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A growing number of charities and non-profits have gone social. From Facebook to Twitter, social media has an obvious appeal: the costs of getting involved are low, awareness can be generated virally and people naturally tend to use social media to engage around topics and causes that are important to them.

But what isn't so well understood is how social media can best be applied to the non-profit sector in meaningful ways.

Talance, a Boston-area web development firm, looked at how non-profits in Massachusetts are using social media in its 2009 Massachusetts Non-Profit Social Media Report. Some of the findings are of interest and relevance to non-profits everywhere who are interested in using social media to do good.

Talance's study surveyed a non-profits in Massachusetts with budgets ranging from under $1m to over $100m annually. Most (69%) operated on budgets under $1m and 28% operated on budgets ranging from $1m to $5m.

The findings:

  • Non-profits know about social media. Social networking, blogging, etc. were known to just about all of the respondents.
  • Non-profits are using social media. 55% of the non-profits Talance surveyed are using social networks and another quarter are planning to use them.
  • Microblogging isn't hot - yet. Surprisingly, 80% of the respondents were unfamiliar with microblogging services, such as Twitter. Only 7% who knew about microblogging services were currently using them.
  • It's all about networking. Most respondents are using social media as a networking tool but are not yet leveraging it as a tool to engage with donors.
  • Strategy is missing. Over three-quarters of the non-profits surveyed didn't have a marketing plan.

Perhaps the biggest challenge highlighted by Talance's study is that the vast majority of non-profits in the study reported that less than 5% of their donations originated online.

There's obviously two ways to look at this. Either social media is best applied for networking and to generate awareness or non-profits will need to focus more heavily on developing strategies to turn social media engagement into donations. Given that so few of the non-profits surveyed had marketing plans (the equivalent of flying by the seat of your pants in today's cluttered multimedia culture), I'd say there's a very good chance that online donations haven't realized their potential because a strategy is usually a prerequisite for success when it comes to getting people to open up their wallets.

One thing is for sure: social media is on the non-profit radar and even the smallest of organizations are looking to jump on the bandwagon. That's a great thing since social media and non-profits seem to be a natural fit.

At the same time, however, with so many non-profits going social, it will be increasingly important for these non-profits to figure out how to cut through the clutter and weave social media into their overall operations, as Talance suggests.

Photo credit: sterlingpr via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 March, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2379 more posts from this author

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Rob Whetzel

The 5 key findings from this survey are spot on!

The networking portion of social media is a great boost to recognition in itself. Using social media as a way to engage donors/members is just another tool in the bag for nonprofits/associations. I have recently noticed more and more activity from nonprofits/associations via twitter, facebook, and linkedin. The updates are regular and the content is informative.

We follow @nonprofitorgs. Follow us @rottmancreative.

over 7 years ago

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Monique Cuvelier

Nice article! You say, "Either social media is best applied for networking and to generate awareness or non-profits will need to focus more heavily on developing strategies to turn social media engagement into donations."

Is is really an either/or? I think both are true. Step one should be to put together a strategy - create one of those Internet marketing plans we found so few of. Step to is to figure out ways to use social media so it supports your organization where you need it. For some, it could be awareness. For others, it could be raising funds. Most likely, it'll be a mix.

over 7 years ago

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Ragini Bhalla

Great job on this article!  If the current economic woes have taught us - and nonprofits - anything, it is (and should be) to leverage technology and innovation to reach a broader audience, spread the message about their causes/missions, and ultimately, raise more funds to make an impact in the community. 

It's not enough these days to simply post information on your website and hope that people "hear" your message.  There needs to be a seamless integration of all things 2.0, from interactive blogs, e-newsletters and personalized emails to podcasts, webinars, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 

Recently, Truist and CharityCall embarked on a partnership that gives nonprofits a new way to promote giving: Donate Via Speed-Dial.  There are 2.7 billion mobile phones in circulation around the world, and these numbers continue to grow at a rapid rate.  The use of use of this platform attracts a broader array of donors - beyond the fast-texting millenial generation - who have a much greater comfort level "dialing" a number than managing an interactive process.  In short, it's like dialing "411" or "611"...and takes less than 30 seconds, without worrying about entering secure financial information or personal user information.  <!-- /* Font Definitions */ @font-face {font-family:Calibri; panose-1:2 15 5 2 2 2 4 3 2 4; mso-font-charset:0; mso-generic-font-family:swiss; mso-font-pitch:variable; mso-font-signature:-1610611985 1073750139 0 0 159 0;} /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin-top:0in; margin-right:0in; margin-bottom:10.0pt; margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} p.nospacing, li.nospacing, div.nospacing {mso-style-name:nospacing; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:Calibri; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} -->

over 7 years ago

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Toby

I think one of the core reasons Myspace and Facebook thrived is that they provided non-code-savvy people with a simple way to create a web presence, then gave them the tools to expand and share their presence. There is demand now for a similar service directed at nonprofits.

The fact is, many nonprofits don't have or can't afford a savvy tech guru to handle a complex online presence. Thus, new online services like givezooks! and The Point have stepped in to provide that service, and the question now is which one a) has the best service and b) can get their name out the fastest to build some momentum. From what I've seen, my money is on givezooks, as it seems to be the most cohesive, user-friendly package, but time and the market will tell.

over 7 years ago

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acai berry cleanse

We'd have our Web site, but alone, that'd be a pretty static tool. Coupled with social media tools like blogging and Facebook, we've been able to reach more people than we would have ever imagined. Our blog, for example, garners feedback from people scattered across the globe. We've been able to position Taylor's Tale as a major source of funding for the research community and a reliable, welcome information source for families whose children are newly diagnosed.

 So what's next? We want to add Twitter to our social media toolkit and continue to enhance our presence elsewhere. We also want to continue pushing a campaign we launched recently called Project E-wareness - a call to people who want to help us build support for Taylor's Tale using social media channels. We even created a pdf e-wareness guide that people can download.

about 6 years ago

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Streamlight Handheld Tactical

There is a simple way to produce billions of dollars of long-term funding for social causes. There is a way to harness the power of Capitalism for the Common Good that avoids government spending, taxes, stimuli, or bailouts. In the midst of the debate over which individuals should receive corporate bonuses, we should be asking companies to grant Social Bonuses that will benefit the public interest. Companies can donate warrants to charity – something that doesn’t cost them anything to give – and get a deferred tax deduction for the value of the gift. Learn more at:

about 6 years ago

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Massachusetts Nursing Degree

On behalf of National Safe Place I want to say thanks to Jim, Tamsen, Chris and all others who commented, and an obvious thanks to Jason and Social Media Club Louisville for their time and talent. The three-part training series have been among our most attended and highest rated online trainings, so I know our programs feel better equipped to reach young people and other audiences in their communities using social media. Jim -- I love the 140/140 connection between the number of Safe Place programs and the Twitter count. We're always looking to grow, and I know we have some potential new programs in the pipeline, but I'll talk with our team and see if we can't capitalize. As Jason points out, outreach through social media doesn't change the key factors in cultivating relationships; it provides a tool to more efficiently do so. Hammering home the message of crafting a compelling story and sharing tangible outcomes that result from your supporters' efforts is a message nonprofits can not hear often enough.

about 6 years ago

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Fracture Treatment

Lovely read! If the prevalent economic conditions have really taught us something - AND non-profits especially, it should be only to IT, outsourcing, and creativity to reach a wider audience, spread message about real causes & missions, and eventually, raise more money to make an impact on the nation.

about 5 years ago

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BoneFracture

I agree the biggest challenge highlighted by Talance's study is that the vast majority of non-profits in the study reported that less than 5% of their donations originated online.I think this is an effective tool for non profits to stay top of mind among existing supporters, while trickling onto the radar of potential supporters.Thank you for sharing.

over 4 years ago

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