Experiential Social Media Opportunity for Nonprofits, Social Impact & NGOs

Experiential Social Media Opportunity for Nonprofits, Social Impact & NGOs outlines how they have an inherent advantage over commercial businesses in social media, but few realize it and fewer take advantage of it. Nonprofits have an “ethical premium,” but to unlock it they must stop using several traditional social media “best practices” that undermine their premium, and this page can help. For the sake of brevity, I’ll use “nonprofit” to refer to nonprofits, social impact groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and other cause-focused groups, unless otherwise noted: they are more alike than different. 

Nonprofits’ Challenges

Nonprofits face the four winds of disruption like all other human organizations do. In the United States, most governments are facing fiscal crises, so their budgets and support for social programs are being cut, in some cases drastically. I know nonprofits whose budgets have been cut by one third or even more. Changes in donor and volunteer behavior are disrupting many traditional nonprofits: people live “fast-cycle” lives now, so their attention and support are more sporadic and less consistent than traditional nonprofits are used to. The context around social problems is changing fast, which disrupts some traditional nonprofits’ missions by changing their relevance. Social media is increasing volatility in people’s behavior because, when people interact, they get new ideas and change each other’s minds about things. Knowledge is social, and sociality is digital. It’s lightning fast, and scalable.

To thrive, nonprofits must get much closer to their stakeholders. Happily, when nonprofits use social media to study stakeholder behavior and to interact with individuals in meaningful ways, they get to know their stakeholders’ thoughts and feelings, real-time and continuously.

Signs of disruption to nonprofits/social impact groups

  • Slashed budgets are often unavoidable, but anticipating cutbacks can lessen the need to cut programs and staff. I know one large Illinois nonprofit that’s assuming that traditional donations will continue to fall, so their management is transforming the organization into a social enterprise; they are building new programs that package their social and operational core competencies into services that corporations and governments can buy. They project an increasing portion of their budget will come from these services.
  • Nonprofits that empathize with and adjust to changes in donor, volunteer and member/customer behavior will thrive while others fall by the wayside. Volunteers have become much more episodic in their relationships with social good organizations. Rather than attending events/meetings consistently, many prefer to volunteer for a weekend, whenever it fits their busy schedules. Similarly websites and social media have grown online fundraising relative to white glove fundraising.
  • Changing social context can be very disruptive to organizations since they can become irrelevant overnight—or much more relevant, and social context can change very quickly. For example, the #metoo movement is mobilizing various groups very quickly, and worldwide, which is affecting ideas, activities and support around various gender and social issues.
  • Everyone and every organization faces the battle for attention. Nonprofits’ ethnical premium gives them an advantage over commercial brands, but not against other nonprofits.
  • “Traditional” nonprofits are being disrupted by upstart for-profit “social impact” groups, so there’s a hint of unavoidable irony in this page. Nonprofits, social impact, non-governmental organizations, and cause-focused groups all aim to help people, animals, plants or the earth, but their methods of operationalizing their missions are different, which can introduce competition. This page aims to help all, regardless of their structures.
  • Widespread digitization has older business leaders pulling their hair out over “millennials,” but they are missing the point. Having grown up digital, millennials had no established analog behavior to change, so they live instant lives natively, which is adaptive to the digital environment. Older folks have to adapt their analog behavior to the digital world, which is a slower process. Realizing this can help nonprofits let go of their frustrations and have more empathy.

Nonprofits’ Opportunities

Nonprofits’ ethical premium stems from the fact that their primary reason for being is helping people, not making money. Having developed and practiced experiential social media since 2006, I’ve seen that people consistently respond positively to other people and organizations who give back, aren’t self-serving. However, most nonprofits have adopted social media “best practices” that are grounded in self-promotion, and this sabotages their premium—because it’s self-serving! People expect commercial firms to be self-serving, but they hold nonprofits to a higher standard.

Here are a few opportunities that I see for nonprofits right now:

  • Maximize ethical premium by shifting communications away from talking about yourselves—and by letting the voices of your volunteers, donors, members, customers and employees carry the message. People respond much more to other people than to organizations—because people are more personal, less “corporate.”
  • Beware of overusing your ethical premium by assuming it gives you license to ask people to support you. I see too many nonprofits making this mistake.
  • Dial into the customer experience trend to understand your volunteers, donors, beneficiaries and customers better. Even commercial organizations are starting to understand that they need to be very attentive to their customers’ experiences when interacting with them, and you can apply some of the thought leadership to your supporters. The Chief Customer Office can help you come up to speed on the latest thinking.
  • Leverage increasing public recognition of deepening inequality, environmental destruction, and other causes. The millennial generation is large and tends to be socially conscious. To harmonize with the Zeitgeist, interact with people who are discussing the aspects of the issues that are most pertinent to your mission and services. Interacting with potential supporters and sharing links to those interactions has more impact than your copy which says you’re relevant. Interacting shows your relevance and care.
  • Use the Power Law (the “80-20 rule”) to guide your interactions. It holds that 20% of your supporters produce 80% of your support. Sit down with your accountant and identify your special supporters. Social media now enables you to learn MUCH more about them, why they support you and what personal meaning your services have for them; you will be surprised! By interacting around their personal motivations for supporting you, you’ll increase your relevance, emotional bond and commitment with them.
  • Design donor, volunteer and service opportunities to accommodate the episodic trends. Few nonprofits use design principles to create supporter roles to serve them better, create less friction, more satisfaction and more value.
  • Create local events to get close to your supporters, and think beyond the typical fundraising tactics used by many nonprofits. The big shift is, you need to know your supporters as people, not just supporter types. Most organizations fail to take advantage of social media at events; they just talk about themselves. You can use social media to scale events to get far more value from them (see Digivents).
  • Beware of tech solutions because they’re usually built for commercial firms. Likewise, content-centric tactics have little impact because they’re impersonal. Social media enables you to scale personal interactions because, when you interact with empathy and sensitivity in digital public, others feel your care for “someone like them” and vicariously feel that you care for them, too.

Experiential social media enables nonprofits to form and maintain trusted relationships with many more of their stakeholders than they could before. A newsletter is not a relationship. Interacting with individual donors and volunteers creates relationship, and it scales online. A lot. To learn more, contact me.

Experiential Social Media Opportunity for Nonprofits, Social Impact & NGOs

Easy to Use Services for Nonprofits

CSRA empowers nonprofits, social impact groups and NGOs in several ways. Check out:

  • Posts offer free strategic advice and practical tips for using experiential social media to inspire donors, volunteers and other stakeholders.
  • Free presentations to nonprofit and social impact groups that quality.
  • Seminars and workshops to empower your teams to make your social media, web and other communications much more effective.
  • The Chicago Social Empowerment Cohort is a special opportunity for nonprofits to learn experiential with CSRA and other nonprofits.

CSRA Advice and Tips for Nonprofits

My latest thinking on experiential social media for nonprofits:

Employee Support for Nonprofit Fundraising

Nonprofits and Experiential Social Media

CSRA Milestones Ten Years of Experiential Social Media

Relationship Trumps Mission in Nonprofit Social Media & on the Street

How Nonprofits & NGOs Can Press Their Home Court Advantage in Social Business [updated]

All CSRA posts that focus on nonprofits, social impact & NGOs

Also see CSRA posts about trust building and experiential social media techniques.

Online Conversations with Nonprofits

I love helping people online when they’re trying to figure out how to engage donors, volunteers, customers, and other stakeholders:

[comment] Excellent summary of key indicators of nonprofits' viability; I suggested additional ones from #digital #social data
[commented] A summary of key market forces affecting nonprofits
[comment] Short on-point advice on building #trust with #nonprofit #donors #employees & #community; I added how to use #socialmedia
Very useful for #nonprofit #marketers: How to use #donor touchpoints to improve donation rates
[comment] Contributed #experiential #socialmedia tactics to useful social media toolkit for encouraging sharing during #fundraising

The whole list: nonprofit online conversations

Nonprofit & Social Impact “Best of the Web”

Latest articles from CSRA’s curated feed relevant to nonprofit experiential social media:

Off the cuff list useful to orient oneself to pursue tech-for-good projects #kudos
Very useful for #nonprofit #marketers: How to use #donor touchpoints to improve donation rates
Great directory of #nonprofit #support orgs & agencies for #homeless people #kudos
Suggests #chicago needs an incubator for nonprofits #social #impact #startups #cause
Argues that cause and impact orgs compete for dwindling resources for nonprofits

The whole list: nonprofit “best of the Web”

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