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5 Key Relationships for Your Nonprofit…And the Tools and Tactics to Facilitate Them

March 29, 2013

Reposted from my post on the NTEN blog

String Theory of Community Organizing - Marta Evry, Venice for Change

Photo by Marta Evry

Has this happened to your nonprofit? One staff person or select members of the communications team are assigned to manage all of your organization’s social media. While this might make sense, it can be a lonely and complicated job speaking for an entire organization to the outside world.

Instead of siloing social media into “that stuff that so-and-so does,” what would a more integrated approach look like?

Since social media relies on social networks, let’s examine junctures in various organizational relationships where social media could be useful.

1. Relationships between staff and colleagues

Email is probably a big part of your relationships with colleagues. Sure it’s useful, but many of us are feeling overwhelmed by it these days. Social media can help lighten the burden and actually make email more useful. I’m thinking in particular about those “have you seen this?” emails. Imagine if staff shared interesting articles or videos with hashtagged tweets or even a collaborative Pinterest board or Storify?

Use social share buttons on websites or in your browser to easily categorize and save information that you want to share with colleagues. Curating this newsfeed-type delivery system might seem daunting, but the most important items have a way of rising to the top. Strive to make email an efficient tool primarily used for dealing with work-related tasks. If you’re actually looking for more information on the issues you work on, use a combination of listening tools like RSS Readers like Feedly (for subscribing to key blogs, Youtube/Vimeo channels and Google Alerts), Tweetdeck or Hootsuite (to follow hashtagged conversations on Twitter, etc.) or even your Facebook newsfeed.

2. Relationships with program participants

We’ve all struggled with whether or not our website really reflects all the great work that’s happening in our organization. This is why blogs are important. Over time, short concise updates build a more complete and current picture of your nonprofit’s work. An editorial calendar can help you think through upcoming news hooks or events to tie your work to. But who’s going to do this, you ask? Think about easy ways to digitally “capture” your work as it’s happening. While professionally created photos or videos can be an important part of your communication strategy, it’s also possible to document the work of your organization easily and cheaply.

If your nonprofit focuses on social services, be sure to think through issues related to possible confidentiality of participants, especially when they’re minors. Print out a release form for interview subjects to sign (click here for a PDF sample). For public events, encourage all of your staff to document events and activities with fun mobile-based apps like Instagram for photos, SoundCloud for audio, or Vine for video. Rather than just assigning written blog posts to staff, ask staff to record short participant interview clips with audio or video that don’t require lots of editing. You can ask program participants to partner with you in capturing your work. For example, design activities or trainings that actually result in media content that you can use for your organization. Instead of activities using paper and markers, try mobile phones or video/audio recorders.

3. Relationship with volunteers and supporters

While your staff curate information online (see #1 above), your social media followers and supporters can “eavesdrop” on these conversations and look to your staff as thought leaders on your issue. But to move beyond a “broadcast” mindset, you can also involve volunteers and supporters directly in your communications strategy. Like staff, invite them to help capture events with video, audio, or photos. To cultivate your own mediamakers, recognize and thank them regularly. Also pay attention to the measurement tools provided by social media to see what your supporters like best. That way, you’ll have a better sense of what to make more of.

We often hear that “social media is not for broadcasting but for conversing.” While this is true, I think this is a scary proposition for many nonprofits. Many wonder who has all that time or energy to converse with all the people in your multiple relationships that we’re detailing in this post. I agree that social media should be “conversational” in tone. Drop the advocacy-speak or wonky terms no matter what tool you use. This does not mean “dumbing down” your communication: just make it sound like the way someone really speaks.

Tip: It’s difficult to avoid a more formal style when you’re managing the organization-branded Twitter account or Facebook page. If you need to have direct conversations with your organization’s social media fans or followers, respond as an individual staff person. If this is uncomfortable for you, try setting up a specially created account that you use for work-related communication.

4. Relationships with broadcast journalists

If we want journalists to cover the important issues we work on, we should help distribute their reporting. News organizations are watching their web traffic to make editorial and advertising decisions. The more readers, viewers, or listeners that we send their way, the more likely they will report on our issues in the future. In social media terms, this means sharing links to articles and not copying/pasting text into emails. When tweeting, google the journalist’s Twitter handle and cite them when you share their media. And publicly thank them for great work!

5. Relationships with funders and donors

All nonprofits struggle with quantifying their work for funders and donors. To illustrate your work, you can repurpose much of the digital content that your staff, program participants, and volunteers have made. At the same time, analytics on your websiteYoutube videos and Facebook page reveal lots of information about the value of your work. But look beyond the number of Twitter followers, video views or Facebook fans. Examine how others are sharing or talking about your content, how extensive your reach is and how this has changed over time. Use these numbers to explain what funder and donor support make possible.

P.S. I could have added a sixth relationship: with consultants like me. But I’m hoping this post will get you started with several ideas that can also be applied to other relationships.

Let me know what you think of the advice above. Which ideas are useful for your situation? What did I miss?

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