Using Social Media to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Efforts | npENGAGE

Using Social Media to Improve Your Nonprofit’s Efforts

By on Jan 5, 2010


This is a guest post by Chris Brogan. He does incredible things with businesses in the new media space. Make sure to visit Many thanks to Chris for stopping by and sharing his insight with our readers.

Over the past few years, I’ve experimented a lot with nonprofits. I’ve worked to promote causes, to raise money, to drive awareness further down the funnel into the “action” category. You know lots more than I do about how to run a nonprofit. I can’t fight you there. But I’ve got some fringe ideas that might be helpful to consider.

Everything I’m about to tell you about has been tested in one form or another by me, and has been successful. NOTHING I’m about to tell you is a silver bullet or a simple recipe. You still need to do all the heavy lifting. Instead, let’s consider this some guidelines from the kitchen table of an experimenter.


In raising money, social media gives you some powerful ways to improve this effort. From both the technology side as well as the social sharing side, you’ve got many new options.

If you haven’t tried out ChipIn (, do so. It’s the simplest way to raise money in any amount quickly. I’ve used this tool repeatedly and found great success with it. It’s a simple widget technology that requires no more skill than copy/paste, and a PayPal account on the back end to collect the money. Just using this tech will give you some incremental gains compared to several of the competing technologies.

Another consideration: link social sharing to your cause. For instance, putting up an “event” page in Facebook gives people the chance to “Share” the event with their friends lists, meaning you’ll get the chance to spread the cause effort further. This means more chances to raise some money.

Want another example? Check out I’ve been experimenting with it for months. They have social sharing built into the site, such that it posts a little message showing how much one’s shared, plus a message. Though making overt donations isn’t always a great way to encourage sharing (it makes people feel cheap if they give too little), there is a game mechanic involved where you can encourage people to give as a team.


Social tools like Twitter and Ning have made building volunteerism up a lot simpler. Twitter is a great tool for sharing information in a one-to-many method. By building Twitter Lists of your volunteers, encouraging them to recruit gently via Twitter, and using a common “hash tag” (a piece of metadata that is represented on services like twitter in a format like this: #hashtag), you’ll see a lot of ways to share information faster. is a white label social network that you can set up for free/cheap. It gives you many of the features your users would be used to in a service like Facebook, including forums, blogging software, the ability to post video, profile building, and much more. If you feel your community is robust and looking for a “home,” this might be a good free/cheap alternative.

In the land of social media, the trick to building volunteers is creating simple, brief, compelling media that might better tell the story of why you need volunteers, what they’ll do, how they can engage, and where to go next, and then spreading that message along rather simply through the various social networks. You might find similar success on services like LinkedIn (the new groups are much better than the old), and even in something as simple as a Yahoogroup list.


There are many considerations for how to use social tools to spread the word. On Twitter, for instance, a message that’s not VERY brief isn’t easy to spread. Consider crafting your messages so that there are as many as 20 extra characters left over (out of the 140 you’re allowed to type) so that others may share it (they call it “retweeting”) easily. Learning syntax tricks like this can make all the difference.

Also, now that some of these networks are taking prominence, don’t forget the alternative or older networks. Craigslist is alive and well. Yahoogroups is alive and well. Don’t forget sites like and for event sharing. Make sure to bring your message to multiple methods of distribution. For instance, though I’m considered quite established in the world of social networking, I use an email newsletter so that my message will get out past the “inner fishbowl” and into the bigger sea of people who haven’t yet dug into social networking.

A call to action without a URL is a waste at this point. If you’re encouraging action, make the action very simple to take, and make it easy to take via the web.

Create media. Use Flip video cameras and other inexpensive tools to cover your live events, your physical gatherings, and everything else that needs coverage. Make simple, short videos that promote what you’re doing. Share in multiple methods.


Design with the mobile web in mind. More and more people are using phones and other mobile devices to view your content. If you’re looking to build membership, don’t forget to consider a mobile alternative (even if it’s just a differently formatted version of your current web pages) for moving your efforts along. (With that in mind, also check out what FourSquare is doing in the mobile “game” space. Squint and you’ll see an interesting way to rally people to causes.)

As I said earlier, your mileage may vary, but these are some of the ways I’ve been successful in helping out nonprofits using social media tools and techniques. I hope you find some value in these.

Chris Brogan is co-author of Trust Agents, and blogs at


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+