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.


6 Responses to “Are Canadian non-profits using social media?”

  1. […] to do a blog search February 26, 2008 As mentioned in a previous post, I think the best way to begin to get more comfortable with social media is to “stick a toe […]

  2. […] to non-profit social media use January 22, 2008 A few weeks ago, I wrote a post commenting on a recent study that found that big US non-profits are out pacing those in the […]

  3. messagecom Says:

    Thanks Donna. I’m looking forward to the podcast. It would be interesting to hear about how the different tools can compliment each other and what tools are particularly well suited to specific kinds of goals.

    Examples are always helpful. I recall being blown away when I heard that the American Cancer Society raised $38,000 in 2006 by extending their annual Relay for Life to a Second Life event. At the time, I wasn’t very aware of the social media scene. When I heard about a virtual event raising that much money, I started to pay attention.

  4. Excellent post. Working with several nonprofits, I’m very interested in this topic. Later in the new year I plan to do podcast about nonprofits making the most of their budgets with social media and other Web-based tools.

  5. messagecom Says:

    Thanks for your comments Beth. I do think non-profits are starting to pay more attention to social media.

    I believe undertaking a blog search or joining a social network is a good first step because many non-profits don’t realize that their staff and volunteers are active in these online venues and are talking about the organization. It’s an eye opener and motivator to become more aware of the space.

  6. Beth Kanter Says:

    Hi Deborah,

    Nice to discover your blog! I think you’re right on with the advice about starting small! I recommend starting with small measurable experiments and building on those.

    Also, I think there is an important role for translators. Many nonprofits are not engaged deeply in social media – so the need to keep site of the barriers is important. I just had a conversation about translation skills the other day .. in regards to Twitter

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