When you’re a nonprofit with a tight budget, it can be hard to find cheap and easy ways to promote your organization, get your mission out to the masses and find volunteers to aid your efforts. Creating a community may seem like a daunting task but there’s an easy way to start that take a little effort but produces great results – social media. Using innovation and creativity, platforms like Facebook and Twitter can take your far. Below is an excerpt as taken from Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services, a report from MAP for Nonprofits that was researched and written by Idealware. It explores one nonprofit’s journey with venturing online and taking the leap into social median to help reach their immediate needs.
Community Thread, Stillwater, MN
As one of Minnesota’s eight volunteer centers, Community Thread connects people with volunteer opportunities, provides volunteer support to other nonprofits and sponsors large scale opportunities to volunteer. Executive Director Valerie Jones said the organization wanted to find a way to reach a new and larger audience, and the organization’s strategic planning process had identified marketing as a priority. A staff member began experimenting with using Facebook to reach out about events and opportunities. “We hired a young person,” Jones said, “and one day, she said, ‘Can I try this?’ I told her to go for it. Once we got a response, we started getting more conscientious about what we were posting.” Jones quickly realized she’d found a means not just to promote the organization and its events, but to recruit and engage volunteers, and bought into the social media effort. The organization’s social media presence became like a snowball gathering mass. “Let’s see, now we do Facebook, Twitter and a YouTube channel, and we guest blog for the local Patch (community news website),” she said. “It became clear to us that we could use messaging there to engage people for volunteering.” Last year, when the nearby St. Croix River flooded, Community Thread served as the volunteer manager for relief efforts and used its Facebook page to spread the word, recruiting roughly 1,500 volunteers for flood relief efforts. “That emergency created a lot of public awareness,” Jones said. “Facebook was an immediate channel to keep people up-to-date.” She estimated that the organization’s other programs recruited about 200 volunteers using social media last year, as well.
In addition to posting links and invitations to events and to volunteer, staff began taking photos at events and posting them with quotes from participants. “We use a lot of photos—we’re kind of obnoxious with our camera,” she said. “We’ve had great luck using photos and pictures to tell our story.” That led to an attempt to create videos, beginning with one celebrating the organization’s annual “Spring Into Service” event. The only cost for social media is staff time, Jones said— from two to four hours a week spread out over five days. So far, she has not yet begun using any analytical tools to measure results and is tracking only the number of volunteers, though she said there are other signs that point to the success of the effort. “We get people who call and say, Hey, I saw this on Facebook, how do I sign up?” she said. We also get some walk-in traffic from people who say they saw this on their friend’s Facebook page, and they want to participate. And it’s increased a number of backdoor things— local businesses will say, ‘We heard about you, are you new?’ Well, no, we’ve been here for 43 years. The only thing we’ve changed is the social media.”
Community Thread’s marketing committee supported the social media effort, as did several board members ”who were not tech savvy but had heard from their grandkids or kids that social media is big,” Jones said. But not everyone was comfortable with the idea. Karla Bataglia, Community Thread’s senior center program director, said she had some skepticism about embracing the new approach. “I’m an old school person,” she said. “My kids had to literally grab my telephone—you know the old kind, about two inches thick, with a long antenna?—out of my hands and make me get a small phone. It was a huge phone, like a CB radio. I’m a little intimidated by it all. The language of computers, and Twitter, and what I assume is in Facebook, is also not common to me, and the lingo seems to change so quickly. I’m afraid by the time I get in there, things are going to change so quickly I won’t be able to keep up.” But as other programs within the organization began to experiment, and succeed, using social media, Bataglia said she realized she risked being left behind.
A big thank you to MAP and Idealware for allowing us to reprint this great information to share with you!