Out there in the real world, the nonprofit sector is so much more than just the big players…The American Red Cross, The American Cancer Society, Girl Scouts of the USA, and the like. Those are the ones everybody knows about, because they are jumbo sized and very effectively branded. They don’t need my help. They are extremely well staffed, well funded, and well governed. But, there are often dozens-plus small charitable nonprofit organizations in any given geographic area that you’ve probably never heard of. I experienced this first hand during my time on the Board of a small nonprofit here in town serving the needs of women and their families. I kid you not, folks, this wonderful organization had been serving our tiny community steadily since 1984, with a thrift store located on a major downtown street and the first time many residents became aware of its existence was when I arranged to have the local paper come and do a feature article on our thrift store. That next week, sales at our thrift store grew exponentially, and we heard it over and over again…”Why I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t even know you were here…I sure am glad I do now!”
So, what does that tell us as nonprofit supporters and professionals? It tells us that, second to ensuring that your nonprofit no matter how big or small, is governed and operated according to best practices (some of which I’ve already covered here in my blog), you have to get the word out about your cause! You just have to! Donors won’t donate, clients won’t take advantage of your services, and other forms of publicity will not come your way if you don’t establish and effectively maintain two of the most fundamental forms of communication in the year 2012–a functional and up to date website, and an up to date, effectively monitored presence on social media. I stress things like functional, up to date, and effectively monitored, because the harsh truth is that if you are not willing to invest a little time and effort towards those ideals with a website and a social media presence, then you can do your organization more harm than good–seriously. Major donors and grantmakers will run for the hills if your website is full of ancient information and dead links, or if your Facebook page contains inappropriate content (think 11 year olds who have just learned a new naughty word and now want to share it with the world), or SPAM type postings such as all the “Work From Home” scams I see posted everywhere.
But, here’s the dirty little secret that no owner of a Facebook Fan Page wants you to know because they want you to remain really impressed with their page–aside from a couple of hours to set up properly, and a quick daily monitoring to post the good stuff and keep the bad stuff (sort of like weeds on a lawn) off, it’s obscenely easy! Webpages are a tad more work to set up and maintain, but we’re talking specifically about social media here, and more specifically a Facebook presence.
So…why should your nonprofit organization be on Facebook?
1) Numero Uno Reason? Because it’s FREE publicity–and you need it! Nonprofits are not known for being flush with cash. Don’t argue with me, you know it’s true. Most small nonprofits I know struggle to reach and maintain full funding for their programs and services. Period. Why turn down advertising and outreach that is basically akin to doling out dollars to put a billboard on every major and minor road everywhere in the world? That’s right, that would just be crazy, wouldn’t it? So why do you still not have a Facebook Page?
2) Client Outreach. They are the reason you do what you do. Chances are, they’re on Facebook. Even the ones who still don’t have a computer and an internet connection at home have a library card. And with that library card comes free access to the internet. And Facebook pages soon follow free access to the Internet. There’s not one of us who has ever been online who hasn’t Googled old friends, old flames, and assorted questionable estranged relatives. And the best way to keep up with all of those people once you’ve found them is in Facebook. We’re all human, we all do it. Your clients are human, they do it too.
3) Donor and Grantmaker Outreach. We have reached that point in world history where these folks, who you are definitely trying to reach and who you would dearly love to write you a big fat check, expect you to have a social media presence. And that means a Facebook page at least, maybe a Twitter page. If you don’t have one, they will ask themselves silently why you don’t have one. They’ll never admit it, but it may also be one of the reasons why they choose to donate or grant elsewhere…because social media has become so widespread and commonplace in 2012 that they may consider it a red flag that you don’t exactly have your ducks in a row.
Hopefully, having made the case as to why, if you have achieved 501c3 status, you should also achieve a Facebook Page, here are a few WittyBiz tips for you and your worthy, possibly unheard of, nonprofit organization:
- Your page needs to be a Facebook Fan Page, NOT a regular Facebook Page where you add Friends, and NOT a Group. This is your calling card billboard to the world. If Facebook Users can’t “Like” your organization’s page without your approval, then you’ve picked the wrong one. Abort! Reboot! And make an authentic Fan Page.
- Designate one or two representatives from your organization to set up the page, and act as its official Administrators. Don’t hand out this responsibility lightly–this page is public, and the reputation of your nonprofit organization is on the line.
- If you have more than one Administrator, have all parties work diligently to achieve a page that is written and posted as “one voice”.
- Make sure that your nonprofit organization’s contact information is complete and accurate in the “About” section of the page, and be sure to include your official mission in that section as well.
- Don’t be a bore! Social media is not the same thing as a nonprofit symposium. Hopefully, before too long, you’ll have Fans from all walks of life, all sorts of interested supporters. A Facebook Fan Page that is full of nothing but dull statistics and pleas for donations is the quickest way to be “Unliked” and/or ignored on Facebook. Sprinkle a little appropriate, related pop culture on there, along with showing a little peek of your nonprofit’s personality!
- Monitor and weed as needed. As mentioned, people may try to post all sorts of inappropriate and/or off topic content on your page. Much like graffiti on the outside of your nonprofit’s headquarters downtown, you have the right and the responsibility to keep your page on message, and non-offensive to a reasonable person’s standards. In my opinion, this includes flame wars that may ensue in the comment section of your postings. When a reasonable discussion, or even a friendly debate deteriorates into the cyber equivalent of hair pulling, and “Yo Mamas” it may be time to start removing Fan comments. Nicely and professionally, of course.
- Be sure that your Administrators, or other official leaders of the organization respond promptly and effectively to any Facebook direct private messages, or Wall inquiries your Fan Page receives. If you fail to do so, it will be duly noted by the public–and not in a good way…
- Have fun! It has been my experience that people who are generally uncomfortable with online activity tend to, as President Obama says, get all wee-weed up–over Facebook. Trust me, it is the most user friendly online interface out there. Take some time to poke around the site, click on the help features if you don’t understand something, and ask around. Chances are, just about everyone on Facebook is willing to lend some advice about the ins and outs of the site. Be professional, but don’t be so afraid of looking unprofessional that your content seems too stiff and unapproachable. Loosen up, you’ll do fine!
I hope to see you all online!