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.

Connecting

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?

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