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Nonprofits and Social Media -- Another Perspective

Kim Hart

An earlier story about the effectiveness of social networks to raise money for nonprofits hit a nerve in philanthropic and social media circles. The intent of the story was certainly not to "dis" the hugely popular Facebook application Causes, as some blogs have said. To be sure, some groups have successfully raised money through the application, and even more have used it to raise awareness about a cause. One of the primary takeaways from our reporting for the story is that social media can be effective way to gain new supporters. But that support does not consistently come in the form of significant donations.

It may not be a new takeaway, but we thought it was worth exploring at a time when many nonprofits are looking for new avenues to stay afloat as some of their traditional sources of revenue dry up during the recession. We've talked to a number of groups starting to experiment with social media as a fundraising tool.

Casey Golden, a Washington entrepreneur who has started Small Act Network, which helps nonprofits harness social media, shares a few of his thoughts about this issue below. He says social media can compliment any campaign, but if often works best when used in conjunction with other methods, such as volunteer events, and a heart-felt connection.

"There's a feverish debate right now about social media: is it a gallant knight in shining armor for businesses, solving every marketing or fundraising woe, or a life sucking vampire, misdirecting valuable resources to something non-essential and cumbersome?  The reality is, Social Media is neither.  It is just a tool.  Yes, a new, awesome tool, but the key is knowing how to use this tool to inspire those you influence.

Much of marketing has historically been based on forms of manipulation: "Buy this, you'll look better," or "Buy that, others will think you're cool."  These types of messages attempt to persuade from the outside in, but without fail, they all live a short life, never touching the core of the human spirit.  This method does not work in social media, and never will.

Whether a political process, a business, or a nonprofit, the very same rules apply:  viral success through social media happens when you focus on inspiring those close to you. Think of it like your own virtual campfire - you tell your friends a story about something that you care about, who then take that story and inspire their closest friends.  Social media relies on these small circles of trust and confidence, rather than depending on mass messaging. Used correctly, this intimate story-sharing ends up multiplying in significant ways, even when just focusing on smaller groups.  

If I need 100 supporters, I focus my message on 10 people who really trust me, and who I believe will then take my message to 10 others, who will then share my message with 10 others, and so on. Social Media simplifies this sort of storytelling, allowing companies to build true supporters, instead of continuing to broadcast their message to a widespread audience of skeptics.   Trust and sincerity are the keys to success in social media."

---Casey Golden, Small Act Network

By Kim Hart  |  May 4, 2009; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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