Friday, August 28, 2009

Social Capital Investments - Are You Missing the Boat?

image via Flickr

More than one nonprofit blogger has suggested that online asks using social media are encouraging a "beggar's bowl" mentality. But I think they're thinking of those impulsive asks where someone sees someone else in trouble and tweets or posts about it, to get a more immediate relief.

I don't have a problem with those or with people who use social media to encourage their network to give to a nonprofit to celebrate a birthday or other milestone. It's true that some people might worry that if all their friends asked impulsively for donations, they might find it difficult to answer all of them. But how likely is that to happen? Most people will only ask on special occasions and if their friends/family were planning to celebrate by giving a gift, they might as well be encouraged to give to a nonprofit.

But if your small nonprofit is thinking of social media as a venue for only these type of asks, then you'll be missing the funding boat for sure.

Social Capital Investments

Of course, foundations and trusts have been around nearly forever and many, many a nonprofit has received grant money that has allowed them to continue to serve their mission and even to grow. But the scene is changing, now. Rather than providing a check and getting a report and a rubber chicken dinner at which they are acknowledged, more businesses and individuals are actively partnering with nonprofits and using strategic marketing as their tool.

The Harvard Business Initiative on Social Enterprise will be researching and exploring this change, which sees money given to nonprofits not as charity, but as an investment in social good.

In a faculty research article for the Harvard Business School, Ann Cavanaugh posits that there is a new breed of donor in town - successful business people who want to actively create value for philanthropic projects as they did for their businesses. Along with the "moguls" is the large population of baby boomers, with a long history of participation in the causes close to their hearts. And both of these groups will want to see a social return on their investment.

So the small nonprofit may once again be playing catchup: Learning how to speak the language of these new forces in funding, engaging in a different type of project reporting. Still, neither of these learning curves will matter if your small nonprofit isn't able to connect with them.


There's definitely strategic marketing houses that are bringing funders together with nonprofits, but most of those are not an option for a local small np.
This is where those social media relationships you've been developing can shine brightest.

Among the networks are people who work for or with those looking for social capital investment opportunities, who are their friends or family. And if you've been developing an honest two-way communication with these folks, they're most likely already in your corner.

ROI - Make sure you're looking for the right return

Many nonprofits have continued to shy away from social media because they haven't got a concise answer for the board or ED about what return they might get on their social media investment. When you're getting into social media, the return on your investment is relationship; are you interacting with more people who are interested or passionate about your mission? Are you listening to them, learning from them, inviting their participation?

When you've gone past the newbie stage and your small nonprofit has an active social media presence (and hopefully, a community), then you can start thinking about how your relationships may be translating into support. If you're fortunate, your social media community will already be thinking and acting on ways to help.

But here's the thing: without social media, you may not meet. And if you can't meet, you can't develop relationships. And without relationships, there's no support.

So if your small np is still not using social media because of a begging bowl perception or worry over loss of control over branding or uncertainty about ROI you need to ask yourself what's worse: rocking the boat or missing it altogether?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Does Your E-Newsletter Resemble a Laundry List?

Oh yeah - this makes me want to pull out the checkbook or hit the PayPal button.

Of course, your e-newsletter doesn't look like this. It has pictures and graphics and (possibly) color!

But it might still be as boring as this, if all it does is talk at the recipient.

Take a look at the last newsletter you sent out; how many articles are either "Gee-look-what-we-did" or "Gee-come-and-see-what-we're-doing"?

Your newsletter should be more than a vehicle for showcasing accomplishments or trying to get people to participate in events. It should reinforce the idea of community and the articles should inspire people to want to comment.

Example: I'm an anime fangirl. (Think that's strange? What's your point?) Anyway - I subscribe to because I like to see my Naruto Shippuden and Gintama episodes as soon as they become available. And naturally, Crunchyroll sends out a newsletter. The latest talks about how shonen anime (like Naruto and Bleach) was developed for the age 8-16 male audience but has been acquiring a growing audience of girls. Of course, I had to go to the website to read the rest of that article about why the article writer thinks that's happening, and it was interesting enough to me that I wanted to comment on the fact that I'm not the only over-30 woman I know who is a shonen enthusiast.

The newsletter told me a few things I didn't know, intrigued me, made me want to participate in the community by sharing my view and got me to the website, where I spent time looking at what was new and reading other articles and comments.

Any social media tool is only as good as the community it encourages.

Don't just work at getting the newsletter out on time with all the links right and pictures credited. Work at making everything in it engaging. It's the level of engagement you build into it that will feed the sense of community that will will generate interest that will build the level of engagement that will feed the sense of community... round and round we go and where we stop - well, that's up to the community, isn't it?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Social Media Policy - It's Alive, Alive!! Or Oughta Be

image via the Candy Enthusiast

So here’s the deal: with social media becoming even more mainstream, a lot of nonprofits have or are contemplating taking the plunge. Since this blog is about SM and small nonprofits, it’s obvious which side of the fence I’m on. Assuming that your small nonprofit is taking advantage of SM or about to, you may be contemplating a policy for its use.

Should You Have One?

Of course.

A lot of nonprofits are freaking out about losing control of their brand and their mission through participating in SM. Although I haven’t heard of any nonprofits doing it, some for-profit companies have even banned the use of SM in the workplace, going so far as to have their IT departments disable access to SM sites from corporate servers. Not that this will solve the problem; as Olivier Blanchard at the BrandBuilder points out, “Ban access to the medium and you solve nothing: The behavior is still there, only now you are blind to it.”

So you’ve got staff, board, volunteers, interns with access to the internet. How successful can you expect to be at controlling what’s said about your small nonprofit – what secrets are leaked, what internecine struggles will be revealed, what board member might be reviled publicly, etc.? Answer – not very. You need to be part of the conversation, which means giving up your small nonprofit as a hostage to fickle Fortune. But don’t let that stop you, because it is, anyway. More so in this economic climate.

People have probably been talking about your organization and its mission for ages – with SM, the word gets around faster to a potentially wider audience, which results in a more immediate impact. You can’t stop the talk, so what you need to do is provide guidance. And this is where the policy comes in. It should be something that makes people aware of the risks, trusts your people, and is a living thing.

Risk Awareness

On Blanchard’s blog post about social media policy for corporations, he draws an analogy between SM guidance and the WWII “Loose Lips Sink Ships” campaign, which I think is great. Make your policy spell out what the possible consequences could be to your organization through participating in social media without due caution.

Make sure that everyone gets educated – all staff, especially the ED, who is usually the point person for the organization, any interns, and the board. So far I haven’t heard of anyone Tweeting or doing an FB update from a board meeting at a nonprofit, but it’s just a matter of time. And since most board meetings are open to the public, it’s likelier sooner rather than later. And reinforce the education as often as necessary until social media discretion becomes second nature.

Trusting Your People

They’re grownups and you should trust them. If not, then they shouldn’t be there. Alright, we all know that’s not strictly true; some people are inherited as either staffers, board or volunteers. And for whatever reason – clout in the community, knowing where all the bodies are buried, or whatever – they can’t be eliminated.

You’re just going to have to suck it up on this one. Maybe you’ll get lucky and they won’t be interested in SM. Or maybe you’ll be unlucky and they absolutely love it. You could make someone else on staff the point person for SM, which might mitigate things, but even so –

Mistakes Will Be Made

Be prepared for it. Doo doo happens. Don’t be so focused on preventing it that you don’t do risk management planning for it. And I hope like fire that your organization works smoothly enough that when someone puts a foot wrong they come forward with the information instead of hoping that nobody will notice. You can’t fix it if you don’t know it’s broken. If your organization doesn’t work this way, then you’ve got other problems and a social media gaffe may be the least of them.

It's Social Media, Not the Great Pyramid

Today’s Twitter can be tomorrow’s Myspace. Social media platforms will be born, evolve, and some will die. The way a platform is used can change (Myspace isn’t a big deal for kids chillin’ anymore, but lots of musicians are finding it a great way to connect with their fan bases). Your policy should live and breathe and evolve as well, instead of being consigned to policy hell by being overwritten to end up sounding like a legal document then requiring a vote by a majority of the board for a change, and moldering in the Executive Assistant’s file cabinet under “Policy – Social Media,” getting a facelift only when there’s a new “five year plan.”

Make those “risk awareness” sessions do double duty by also discussing what’s new in social media – what are your staffers and board using it for in their private time that might be useful or should be considered in terms of risk? Make creating the policy a collaborative effort, not some desiccated biscuit handed down from on high, “eat it or else.” You’ll get both a better response and a better policy. For more great information regarding social media and nonprofits, check out "Interesting Reading" on the sidebar.