Where and When to use Social Media to get Positive Nonprofit Marketing Return

The most common and fatal error that nonprofits make when attempting social media marketing is to think of social media as an additional source of funding. But social media is not a source; it is merely a means of communicating with and getting to the source. Forgetting this causes a lot of time and effort to be wasted as nonprofits jump haphazardly into the murky waters of social media marketing.

It must be remembered that there is nothing foundational about social media – if you don’t understand the basic principles underpinning why social media works and how it fits into your fundamental funding strategy, then you’re making a lot of icing to smear just about everywhere but on top of the cake. Social media is the icing; a sound funding strategy is the cake.

First you need to define what your long-term funding strategy is, and then you can apply social media tactics to amplify that strategy. To help in this effort, I have summarized below some research done by the Standford Social Innovation Review, which identifies and defines 10 winning funding strategies being used by America’s leading nonprofits. I have added some ideas on how social media can be used to enhance such strategies.

I hope this information will first help you see with more clarity what the best foundational funding strategy for your organization is, and then see how social media can be applied to it. Looking at it in this order will help you focus your efforts, which leads to larger funding streams and better alignment of the funding to your organization’s structure and mission.

The 10 funding strategy types are defined below:

1. Heartfelt Connector

Strategy

-Focus on causes that resonate with the existing concerns of large numbers of people at all income levels and provide a structured way for these people to connect where none had previously existed
-Build explicit connections between volunteers through special fundraising events

Funding Source

Many individual donors

Examples

Make-a-Wish Foundation
Susan G. Komen Foundation – Does the ‘Race for the Cure’, consisting of 120 races a year and drawing over 1 million participants

Is this model right for you?

- Do we have a large cross section of people that has already shown that they will fund causes in this domain?
- Can we communicate what is compelling about our nonprofit in a simple and concise way?
- Does a natural avenue exist to attract and involve large numbers of volunteers?
- Do we have or can we develop capabilities to have broad outreach in even one geographic area?

Social Media Uses

This model naturally harnesses much of the power of social media marketing. Since you are already focusing on causes and concerns that a large number of people have, it has the potential to be shared and spread across many social media channels. Particular emphasis should be placed on using social media to promote large events, connect people, and spread success stories. YouTube is particularly effective at showing personal success stories that are connected back to your organization. Facebook pages are also a good option, as it helps connect people concerned in a way that did not before exist. All of these efforts should lead people to take an action, such as donating or attending an event your organization is putting on.

2. Beneficiary Builder

Strategy

-Charge a fee for services, but not enough to cover the cost of providing the service
-Get reimbursed for services provided to specific individuals, relying on people who have benefited from these services in the past

Funding Source

Many individual donors

Examples

Cleveland Clinic
Princeton University

Is this model right for you?

-Does our mission create an individual benefit that is also perceived as an important social good?
-Do individuals develop a deep loyalty to the organization in the course of receiving their individual benefit?
-Do we have the capabilities to reach out to the beneficiaries in a scalable fashion?

Social Media Uses

Here social media can be used very effectively to build and keep strong relationships with those who have benefited from your service and are now in a position to give back. Facebook pages, such as an alumni page, can be used to gather many potential donors and keep your organization top of mind as you provide news about your organization and opportunities they have to give something back. Creating social groups in other areas on the web (such as on Ning or LinkedIn) can also be effective. Monthly newsletters and email marketing is also particularly useful here, again, because you can stay top of mind and remind people of their opportunity to give back.

3. Member Motivator

Strategy

-Rely on individual donations from people who donate because the issue is integral to their everyday life and is something from which they draw a collective benefit

Funding Source

Many individual donors

Examples

Saddleback Church
National Wild Turkey Federation

Is this model right for you?

- Will our members feel that the actions of the organization are directly benefiting them, even if the benefit is shared collectively?
- Do we have the capabilities to involve and manage our members in fundraising activities?
- Can we commit to staying in tune with, and faithful to, our core membership, even if it means turning down funding opportunities and not pursuing activities that fail to resonate with our members?

Social Media Uses

Here again social media is very useful, and the idea is to create places where people who directly benefit from your nonprofits operations can gather, stay informed, interact, and know how to help and donate. They need to know what you are doing and how it affects them directly, and it needs to be easy for them to offer suggestions and take part in your work. Again, Facebook can be used for these means. Twitter is also very useful in this case, because it allows for the people that are interested in your very specific work to share what you are doing with their like-minded followers, as well as give feedback and ideas to your organization.

4. Big Bettor

Strategy

- Rely on major grants from a few individuals or foundations to fund their operations
- Often supported by one founder, someone who wants to fund a new approach for solving a large problem

Funding Source

Single or few individuals or foundations

Examples

Stanley Medical Research Institute
Conservation International -Their ability to identify locations around the world where protecting an area of land can have a significant effect on preserving global biodiversity helps attract donors willing to contribute large amounts of money so they can have an important and lasting impact on protecting Earth

Is this model right for you?

- Can we create a tangible and lasting solution to a major problem in a foreseeable time frame?
- Can we clearly articulate how we will use large-scale funding to achieve our goals?
- Are any of the wealthiest individuals or foundations interested in our issue and approach?

Social Media Uses

In this case social media is less useful in obtaining funding and revenues to sustain the organization. There may be opportunities to leverage it in the actual achievement of your nonprofit’s mission, depending on the type of work you are engaged in. Generally social media usage in this category is less effective than spending time and money elsewhere.

5. Public Provider

Strategy

- Work with government agencies to provide essential social services, such as housing, human services, and education, for which the government has previously defined and allocated funding
- This funding usually comes from reimbursement or Request for Proposals (RFPs)
- Funding is usually a mix of the federal, state, and local levels

Funding Source

Government

Examples

Success for All Foundation
TMC (Teaching and Mentoring Communities)

Is this model right for you?

- Is our organization a natural match with one or more large, preexisting government programs?
- Can we demonstrate that our organization will do a better job than our competitors?
- Are we willing to take the time to secure contract renewals on a regular basis?

Social Media Uses

Use social media to stay up to date on what the local, state, and federal agencies are spending their money on, what RFPs they are submitting, and any changes that may occur in their policy. You can set up RSS feeds, alerts, and filters so that you get instant updates on all of this information. Aside from this, your time is better spent writing proposals and contacting agencies than in social media.

6. Policy Innovator

Strategy

- Develop novel methods to address social issues that are not clearly compatible with existing government funding programs, and convince government funders to support these alternate methods because they are more effective and less expensive than existing programs

Funding Source

Government

Examples

Youth Villages
HELP USA

Is this model right for you?

- Do we provide an innovative approach that surpasses the status quo (in impact and cost) and is compelling enough to attract government funders, which tend to gravitate toward traditional solutions?
- Can we provide government funders with evidence that our program works?
- Are we willing and able to cultivate strong relationships with government decision makers who will advocate change?

Social Media Uses

Social Media should be used to monitor and track the area of interest that your nonprofit wants to service. By monitoring what other nonprofits are doing in the space, and what people in social channels are saying, your eyes will be opened to areas of potential innovation and improvement. Once again, the use of RSS feeds, filters, and alerts is useful in this application of social media.

7. Beneficiary Broker

Strategy

- Compete to provide government-funded or backed services to beneficiaries
- Receive administrative fees from the government

Funding Source

Governement

Examples

Iowa Student Loan Liquidity Corporation
Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership

Is this model right for you?

- Can we demonstrate to the government our superior ability to connect benefit or voucher holders with benefits, such as successful placement rates and customer satisfaction feedback?
- Can we develop supplemental services that maximize the value of the benefit?
- Can we master the government regulations and requirements needed to be a provider of these benefits?
- Can we find ways to raise money to supplement the fees we receive from the benefits program?

Social Media Uses

Run the program in the same way a for-profit would run a social media campaign. You are essentially competing to offer a service to a customer base of people, and as a result, for-profit social media strategies especially apply to this case.

8. Resource Recycler

Strategy

- Collect in-kind donations from corporations and individuals, and then distribute these goods to needy recipients who could not have purchased them on the market (businesses are willing to donate the goods because otherwise they would go to waste)

Funding Source

Corporate Funding

Examples

AmeriCares Foundation
The Greater Boston Food Bank (distributes nearly 30 million pounds of food annually to more than 600 local organizations including food pantries, soup kitchens, day care centers, and homeless shelters, and receives goods from retailers, manufacturers, restaurants and hotels)

Is this model right for you?

- Are the products that we distribute likely to be donated on an ongoing basis?
- Can we develop the expertise to stay abreast of trends in the industries that donate products to us so that we can prepare for fluctuations in donations?
- Do we have a strategy for attracting the cash we’ll need to fund operations and overhead?

Social Media Uses

Here you may adopt a social media strategy that has a strong listening component on industry websites so that you can stay up to date on products and trends. It would also be wise to get donations flowing in order to cover overhead. For this, I would look to models 1-3 and use some of the same strategies.

9. Market Maker

Strategy

- Generate revenues from fees or donations that are directly linked to your nonprofit’s activities
- Provide service in a space where, even though there is money to pay for the service, it would be unseemly or unlawful for a for-profit to do so.

Funding Source

Mix of funders

Examples

Trust for Public Land
American Kidney Fund

Is this model right for you?

- Is there a group of funders with financial interest in supporting our work?
- Are there legal or ethical reasons why it would be more appropriate for a nonprofit to deliver the services?
- Do we already have a trusted program and brand name?

Social Media Uses

Brand strength is a key aspect of this type of revenue model, as it involves a high level of trust and transparency. Social media tactics to increase brand awareness, transparency, and engagement should be used. Any type of content that is educational and that engages is especially useful, such as YouTube videos, Slideshare content, Flickr streams, Twitter, and Facebook.

10. Local Nationalizer

Strategy

- Create a national network of locally based operations
- Focus on issues (such as poor schools or children in need of adult role models) that are important to local communities across the country, and where government alone can’t solve the problem
– Most money is raised locally, often from individual or corporate donations and special events

Funding Source

Mix of funders

Examples

Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Teach for America

Is this model right for you?

- Does our cause address an issue that local leaders consider a high priority, and is this issue compelling in communities across the country?
- Does expanding our organization into other communities fulfill our mission?
- Can we replicate our model in other communities?
- Are we committed to identifying and empowering high-performing leaders to run local branches of our organization in other communities?

Social Media Uses

Social media is highly effective for this model, because it has the power to connect communities across the nation so that they can learn from, interact with, and feed off each other’s successes. Although Facebook and Twitter can be effective, the customized social media experience (such as the creation of a Ning group) really shines. The power of sharing knowledge, successes, and what is working from each networked group can prove invaluable.

Conclusion

In some cases there will be between the various models presented. It is advised, however, to stick to just 1 or 2 of the models; research shows that nonprofits who are more focused in their efforts to access funding, rather that chasing every available opportunity, have greater success.

The ideas for using social media presented in this article are admittedly broad in perspective, and are meant to give the big picture of how a social media strategy can be used in each case rather than give a lot of details. If you’ve found this article useful and want to learn more, you can sign up for our upcoming training seminar, which will delve deeper into the details of implementing these social media strategies according to your specific funding model. The seminar is online, so it is not limited by location.
 
 
 
 

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