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Written by: Joel Harrison
As a founder or executive director of a nonprofit, the decisions you make around social media can be as important as almost any other in your organization.
One flop and the world can come at you with pitchforks. One hit and you’re riding the Lemons for Leukemia all the way to the world record of donor registrations in a day.
But in actuality, the chances of that are slim-to-none, and the biggest mistakes are usually around tactical choices that stifle your chances of growth.
We all hope for online success like the Lemons for Leukemia campaign, or the ice-bucket challenge. Something that goes so viral that my parents can find out about it, and they still txt 2day like ppl did long b4 smartphones.
However, slow, steady growth is often the path of most nonprofit’s social media, that is, unless you’re falling into these 5 biggest mistakes.
I was fortunate to have a conversation with Chris Brandt, founder of Charity Agency and former ED of Music Heals, about his experience with social media, and the mistakes he sees EDs making.
Chris will also be speaking on this very topic at the Digital Nonprofit Conference on June 11, 2019. His talk is titled: Social Media from the Top, and in this interview, we get a brief look into how he sees this space. (Tickets still available, see him and 6 other expert presenters in person).
Oh and I think I forgot to mention that Chris was able to secure a $280,000 donation as a result of activities on Instagram. Still think social media is a nice-to-have afterthought?
Mistake #1: Not Being On Social Media Yourself
Okay, without being too blatantly obvious, Chris explains that many executive directors feel that having the organization’s voice is enough online. The thing is, social media is about people and as a leader you need to be the face of your organization. Of course, you already know this, but it absolutely extends to social media too.
So you really have two options, you can either be entrenched in your organization’s accounts, or even better, use your own personal brand to spread the message.
“People donate to their friends and people doing great work, not to organizations”– Chris Brandt
If you can give a very real and transparent look at the work from your perspective, it will go a long way for stewardship and fundraising.
Mistake #2: Thinking You Have Nothing to Say
Just last week a grilled cheese sandwich caught my eye on Instagram and reconnected a relationship that faded away over a year ago. It gave me a reason to message that person again. True story.
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right. Posting a picture of your lunch isn’t going to get people to donate to your organization. But showing the real you, and the work you do builds relationships. And again, as Chris said before, “people donate to their friends”.
But let’s say lunch selfies aren’t your thing, the options are truly endless. A meeting you had with a friend, an update from your program, the staff meeting, the new design work you’re doing. These are all part of your story.
The important part here is that if you post once a month, these posts seem insignificant. But if you’re regularly posting with a mixture of content, those small, seemingly mundane events of the day begin to paint the bigger picture. The picture of you out in front leading an organization that’s tackling a mission worthy of support.
Expert Tip: Don’t be afraid to think small, especially with visual content.
Chris gives an example of a music event he did that involved children. Limited by wanting to protect their privacy on social media, he quickly snapped a picture of the ukuleles all lined up and wrote a post about the experience. Small details can mean big stories.
Mistake #3: Focusing on Media Instead of Social in Social Media
I mentioned Chris was able to secure a $280,000 donation from activities on Instagram, which is proof that social media is absolutely a fundraising tool.
BUT, and here’s the big one, it is not simply an advertising platform. Many executive directors get sucked into thinking, “we’re low on donations this month, let’s send a message asking for donations on Facebook” or “we have an event coming up, let’s post about it to get attendees”.
While neither of those is inherently bad, always focusing on broadcasting your organization’s needs is not what social media platforms were designed for.
“80-90% of your social shouldn’t be about selling or asking”, said Chris.
So what else is there you ask? Connect with people. Comment on their posts, or respond to their comments. Share posts that THEY would find value in, not you. Ask questions, listen and respond. That is what being social means.
Mistake #4: Leaving Your Social Media to Someone Else
“Would you put an intern or volunteer in front of a million dollar donor? You just did when you outsourced your social media.”– Chris Brandt
There’s so much behind this statement. First of all, we could be talking about your organization’s social account, or we could be talking about your personal one as the ED, it doesn’t matter.
While you might think social media is an afterthought, everyone from strangers, to volunteers, to spam accounts, right up to your biggest donors and sponsors could be watching any and all of your posts on social media. This is why it’s critical to have the proper voice behind your accounts, and why your voice as the ED is so valuable.
Expert Tip: If you are going to outsource the management of your accounts to interns, have them take control of the in-between, non-critical content. Have a couple months before your next big event? Get them to share pieces of your newsletter and call-to-actions to subscribe.
Mistake #5: Not Understanding or Targeting Your Audience
This also comes down to the idea of creating value for your audience instead of value for your organization. What posts can you share that your ideal follower would like to engage with?
Chris shared an example of how one of their most engaging posts at Music Heals one year was actually a reposted photo of Adele when she was touring the Vancouver area. They understood their audience, musicians and music fans, and gave them content to engage with without asking for anything in return.
This idea that you should be targeting a specific group of people comes naturally to some organizations and can be a struggle for others. But just know, that targeting a specific audience makes this entire process 10x easier and more impactful for your followers.
Expert Tip: Spend a few minutes and get clear on your target audience, then think about what you could share that’s NOT about your organization, but still provides value to that community.