Social Media for Nonprofits 101 – Press Here to Play

This is a thread from the Information Systems Forum at Yahoo Groups. I am a subscriber to this group and I want to share it with you because this thread addresses the basic questions of social networking and how to harness it for your organization.

I wish to thank Dan Bassill for his great questions and Aldon Hynes for his great response.

Re: Online social networking for high-profile nonprofit executives
Posted by: “Dan Bassill” tutormentor
Tue Jan 27, 2009 4:29 am (PST)
Thank you for your analysis. How are you or others using these social networking tools to move members of your network to action. Facebook messaging limits an outbound message to 20 people. Linked in limits it to 10. If you want to invite the 850 friends on Facebook to look at a report, or come to a meeting, or do some action for a common purpose, how are you using these tools to accomplish that?

If you envision a time line starting with a goal on the far end (e.g. “improve local school”) and the current status of the situation on the other end, it will take a variety of actions repeated over time, involving many people in your network, and in networks of other people, to reach the goal on the far end.

Can any of you provide examples, web sites, or case studies, of of how you or others using social networking spaces in to increase the number of people involved in a cause, point them to common information actions, and keep them involved for many years?

I suspect the use of these media to help Obama get elected would be one example. However, what will this look like in four or eight years? Will he have used these tools to get people involved in solving complex problems?

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

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Messages in this topic (7)
Re: Online social networking for high-profile nonprofit executives
Posted by: “Aldon Hynes” ahynes1
Tue Jan 27, 2009 4:33 am (PST)

Great questions. I’ll see what I can do to answer them. First, I should note that my background is mostly on the political side, but I believe that the experiences there apply pretty well for any sort of activism.

The first thing that is important is building community. Personally, I like to have lots of interconnected communities (again going back to the idea of being a connector). So, if having an email list, that is a great place to start. You’ve got the beginning of your community there. Is your email list one that is broadcast oriented, e.g. a limited number of people from the organization can send out emails, or is it a real discussion, e.g. everyone can send messages? There are advantages to both. So, one thing to do is to get a mailing list that is available for everyone to chat. Make them feel more part of the community. Don’t be too strict about what people chat about. If you have a broadcast only list, keep that list, and send out an email announcing the discussion list. If there are interesting things on the discussion list, post highlights to the broadcast list. I like using Yahoo Groups or Google Groups for these sorts of discussions, like what we are doing here right now.

Then, take the plunge and set up a group on Facebook. Announce the Facebook group on your broadcast and discussion mailing list. Ask people to join the group, and most importantly, ask them to ask their friends. This is part of the community building and list building. On the Facebook group, point back to your organizations website. Encourage people to sign up for your broadcast and/or discussion groups.

My wife is Senior Organizer for Common Cause in Connecticut. She set up a Facebook group there. The group has grown to over a hundred members, much of it through friends inviting friends.

As your community grows, keep coming up with small, simple, fun and immediate asks. As an example, Ben and Jerry’s is contributing profits from the Yes, Pecan ice cream to Common Cause during the month of January. Ask people to go buy ice cream. Folks in Massachusetts did an even better job of this, urging people to get together at a Ben and Jerry’s to buy Yes, Pecan ice cream. This helped raise money for the organization and build a stronger sense of community at the same time. As a side note, the idea of coming up with actions that a few people can do together often seem to work particularly well, you get a few people encouraging one another, and often reaching out in a viral way to bring in new members.

With Facebook Groups, you can send messages to everyone in the group, similar to a broadcast email in a traditional mailing list. Yet it ties back to Facebook and often seems to be more effective, although I must admit I get a lot of Facebook Group notices that I disregard.

It is also worth noting that Facebook has a Causes app that can be used for recruiting members and for asking for donations. I haven’t done much with the Causes app, but I would encourage people to check it out.

With that, let me move over briefly to Twitter. As an organizer for Common Cause, one of my wife’s key responsibilities is to track what is going on at the capitol and get people to respond. With the collapse of local newspapers, it becomes harder and harder to get accurate news out of state capitols. So, I’ve encouraged my wife to start using Twitter. These messages can be personal (My blood test has come back negative for Lyme!), cute and mildly work related (A bunch of cute school kids just entered the House gallery), or more of an ask, (Appropriations meetings are public, anyone interested in attending to support Clean Elections, please come on Mon 11 AM LOB Htfd.)

As with groups and mailing lists, it takes time to build up a following, especially a following of people that will respond to requests. Given the timeliness of the Twitter, it is great for people making quick decisions and responses, such as call a legislator now requests.

Let me take this to the idea that Dan talks about, improving local schools. Anyone can set up a group. It can start very small. I’m a member of the ‘Massaro Farm of Woodbridge’ group. It is a small group of people interested in taking a farm donated to the town of Woodbridge and making it a Community Supporter Agriculture farm. There are currently nine people in the group. You could start a group to address a particular problem at a particular local school. It takes time to get people to connect to the group. You spread the word virally, both face to face, and through facebook. When there are some actions, post about them. Set up an account on Twitter. Send messages about this on Twitter to get more people involved and more people taking action.

Enough rambling on right now. I hope you find this helpful.


PS If you are interested, to join the Information Systems Forum (it’s free), send a blank email to


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