Archive for December, 2007

Are Canadian non-profits using social media?

December 28, 2007

A recently released study by the University of Massachusetts Darthouth’s Centre for Marketing Research concluded that non-profit organizations are out-pacing the corporate sector in their use of social media tools. After reading about this U.S. based study, I wondered if a Canadian study would yield similar results.

The study report states that, “Seventy-five percent of the charitable organizations studied are using some form of social media including blogs, podcasts, message boards, social networking, video blogging and wikis. More than a third of the organizations are blogging. Forty-six percent of those studied report social media is very important to their fundraising strategy.”

Now, the study focused on 200 of the largest charities in the U.S. (e.g. The Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity) with 75 of those charities responding. I’m not sure these numbers would hold true for smaller non-profits. Social networking can be very cost-effective so it makes sense that non-profits would be motivated to employ social networking sites, blogging, online video etc. to engage with their donors. Smaller non-profits should be even more motivated given their smaller budgets.

Social media barriers
There are definite barriers for non-profits entering the social media (sometimes called Web 2.0) world.

  • Unless someone on your executive team or in the fundraising department is already passionate about and engaged in social media, getting up to speed on all the options, techniques and tools can be overwhelming.
  • Without donors or other stakeholders demanding non-traditional methods of communication, a non-profit may not be as motivated to pursue social media (keep in mind, though, the untapped potential supporters accessible via social media).
  • It’s not always easy to measure the effectiveness of social media (although many are developing methods to do so) therefore, it’s hard to justify investing resources in this area.

For those of us immersed in social media, it’s easy to lose sight of the above barriers. I think we also tend to have an exaggerated sense of the number of social media consumers. Having said that, the numbers are growing and I don’t think there’s much doubt that folks are increasingly comfortable online—making donations online, accessing electronic newsletters, signing online petitions etc. Social media engagement is a natural extension.

It’s not time to throw out the traditional forms of stakeholder engagement in favour of a Facebook page and blogging campaign, but adding elements of social media here and there as part of your non-profit’s overall communications/fundraising strategy makes good sense. Non-profits that don’t will very soon be at a disadvantage.

Start small
If the idea of employing social media causes that “deer in the headlights” look in your eyes, don’t fret. Take small steps. Begin by monitoring what is being said about your non-profit online. Do a simple Google search, or visit Technorati to search blogs only, for mention of your charity or its cause. If you haven’t done this, you’ll likely be surprised at what turns up. If someone has mentioned your organization in a blog, consider joining the conversation—let the “blogosphere” know that you are out there in the space.

Explore the world of social media by reading blogs that interest you, visiting Facebook and/or Myspace and creating a personal profile to get a sense of how to use it. It’s not as difficult as you might think and if you’re at all intimidated, you can always get your teenage child, nephew or neighbour’s kid to give you a quick demo.

If you want to see a good example of a non-profit approach to using social media, visit Beth Kanter’s blog to read an interview with Carie Lewis with the Humane Society of the United States. That organization used a MySpace page as part of a very creative, interactive campaign against the seal hunt.

So, ready to give social media a chance? Perhaps your non-profit is already well-engaged in the Web 2.0 world. Maybe you think the benefits of social media are more hype than reality? Let me know by leaving a comment.

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Getting a PR agency involved with your cause

December 12, 2007

A few posts ago, I wrote about a powerful video PSA created pro bono by an advertising/communications agency for Family Services of Greater Vancouver. To further the conversation from the agency perspective, I submitted a comment to the Inside PR podcast.

I asked hosts Terry Fallis and David Jones (who are agency veterans) how they manage pro bono work and how a non-profit can best position itself to attract the support of a PR agency.

In summary, they believe that most pro bono work comes as the result of an existing connection between an agency staff person and a particular non-profit. Their advice to non-profits is to explore their networks for a possible PR agency connection. Perhaps the company of one of your board members uses a PR firm that would be interested, for example.

The podcast offers some other insights about pro bono work and what makes for a positive relationship between the non-profit and the donating agency. It’s well worth a listen if you work at a non-profit with a tight budget and are exploring ways to access some professional PR support.

Thanks to Terry and David for exploring this subject on their show.

Tampax aid to African girls – profit vs. altruism

December 10, 2007

logo_tampax_01.gifI recently caught the tail end of a Tampax commercial that talked about its program to supply school-aged girls in Africa with sanitary pads. This caught my attention because of an experience I had a couple of years ago when I delivered a workshop at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Turns out, there’s a bit of controversy about the program with respect to the motives of Tampax.

In 2006, I delivered a workshop at the United Nations for its 50th session of the CSW. It covered the importance of language with respect to the issue of child sexual exploitation and how we can influence the media to change the way it often negatively depicts child victims.

Prior to my workshop, I attended a girls caucus session and was blown away by two young women from Kenya who spoke about the very issue Tampax is seeking to address.

One of the young women presented the fact that many girls miss an average of one school week per month due to menstruation and the lack of affordable sanitary supplies. A month’s supply, she reported, cost $2.00 and the average family subsisted on only $1.00 per month.

The young woman was part of a grass roots initiative to distribute reusable, cotton pads. The other young Kenyan woman challenged this initiative stating that water was so precious in her village, that using it to wash out a used pad was preposterous. As the debate raged on about how to tackle this problem, I began to feel sheepish about my upcoming workshop topic, fearing it would seem abstract and esoteric in comparison.

It was eye-opening to hear that something as basic as the lack of a hygiene product meant that on average, girls missed a month of school per year and that by high school they began to fall behind their male counter parts as the result.

So when I heard about the Tampax initiative, I was interested enough to look online to find out more about it. One of the first hits was a November 12 New York Times article that characterized the program as ambitious and questioned the motives of Proctor and Gamble in undertaking it.

Of course the initiative makes good business sense for Proctor and Gamble. The initiative introduces its product to a new market and by increasing the opportunities for girls in school it is more likely that those girls will be able to purchase that product when they later enter the labour market.

Does the fact that the initiative is not entirely motivated by altruism diminish its potential impact? Can big business do something good while still having an eye on future potential profit?

This topic was touched upon in episode #297 of the For Immediate Release podcast. Carmen van Kerckhove submitted a comment criticizing the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty for being insincere due to the fact that other brands under its parent company, Unilever, perpetuate the very beauty images Dove purports to be trying to counter. Show host Shel Holtz defended Dove stating that its management team could not be held responsible for other companies within Unilever and the fact that Dove stood to financially benefit from its campaign does not mean those behind it don’t genuinely believe in its tenets.

I think it’s wise to critically evaluate every company’s social responsibility activities. Clearly, some companies simply pay lip service to CSR by engaging in superficial, low-impact activities and should be called on it when they do.

On the other hand, I don’t think the fact that a company’s CSR activities benefit business means they should be criticized out of hand. I think if more companies saw the connection between genuinely trying to make a difference and improving their bottom line, the world would be better off.