Figuring out Your Non-Profit’s Social Media Strategy

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations with non-profit Executive Directors and board members all asking me the same questions: How do we figure out a social media strategy for our organization?  Should we be spending more time on Twitter or Facebook?  Do we even need a website, most of our supporters have friended us on our Facebook fan page?  Shouldn’t we be everywhere?

My first response to these breathless inquires is always the same: relax!  Keep doing what you are doing… raising money, running programs, and recruiting volunteers.  Next, I tell them that rather than running all over the place online, pulling their hair out because they’re not quite sure what they should be focusing on, it’s time to create a simple and well thought-out strategy for social media engagement for their organization.

Here are the tips that they (and you) need to ensure you have a strong online presence for your non-profit:

Home Base & Outposts

The most important thing you need to successfully operate online is a “home base.”  A home base is a website or blog that your organization controls, to which you can make changes whenever you like.  Thus, if your non-profit has its own website, that is your home base.

No matter how many of your supporters and volunteers are connected to you on a social networking site, you can never, ever make that site your home base.  Your Facebook Fan Page cannot be your home base – you don’t control it.  Sure you can add content, but what if you wanted to completely change the look and feel of the page?  You can’t… you are subject to Facebook’s defined look, and to their standards and rules, which change from time to time.  The same goes for Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.  Your organization needs its own website.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be on social networking sites.  Instead, you should view these sites as “outposts” of your organization… your goal should be to connect with current and new supporters and friends on your outposts, then drive them back to your home base as often as possible.  Thus, you may have a Facebook and Twitter presence, and be active on those sites, but you should also be encouraging your followers and friends on those sites to visit your website, which you update and interact on regularly.

The Purpose of Your Home Base

If you’re active on your outpost sites, why do you need to drive people back to your home base?  What is the purpose of your website that makes it so important?

Simply put, the main purpose of your website should be to collect permission – your site should be set up to encourage people to give you their e-mail address by signing up for your newsletter, or to receive a special report.  You should be asking people to give you their e-mail address along with their permission for you to contact them via e-mail.  This is an incredibly valuable thing, and will allow you to stay in touch with these folks and build a relationship with them (cultivate them).

Take a look at The Fundraising Authority website.  We ask for permission all over the place – we have newsletter sign-up boxes on the top right sidebar of every page, we have a page in our navigation bar dedicated to our newsletter, and all of our posts have a bright blue box underneath them asking people to sign up for our newsletter and receive a free special report.  Why do we do all of this?  Because we want to build a relationship with our readers.  You should do the same.

Use your social media pages to drive supporters to your website, both for the information that is on the site, as well as to sign-up for your newsletter.  Then, stay in touch with the people that do.  Cultivate them.  Build a relationship with them.

For more on the right way to use your non-profit’s website, check out Fundraising on the Internet.

How Many Outposts Do You Need?

Which brings us to the next question… how many social media outposts do you need?  Do you need to be on every single social media site?

My answer is… you need to be where your target audience is.  Have you thought about who you are trying to reach?  If you’re looking to engage young people, where are they online?  If you want to connect with wealthy older professionals, where are they?  You should be on the social networking sites that are frequented by your target audience.

Because so many people are on Facebook, I recommend that every non-profit have a Facebook presence.  LinkedIn is frequented by professionals and business folks (if you’re interested in learning more about LinkedIn, read Are You Effectively Using LinkedIn at Your Non-Profit?).  Twitter has a large following, but definitely takes time and constant attention.  Google+ has built some interesting networks, including strong tech and photography communities, just to name a few.

Take some time to figure out what your target audience is, and then research where they hang out online.  Build some outposts, and optimize your website to collect e-mail addresses and permission.