The pressing nature of nonprofit messaging lends itself well to social media. “The messaging calls for action,” says Matt McCabe, vice president of community at Orange Leap, a provider of constituent management solutions. “They’re urgent and, therefore, viral.”
Despite the medium’s relevancy, nonprofits aren’t any more sophisticated at measuring returns on social media than the corporate world is. “They’re not coming in with some grand plan,” McCabe says. “They just want to get the message out.”
ThePort Network builds social networking communities exclusively for associations, nonprofits, and media organizations to help decrease member attrition and deepen relationships. Members, explains Aaron Biddar, ThePort’s vice president of sales and marketing, have been trained by the likes of Facebook and Twitter to expect instant interactivity with other members—and even with the organization itself.
Beth Kanter has made a career out of helping nonprofits navigate the socialsphere. Arriving on the scene seven years ago, she primarily helped organizations build their blogs. Now, with the proliferation of social media channels, she’s helping nonprofits navigate this developing terrain and build relationships with the right audience. (Witness her aptly titled online presence—Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits/Organizations Can Use Social Media to Power Social Networks for Change.) She says she now works most often with communications directors, executive directors, senior management, and technology implementers—but she says many nonprofits still designate interns to manage the social channels, due to a lack of resources.
Social media’s inexpensive (or even free) cost of entry is a big part of its appeal. “Nonprofits are nothing if not interested in low-cost solutions,” says Laura Quinn, founder and executive director at nonprofit-software research firm Idealware. The cost of human and time resources, however, can’t be overlooked, especially when social media efforts are merely piled atop existing strategies. “None of these online channels are replacing anything,” Quinn says. “Unfortunately, it’s one more thing to think about.”