Three Keys To Non-Profit Success In Social Media

by Jason Falls |
Jason Falls
Jason Falls

The Social Media Club Louisville recently partnered with the National Safe Place for a series of social media webinars for their locations around the country. The organization is headquartered in Louisville and started as a program of the YMCA here in 1983. They now have 140 Safe Place programs and almost 17,000 Safe Place sites around the country. Safe Place sites are locations like libraries, restaurants and grocery stores that carry the recognizable, yellow Safe Place sign seen below. The locations are places at-risk or in-crisis children can come to and be connected with safe harbors (shelters and programs) that provide protection, food and other social services. Social Media Club Louisville partnered with NSP to provide some social media training for their 140 program locations.

The latest of our webinars for National Safe Place focused on using social media to raise money. While I would always defer to experts in non-profit social media work like Beth Kanter on the subject, I was able to provide some thought starters for the group on building online influence with social media outreach and channels to cultivate communities of both advocates and supporters which ultimately grows your network of financial giving as well. We also discussed some of the fund-raising mechanisms than can be used to put simple donation widgets and other money-taking functionality on your own website.
National Safe Place Logo
When it came time to deliver the payoff of the presentation, I told them raising money online has two main components: Building a mechanism to accept donations and developing a strategy to drive people to donate. In my opinion, most non-profits get the first one done and think that’s all there is to it. Leaving the strategic communications out of the equation, though, is like building a McDonald’s in the middle of the Sahara and not advertising that it’s there. This isn’t Field of Dreams. Building it alone does not make people come.

I then shared my thoughts on building that call-to-action strategy. In my opinion, a good non-profit strategy must include three important components. And keep in mind, these aren’t just components for social media exclusively, but for a successful non-profit strategy off-line as well. The three keys to non-profit success, in my opinion, are:

  1. Have a compelling story to tell.
  2. Make a specific ask or establish a specific goal to reach.
  3. Make it astonishingly easy to give.

The first of these is most important. I’ve listened to some of the most seasoned, well-spoken and intelligent advocates talk for hours about the importance of supporting the cause in question. They are passionate about the subject matter, cross off every possible objection and supply you with fact after fact to convince you to donate to their cause. Then they wonder why people don’t immediately pull out their check books.

It’s because their passion, knowledge and facts don’t include a compelling story.

A non-profit organization needs to find an emotional connection to the audience at hand. When I see starving children in Africa on my television, I want badly to write a check to help them. I can see the desperation in their eyes. That is compelling. When someone talks about breast cancer and holds up a picture of their deceased relative, or persuades me to think about my wife, mother or other relatives as potential victims, I want to support the cause. The thought of losing someone real is compelling. When my friends at the National Center for Family Literacy introduced me to Robert Long, a native American from New Mexico who, 18 years after dropping out of school, went back, learned to read and write and is now pursuing a master’s degree, I was overwhelmed with pride in someone seeing the value of literacy. That is compelling.

I’m sure each non-profit out there has a compelling story to tell. I just don’t think they tell them enough or at least well enough to drive that call to action.

The second on my list is also a key driver in successful fundraising. If your goal is to, “Raise money,” then I have nothing tangible to see as a result of my contribution. If your goal is to, “Purchase new bunk beds for the Safe Place shelter that serves 20 new young people per month in your community,” I feel like my $25 is going somewhere useful.

The third point is where the tools come into play. By using easy widgets like those available at ChipIn or JustGive, you’re allowing people to donate with a couple of clicks and a few keystrokes. If you need to capture their email addresses, fine, but don’t make people fill out forms, put in credit card numbers (PayPal is really simple to use) or sign over their first born just to help you.

Please know that I’m obviously not a fund-raising or non-profit expert. These are just thoughts I had that I thought useful for the National Safe Place program coordinators. I’m sure there are plenty of others out there who can help fine-tune a fundraising effort. And I’m sure you might have thoughts of your own that could be of use. That, my friends, is what the comments are for. Please chime in with your advice on making non-profit drives through social media successful.

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About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).