The rise of the web 2.0 and has seen a dramatic difference in how individuals are communicating, making it is essential for organisations to change too.
Social media has seen explosive growth over the last few years and some might argue that it is completely altering the nature of public relations and communications. Businesses and organisations from all sectors and backgrounds are being encouraged to build a strong online presence in order to communicate with their key target audiences – and this includes those in the not-for-profit sector.
Social media is ultimately about connecting, interacting and sharing online – so if this is the case, surely it opens up an abundance of opportunities for organisations operating in the sector? Charities and other not-for-profits want to connect and interact with supporters, and more importantly, they need to share the work of their organisation with the rest of the world in order to raise awareness of their cause and build up a strong group of supporters.
The role of social media in the sector
There has been much debate about the role social media plays in the sector. Is it a customer service tool? Is it purely a way of communicating with supporters and building relationships? Or does it open up new fundraising opportunities?
From my experience of working as PR officer at the Leeds-based national heart charity, Heart Research UK, social media was used as a tool to complement activities and campaigns going on within the organisation.
Facebook was a place to promote fundraising events and get those taking part to create groups and get to know each other; Twitter was a way to raise awareness of and get people talking about heart disease, and a place to promote campaigns and events run by the charity.
If I remember rightly, there was never an instance where we actually asked for donations using social media.
It was more of a relationship building tool; a way to raise awareness of the cause and a means of encouraging supporters to sign up for events – but could all of these characteristics have the potential to encourage fundraising income?
A fundraising potential offered through social media?
Transparency, relationship building and social capital are all words which we regularly hear being used when talking about social media.
An organisation must be ‘transparent’ online to gain the trust of its supporters; an organisation must use the tools available to their full potential in order to succeed in building a strong relationship with its supporters.
By sticking to these cardinal rules, organisations in the sector can build upon their social capital and engage new donors and supporters in the cause – which in turn, can lead to new fundraising opportunities.
Diffusion of information
Fundraisers and donors are often concerned with where the money that they work so hard to raise is actually going. The diffusion of information through social media is a great way to let people know where the funding is being spent and is key to keeping supporters interested and loyal to the cause. By increasing informative transparency and updating supporters on all of the activity of the organisation, there is a good potential to turn existing followers into donors.
Social media can also be used by supporters of the cause to help them in collecting sponsorship for an event or campaign they are involved in on behalf of a charity.
Platforms such as Justgiving or Virginmoneygiving are great ways for supporters to collect funds as they eliminate the hassle of filling out sponsor forms and trying to contact sponsors after events.
These pages can be linked to other social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter, and supporters can promote their work through Facebook ‘events’ or ‘causes’ or simply by tweeting.
But how can organisations help with this? It’s simple! Again, it is just by being there. By re-tweeting a supporter’s tweet, or posting well-wishing comments on their events page/commenting on their status. By endorsing the supporter, organisations are not only raising more awareness of their challenge which can lead to more sponsorship, but are building a good reputation for the charity by actively engaging with supporters and forming better relationships, and ultimately, encouraging more support to the cause.
Perspectives from the sector
Stacey Rennard, Communications Manager at Heart Research UK, gives her thoughts on fundraising potential offered through social media:
“Social media is a relatively new way of engaging with our supporters at Heart Research UK. More and more of our fundraisers are using it to keep us updated with their training and fundraising efforts and it’s a great way to stir up a bit of interest. At this stage I see it much more as a way of engaging and building relationships with supporters, and people interested in the charity, rather than purely a fundraising tool. Although, it can be tied in with online giving sites we’ve yet to see it have a major impact on the amount of money people raise for us, but over time this could change.”
Laurier Nicas, Digital Marketing Officer at Dogs Trust tells me how social media is used at the organisation and her views on its fundraising potential:
“Here at Dogs Trust, we mainly use social media for brand awareness, social interaction, as a platform to disseminate information and as a customer service tool. The use of social media is a great way to drive fundraising – whether it’s driving people to events or to promote supporters that are doing events, however, in itself, I find it quite difficult to fundraise with the sole use of social media – it’s a great driver and a great tool, but it cannot stand alone.
“If you’re asking for money and you’ve fostered a genuine community online that’s following you and interacting with you, and you’re interacting with them, supporters would be a lot more responsive and receptive to any efforts than they would be if you just used social media as a loudspeaker – because that’s not what it is about. I think it’s important for organisations in the sector to realise this.”
Research and studies have shown that the use of social media platforms – such as Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and YouTube – is being underexploited in the sector. But why are practitioners so reluctant to get involved?
A recent survey by charitycomms suggests that practitioners fear they do not know how to listen and respond online. Personally, I think the biggest problem organisations face is the lack of resources available which are required to maintain the social networking sites.
Many non-for-profits just do not have the staff time or enough money in the pot to employ a digital marketing team to respond to the high volume of comments, posts and online queries.
Meet our social media volunteer
Perhaps this opens up opportunities for a new type of supporter, a new type of volunteer… the social media volunteer?
Many PR, communications and marketing students are looking for work experience in the industry, and charities could maximise on this by getting them in to manage their social media accounts. After all, social media can be accessed anywhere (anywhere that has an internet connection that is), so it would not necessarily mean they had to be in the office five days a week in order to meet the needs and demands of an organisation’s online community.
However charities decide to manage it, it is important for them to ‘go social’, to get involved in the many platforms out there and use them as a loudspeaker for their cause – otherwise they might just be missing out on an array of new fundraising opportunities which others are taking advantage of.