Your small charity doesn’t know how to use social media-follow the big dogs

           When we made our first foray into social media we started by setting up a twitter site. We weren’t really sure we knew what we were doing so we sent our communications coordinator Jill to some local workshops and had her participate in some webinars. Not that Jill was completely in the dark about social media she has a degree in Applied Communications – Public Relations, and had experience in Marketing and Communications. However we wanted to learn as much as we could about how to make this vehicle work for us.

          One of our early efforts to learn how to better use social media was to follow other Ronald McDonald Houses to see what they were tweeting about. More than this we really wanted to see what their followers were re-tweeting and “mentioning”. We were experimenting ourselves but wanted to see what was resonating with other House’s followers. Also we made sure to watch a few local charities who looked fairly social media savvy and some large international charities.

           There seems to be some logic in following other charities. Mansfield (2012) suggests following large nonprofits, she describes;” Large nonprofits usually have the resources to experiment, hire consultants, and get extensive training on what works and what doesn’t. Follow those with a mission and programs similar to yours and mimic their work. Nonprofits like Amnesty International, PETA, the American Cancer Society, the Sierra Club and the Susan G Komen for the Cure excel in on-line communications. Learn from them. Study their websites and blogs. Experience their online donation process. Subscribe to their e newsletters. Like them on Face Book. Follow them on twitter. Almost every action that these nonprofits take online is for good reason. They know what works and what doesn’t, they are constantly innovating and experimenting and they are usually one or two steps ahead of most other nonprofits.”

           As Mansfield points out large charities have resources to invest in research and consultants. If you are working for a small charity it is better to learn from their investment and have your own charity benefit from it.  She does however caution: “Don’t expect the same results from social media that the large nonprofits have. Their brands are well known and much loved. They usually have enormous e newsletter lists and multiple communications staff. (Mansfield, 2012, p. 53). 

          With this being said don’t let the fact that you don’t have a big e-blast list be an excuse either- build a bigger list yourself. If you are working for a small local charity your e newsletter list doesn’t have to have hundreds of thousands of contact to be beneficial. About 8 years ago when we were first investing in Constant Contact and our first fundraising database we had contact information for 400 people who had given us a donation in the previous twenty years. We had no email addresses for the majority of these contacts. Over the years we have been persistent in adding to our mail and email lists. Today we can email to over 17,000 contacts and mail to an additional 15,000 contacts. This is a good number of people but it is not hundreds of thousands. In reality we started experiencing benefits from building the lists after we had only added a few hundred names.  As for our social media, by the time we had about a 1000 followers on twitter we started to experience a significant increase in our ability to attract volunteers and in-kind donations. Attracting on-line donations and sponsorships took a little longer but social media is becoming a tool in our fundraising tool kit as well.



Mansfield, H (2012) Social Media for Social Good: A how to guide for Nonprofits:  New York: McGraw Hill


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