans’ because they want to feel connected to him in a more personal way,” says Dircksen. “His friends feel that his Facebook page does not offer this relationship because his updates don't go into their news feed and they can only post on his page, not send a private message. Having said that, Andy has successfully used his personal Facebook profile to raise thousands of dollars for charities.”

3) 29-Day Giving Challenge 
Fans: 212
Donations: none (29 Gifts raises money for other featured causes, not their own)

“29 Gifts has not done so well on Facebook, because they have not devoted much time to energizing their fan base there,” says Dircksen. “They have, however proved quite successful on where they have dedicated most of their energy. Last summer they built their own social network on the Ning platform and have since grown to more then 3,700 devoted members.  

“There's no one size fits all social network, but Facebook tends to be the best bet for most non-profits due to it's viral nature, the huge benefit of the causes application and the amazing targeted ad system all adding up to a dream trifecta,” says Dircksen.

Not everyone, however, is sold on the value of social media to nonprofits and some even believe nonprofits are merely benefitting the social network they use. “A real irony here is that the very members that nonprofits bring to a social network are being commercialized to a much greater extent by the social network than the donations they contribute,” says Ramirez. “That is to say the social network average revenue per users (ARPU) radically exceeds the average donation per user (ADPU) or ARPR > ADPU. How much greater is hard to determine due to the lack of accessibility of the financial data on Facebook.”

Ramirez makes his calculation this way: assuming Facebook makes $350 Million a year and has 120 Million members, applying the 80/20 revenue rule to USA based income and assuming 40 million users you get an ARPU of $7/ member in the USA. Putting this in perspective: Facebook ARPU = $7.00 and Nonprofit ADPU = $.02, he says.

“So for each member a nonprofit brings/ or keeps at a social network is they realize .29% of the potential revenue while the social network earns 99.71% of the commercial value of a members attention and information,” explains Ramirez. “This analyses calls into question why any nonprofit should engage a social network.”

At the end of the day, each nonprofit must build its own strategy for its own reasons, and then pick up the tools they need to bring their strategy to life. For many, social media will be an important (and free) cornerstone of the overall plan.


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