3 Social Media Metrics Every Non-profit Should Track | npENGAGE

3 Social Media Metrics Every Non-profit Should Track

By on Dec 21, 2010


Screen shot 2010-12-17 at 3.23.36 PM.pngAre you measuring the right social media metrics or do you have your head in the sand? Think about that for a minute or so. The answer matters. Oh, and don’t worry if you answered yes. I’ve done it. We all do at some point.

As the web becomes more and more social you’ve probably noticed that it’s easy to get sucked into the black hole known as social engagement – using social media with no idea where you’re headed. Or, you may have experienced shinny-new-social-media-object-of-the-week syndrome – using new social media tools with no real purpose, reason or objective.

Either way those are bad places to exist because they result in you wondering aimlessly with no real purpose.

On the other hand, it’s extremely rewarding to act with purpose. To know what you’re focused on achieving. And to set objectives that you can measure when your done.

So what type of metrics are non-profits tracking to determine if they are achieving their objectives? Good question. Here’s what we’ve seen based on talking to close to 800 non-profits.

One metric I track on our Blog is RSS or eMail subscribers. You should become one so you can get new content delivered weekly 🙂


When I look at the data it’s obvious that, in general, non-profits are not focused on the right things.

House File Growth

Only 15% of the non-profits we talked to were measuring house file growth (or sometimes know as email list growth) based on their social media involvement. Last time I check a non-profits house file was the lifeblood of their existence and for the past 10 years it’s been a big time focus for both the non-profit and for profit world.

Fundraising Revenue

Only 28% measure this metric!! What? From what I’ve seen most non-profits need to raise money to exist, to serve their community and to make impact in the world. Social media, as fun as it is, can’t be used just for “engagement”. In some way all the engagement has to tie back to helping an organization raise money online – directly or indirectly.


Funny enough only 27% of non-profits track engagement metrics and engagement is the single most touted benefit of social media. Oh, and it’s fairly easy to measure using a tool like PostRank.

There’s more to the story

Do conversations matter? Yes.
Do relationships matter? Yes (just ask a major gift officer).
Does community matter? Yes.
Does “being there” when someone could benefit from your help matter? Yes.

But we’ve got to start thinking about how to set ROI objectives that we can track and measure our success by. Don’t we?

What’s you’re take on the subject? Should non-profits be doing a better job of figuring out how to tie social media activities to hard ROI like fundraising revenue, house file growth, email list growth, volunteer hours, event registrants, etc?

Oh, and I’d encourage you to go check the “Zoetica Salon“. In the month of December my friends Beth Kanter, Geoff Livingston and the folks at Zoetica are 100% focused on helping non-profits learn how to measure the right social media metrics.


Frank Barry, formerly worked at Blackbaud helping nonprofits use the Internet for digital communication, social media, and fundraising. He’s worked with a diverse group of organizations including LIVESTRONG, United Methodist Church, American Heart Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters, ChildFund Int’l, InTouch Ministries, Heifer Int’l, University of Notre Dame and University of Richmond. Along with writing for industry publications like Mashable and Social Media Today, Frank facilitates discussions, presents solo sessions and organizes panels for industry conferences such as NTC, SXSW, BBCon and numerous others. When he’s out and about he enjoys talking to interesting people about how they are changing the world – check out his interviews. Say Hi on Twitter – @franswaa or Google+

Comments (14)

  • John Haydon says:

    Frank – Of the three measurements, only one is extremely straightforward: Email list.

    Your email list is growing – where are they signing up? On the Facebook Page? On the blog?

    The other two are critical (and I’d put them in my top three as well), but the novice should appreciate the entire scope of measuring donations or engagement.

    For example, it would be important to understand that if a donor sent in money in response to a direct mail piece, they make have been nurtured and prepared to make that donation on Facebook. A simple ROI view will conclude: Direct Mail – 1; Facebook – 0. But we know that’s not the case. So with their direct mail, it might be useful to have a checkbox asking if they heard about the campaign on Facebook.

    • frank barry says:

      It’s crazy to me that the simple one (email opt-ins) isn’t being tracked by many.

      Oh, and I actually think the “engagement” metrics are pretty simple to track with a combination of tools like PostRank and HootSuite.

      The fundraising piece is challenging … I hear ya there 🙂

      But what if I captured a persons email via opt-in (knowing they came from a social media location), then tracked their engagement (*key* and got some of that activity data in my CRM) …

      If I got a gift from a person who I engaged with via social media over a period of time I could attribute it (to some extent) to my social media engagement activities 🙂

  • While I agree it’s something nonprofits *should* pay attention to, I’m not surprised to find that most aren’t measuring house file size increase because I don’t think it’s a primary goal of most nonprofits using social media (although again, it should be!) I suffer from not using facebook, twitter, foursquare, youtube, flickr, etc to collect email addresses like most orgs…I consider it the one failure of our 100X100 campaign – for as many people as we had participating, I didn’t think to create a way to capture new supporters’ email. Because of that, I can guess that #100X100 had a lot to do with the increase in our list in the immediate time after but I can’t measure it, and therefore can’t measure the ultimate ROI of the campaign.

    Of course overall effect on fundraising should be something we strive to find ways to measure, but determining direct cause – as John points out in his comment – is difficult. Every step of engagement and communication can be a contributor to an eventual donation, so I think what’s more important is to measure fundraising revenues against same time of year or same campaign/event as previous years once you begin using social media.

    Having a goal to use social media to increase revenue of a specific event or campaign and then creating a strategy to implement makes it less murky to assess ROI because you can build in metrics more easily….but even so, it doesn’t really take into account the value of building a more engaged and invested community prior to the event or campaign.

    In many ways, measuring ROI effectively over the long haul really requires going back to your first point – that increasing house file size be a primary goal of our efforts in social media…if we know how someone came to our email list we can note that in their contact record and 3 years from now we can do more telling reports that show how many of the new people social media brought in stayed engaged enough to convert to donors.

    Measuring web traffic effectively also ties back to measuring for fundraising ROI. If you’ve increased your social media efforts this year, don’t just measure how many more people came to your website…measure how much higher a percentage of them came there and made a donation or signed up for your mailing list on the first visit.

    • frank barry says:

      oh, i love the point about capturing a contact’s email and noting in the record the source of where they signed up so you can track their interaction with you over the years.

      Comparing a “social media” supporter to a “direct mail” (or other) supporter over time makes a lot of sense. Just like we do an online vs. offline comparison to see how each supporter type “performs” (for lack of a better term).

      Thanks for stopping by Estrella!

  • Marc Sirkin says:

    Great post Frank (and thanks for the tweet, and phone call as well). Happy holidays as well to you and yours!

    At Autism Speaks, we measure a bunch of stuff at various levels. At the highest level, we look at 3 things as a framework: revenue (separated by channel), engagement (specifics like followers, list growth, sentiment etc) and support (mostly internal metrics). Each of those 3 pieces has a bunch of other data that rolls up obviously, but I am trying to keep it simple so we can peel away each piece to see how we’re doing.

    Generally speaking, I view the size of followers, subscribers etc more like a barometer – Is it growing or shrinking? Are open rates going up or down? Same with clicks, likes, comments and anything else you can measure.

    It all comes together eventually as $$$ – sourcing all those channels is a very big issue and a real technical challenge. We’re no where near connecting all the pieces at this point. What we do instead is try to look and see how each piece is working and then look at the entire revenue channel month over month, year over year.

    This is tough stuff – anyone who thinks this is easy to do is fooling themselves! We’re still in the very early stages of understanding “social media” and how it relates to donor retention, loyalty and value to our organization.

    • frank barry says:

      Thanks for stopping buy and for the chat yesterday. We’re going to have to spend some time looking into all this moer together. It was great to bounce around ideas for a bit. Who knows, maybe it will turn into a live discussion online (wink).

  • Child Fund says:

    Nice post, Frank. It is so easy to go down rabbit holes with social media tools and measuring for measuring’s sake. Right now, we’re turning more attention to engagement rates on all of our social media sites, but particularly weekly Facebook fan action (spontaneous posts, likes, comments) and using that as one measure of ROI. We’re also tracking social media referrals to our website — so we can see which platforms are driving traffic, where they go once on our site, where they bounce — and looking for trends as to why. We’re in the middle of a Facebook campaign that integrates with a broader marketing initiative to gain more child sponsors. We’ve had three Facebook promotions to engender fan action–and requiring an e-mail address for fans to enter each promotion. We’re measuring total numbers of participants but more important the number of fans who become new child sponsors during the campaign — thus being able to track the Facebook fans’ contributions to revenue. Now, if we can just get more of the dots connected with our other social media platforms! It’s an ongoing challenge, but you offered some great tips.

    • frank barry says:

      Oh, we need to talk. I’d love to get more insight from you on the Facebook campaign(s) that you’re running. Tracking it back to child sponsors is (obviously for y’all) a perfect way to track real fundraising $$ (and hard ROI) based on social media interaction, engagement, etc.

      Think you could spare a few minutes next week?

  • Frank – For nonprofits, it almost always has to go back to the donor list and whether what you are doing is bring in potential new donors and donations. Unfortunately, most non-profits are still not being very savvy about tracking where new people are coming from and so they’re not able to focus on those channels.

    Any email list signup form should have the question “where did you hear about us” and that information should stick with the person in the donor database. Additionally, any donations that come in through channels like Facebook Causes, Firstgiving, etc. should also be kept with that person’s record. I think many non-profits, like the one I used to work at, a) aren’t asking the question and b) even when they are asking the question are still using something generic like “web” or “online” to group all of them together.

    Ultimately, it’s all about filling the donor pipeline and the most important metrics to track are the ones that lead through the pipe to an eventual donor.

    • frank barry says:

      Yea, it’s tough for non-profits (and businesses I gather) to know how a donor (or volunteer, etc) came through. Your suggestion is a good one, but when it comes to the Firstgiving, Causes, Crowdrise, etc it’s tough because the ability to get data (including email) out and imported to a non-profits core CRM can be challenging for many reasons – it all depends on the vendor and non-profits sophistication as well as budget (but there’s always that).

      Marc S. at Autism and I were having this exact conversation yesterday 🙂 …

      Thanks for stopping by Sue Anne!!

  • Kenny Jahng says:

    Before going out and measuring misc metrics for social media outcomes, I think it is important to define what the intention is for each social media outlet is. For example, is the intention for using it as a megaphone? To connect volunteers to opportunities? To share crowdsource giving stories that highlight why people are giving? To collaborate and ask for feedback on your marquee programs? To sell tickets to your annual fund raising event(s)?

    On other words, connect with supporters? Or peers with each other? Communicate one to many? Collaborate on projects? Commit donations?

    Only after you determine what you’re trying to do should you figure out what and how you’re going to measure it. I’ve seen some people get so focused on one metric, when their campaigns weren’t structured to move the needle on that metric. Then they conclude social media doesn’t work. For example, increasing house file lists won’t happen if all your social media activities neglect to ever ask or direct people to a squeeze page where the call to action is to offer up a name & email address. Not having a compelling reason (downloadable media, white papers, offers, etc) for someone to sign-up for a list once you get them there is another big “oops” moment.

    Would love to hear more about (perhaps a good post topic?) what type of social media activities are optimal for what type of outcomes (and then how to best measure them)?

    • frank barry says:

      Very good point Kenny.

      The purpose for a non-profits social media use matters when it comes to picking the right social media metrics – no doubt about that.

      I’m betting that fundraising revenue and house file growth are the two big ones that come into play in every situation.

      I’d love to hear more about how you help ministries with measuring impact. It looks like you’re super engaged in that area. What kinds of things are you seeing work, not work, etc?

      • Kenny Jahng says:

        Fundraising revenue & house file growth are probably two general objectives for most non-profits reaching out to their supporters over the web. But do non-profit communications staffers really justify launching a twitter, facebook, linkedin, slideshare, etc accounts for these specific reasons?

        My guess is that many if not most dive in because of peer/media pressure and have some basic soft metrics they are aiming for and that they don’t have hard targets for $ or email list permissions acquisitions. What do you think?

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