The Socialization of NonprofitsAmericans are some of the most philanthropic citizens in the world. The fact that we value charitable giving is indeed good news. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are 1.5 million nonprofits in this country, and that number continues to grow.

The nonprofit vertical is the fastest growing market segment, outpacing both the government and business sectors over the last decade. That being said, just 5.3 percent of nonprofits have budgets of $10 million or more. However, according to The Urban Institute, these organizations make up more than 86 percent of charitable expenditures. The other 95 percent of the organizations tend to be small to mid-sized nonprofits with community-focused missions. The last five years brought a different set of challenges for these organizations and it calls into question their very survival.
While larger organizations capitalize on a broad talent pool and hire consultants to help them drive branding, revenue, and market share, smaller organizations are left competing with limited resources for an ever-shrinking donor pool. Often, messages are blurred as multiple organizations with similar missions operate within the same geographic area. Fortunately, the tools available to expand brand awareness and create mission support have never been better. The socialization of nonprofits is underway, and while these organizations try to come up with solutions, tech companies are hard at work developing tools to make it easier for organizations to leverage the power of social media.

While social media is not the end-all to the problems of raising money, it is a tool that is almost custom-made for the nonprofit market and one that all organizations should consider. For those of us in search of the silver bullet that will bring in an unlimited flow of donations, social media offers unique advantages, although it is inherently fickle. Facebook, the big daddy of social media, began as a platform for college students but it’s now dominated by baby boomers. With other social media platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube, there is a plethora of options to reach out and tell a story, but moving forward requires an understanding of the audience and the tools.

So how does a nonprofit get its hands around a social media strategy? That’s the million-dollar question, indeed. I’ve attended numerous conferences and webinars that included strategy development as part of the agenda. While the discussions are useful, I felt empathy for the smaller nonprofits as they tried to make sense of it. Should they have a Facebook page, and if so how often should they update it? Should they tweet the same content, and how many times should they tweet? Can a volunteer do it or should they hire a consultant to do it for them? Let’s face it—most of the folks at these organizations are already wearing many hats.

Constituent Relevant Messaging Strategy

Before executing any social media program, you want to evaluate your audience and develop a Constituent Relevant Messaging Strategy. Understanding how your constituents communicate, and knowing the mix of your current supporters, should form the foundation of your social media strategy.

The socialization of your organization should be communication centric. Once you’ve profiled your constituents, evaluate whether you need an acquisition plan to attract a new demographic of donors. What does that really mean? In the for-profit world, customer acquisition is critical to the survival and growth of the business. The nonprofit world is no different – new supporters are needed in order to grow and fulfill the mission. Just because your average supporter today is not social media savvy does not mean that you shouldn’t undertake a social media program. The younger generations embrace it and it does not appear as though that will change anytime soon. Where much of the focus is on donor retention, it is equally critical that your organization be savvy enough to develop a strong donor acquisition strategy. Understanding your constituent mix will help you identify your biggest cheerleader now (retention) and who it is likely to be in the future (acquisition). This is where that silver bullet comes in. Gathering information and tracking where supporters play, communicate, and socialize online will make the difference between an organization that fully embraces socialization and an organization that is not able to capitalize on the vast opportunities. The good news is that this part of the challenge is being solved through some innovative technology platforms.

Facilitate a Socialization-to-Monetization Strategy

To make the most of the information you collect, use your data management software. If the organization has not invested in a good CRM yet, spend time researching these tools as there are some innovative solutions focused on nonprofits. The challenge is making sure the right technology platform is in place to allow you to take advantage of the next generation of tools that will facilitate socialization. For example, imagine knowing that a specific donor frequently tweets about homelessness. Would that impact how you interact with that donor? Now imagine being able to automatically, and in real time, follow and tweet the donor asking for a donation to help your homeless shelter project. Reaching out to your supporters when the topic is top-of-mind, and the emotional connection deep will greatly improve the probability of getting a donation and the size of the donation. With a deeper understanding of each donor through a comprehensive social donor profile, including their financial history with the organization, you have greater insight into each donor, and that can transform your relationship with them.

In the age of social media, understanding your constituents and having the right technology platform in place to manage that information will simplify the implementation of a Constituent Relevant Messaging Strategy. Consistently interacting with constituents where they are, whether it’s social media, direct mail, email or events, can greatly enhance your mission’s brand. Providing them with seamless ways to reach out to you enhances their experience. Organizations that adapt to the socialization reality will transform their ability to reach out in real time and capture a bigger slice of the fundraising pie. That’s a socialization-to-monetization strategy that will pay dividends for years to come.

– Lomesh Shah is Founder, Chief Executive Officer of NonProfitEasy.