By James D’Ambrosio

Earlier in my career, I placed my value as an employee on hard work and effort, churning out press releases,  newsletters and other communications. While strong effort should always be valued, as I gained experience  I realized what it really takes to grow and maintain a vibrant organization: the results of your work.

This is especially important in nonprofit: It has been estimated that the Great Recession of 2008-09 and its financial after-effects may result in upwards of 100,000 nonprofits closing their doors! One way to reduce the possibility of this dire prediction coming true is for executives, managers and employees to heighten focus on identifying the desired results and bottom-line impact of their work. This is similar to writing a good resume, where experts recommend noting quantifiable accomplishments instead of simply listing responsibilities, which often carries more value with hiring managers. 


Social media provides another example. Social media is white-hot — just about every organization is leveraging the power of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and others to reach potential stakeholders. And rightly so: there have been many success stories using these tools. But it’s not enough just to be on these networks. While you can quickly establish a Twitter account and gain 3,000 followers through a bit of tech savvy, if these followers have no connection to or interest in your cause, what have you accomplished? Basically, nothing. Social media is not a “build it, and they will come” enterprise. You have to find ways to stand out and attract those most likely to have an interest in your cause/mission. And that means investing time and resources in planning and evaluation. 


Prior to establishing social media accounts, ask key questions: a) Who is our audience? b) Where do they live? c) What are the demographics? d) How likely are they to use social media? e) Why should they care? f) What do we want them to know about us? g) What action(s) do we want them to take? In addition, evaluate results  through measurement tools: Twitalyzer for Twitter, Google Analytics for your Web site, and others. Taking it a step further, time and resources permitting, creating a formal social media plan would go a long way towards targeting your efforts. 

A similar approach can be used with other nonprofit operations — development/fund-raising, recruiting and training volunteers, programming, service delivery, special events, etc. To be sure, focusing on outcomes requires time and resources. But that cost can be more than offset by achieving better results and, in turn, enabling you to help more people in need or more aggressively advocating your cause. 


QUESTION TO READERS: How much emphasis does your organization place on outcomes? Any success stories to share?


By James D’Ambrosio

Social media and Internet capabilities have fundamentally changed how organizations communicate and do business: e-newsletters, mobile giving, texting, blogs, webinars, Facebook event and fan pages, Web analytics, SEO, Twitter job postings, etc. The associated cost savings has resulted in many companies significantly curtailing printed materials in favor of digital formats. In short, everything’s going digital.

In a blog related to his best-seller, “Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business,” author Erik Qualman notes: 

A) 24 of 25 of the largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation;

B) Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres (together) have more Twitter followers than the population of Ireland, Norway or Panama;

C) Generation Y and Z consider e-mail passé…in 2009 Boston College stopped providing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen;

D) Social media has overtaken viewing adult material as the No. 1 activity on the Web;

E) 80 percent of companies use LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees; and

F) 25 percent of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content.


The above makes a strong case for using social media. However, I’m keenly aware that many cash-strapped nonprofits cannot afford to hire communications staff, especially in this economy. If this is your situation, consider these alternatives:

♦ Hire a part-time person: 20 hours per week should be sufficient for a qualified professional to provide you with a foundation on several social media platforms suitable to your audience. A good professional will evaluate which platforms are best.  

Offer a social media internship through a local college or university. It’s a win-win: you get an enhanced online presence at no cost, and the student gains valuable work experience and college credit. Who knows, you may even identify a future employee.

♦ Solicit a PR firm to offer services pro-bono: Contact public relations firms specializing in nonprofit. They are often amenable to donating their time and expertise to help you set up/maintain social media accounts. In return, make sure to offer them recognition on your Web site, in printed materials, your newsletter, or annual report.    


Online messaging will only increase in the years ahead. Today, the majority of baby boomers and earlier generations almost exclusively seek information online. Without a strong online presence, you’re missing opportunities to  inform a significant segment of the population about your news and accomplishments, programs and services, advocacy and, most importantly, identifying and engaging potential new donors. What nonprofit doesn’t want that?

Going forward, a Web site is no longer enough. Find a way to create an online presence and keep pace with the inexorable movement towards digital communication. In PR speak, post or perish.


QUESTION TO READERS: How have you established your agency’s online presence? Any advice to others who still need to?

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