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Social Media for Nonprofits – Engaging with Donors Effectively

Digital media executive Don Schindler discusses how social media can boost a nonprofit’s reach and effectiveness.

By University Alliance
Social Media in the Nonprofit World
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Ask Don Schindler whether social media has had an impact on nonprofit organizations, and he’ll tell you, no, social media “has had a giant impact on the world itself.”

Don SchindlerSchindler is Senior Vice President of Digital Initiatives at Dairy Management, Inc., an industry-based organization that seeks to boost sales and demand for dairy products through education, research and outreach. Schindler’s responsibilities include developing training programs in digital and social media communications for executives, farmers and other dairy industry professionals.

A U.S. Navy veteran who served as a submariner, Schindler’s previous professional roles include senior digital strategist at MediaSauce and managing director for the award-winning University Communications at the University of Notre Dame, where he also earned a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing.

Schindler also is a faculty member in Notre Dame’s Executive Certificate in Transformational Nonprofit Leadership program, offered 100% online through the Mendoza College of Business.

Schindler spoke with us recently about the role of social media in the nonprofit world and identified some of the best practices for nonprofits hoping to maximize their social media efforts, including the importance of analytics.

What steps would you recommend to a nonprofit organization that does not yet have a social media presence?

First of all, I would make sure that you have a solid marketing/communications strategy in place before touching social media. Social media is great and I highly recommend it, but if there isn’t an overall marketing strategy laid out – who are you, what are your goals, who are you trying to communicate with, what would you like to know and do, where do they get their information, measurement, etc. – then social media will just become a burden on the organization.

Social media is a marketing tactic and a means of communication for the general public. You have to understand that it’s like having a phone number and an email address. People expect you to be there, so proper training in social media before starting anything is important. Decisions on your property-naming conventions and how it’s going to operate (not just from marketing’s point of view) can mean everything down the road. You don’t want to have to rebuild those properties a year later because you made a hurried decision on developing your platform.

You have to have a CRM (customer relationship management system) in place. You cannot effectively run your marketing efforts without a tool that allows you to track your regular donors and potential donors. With a good CRM, you should be able to use tools to connect all your marketing tactics, including social media engagements, to individual donor records. If you don’t have this in place, do this first before even moving forward with additional marketing tactics like social media.

Is there a particular time of year that is best for nonprofits to ramp up their online marketing efforts?

This really depends on what your nonprofit does and its most effective marketing. Personally, Thanksgiving to year-end has always been the best because people are in the giving mindset, as well as dealing with their personal finances. (What do I need to give to maximize my tax benefit?) But you have to remember you could be lost in the crowd during this timeframe. If you have a great story to tell, I think you can reach out all times of year.

When it comes to social media, you should be looking at your analytics often to see when you get the best engagement with your followers. We know that sharing photos is the No. 1 activity on many platforms, but the exact same photo shared across all platforms at the same time won’t have the same effectiveness. Audiences are engaged with different types of photos via the platform, like Tumblr vs. Pinterest vs. Instagram. You need to understand the differences and the timing for maximum effectiveness.

Do you have best practices for maximizing a nonprofit’s social media and online marketing efforts?

  1. Be a part of the conversation. In other words, be a better listener than a talker.
  2. Always be looking to help rather than looking to ask. Now this isn’t to say you should never ask. Just make sure you are giving great information via stories for free most of the time before asking people to give anything back.
  3. Don’t use robots or automation tools with social media; this is real time and out in the public eye. This isn’t a canned email response.
  4. Get your employees and your best advocates trained and support them as they spread the word and engage with others. Advocacy is what you should be striving for because people trust other’s opinions vs. your corporate marketing.
  5. Pay attention to what other people and websites are saying about your company.

Which of the following methods do you consider to be most effective in garnering donations online and why?

Email Campaign – No. 1. Having an effective email campaign will get you the most donations. People are used to taking action via email vs. other outreach programs.

Website – No. 2. Your website is your home-base. Use it effectively by digging through your analytics and making the website easy to use. Your website is open 24/7 and you should be treating it as your most important property on the Web. Learn how Google works. Study how to build effective landing pages. Give the donor the best possible experience. Make sure the website is mobile-friendly, especially if you use mobile campaigns.

Social Sharing – No. 3. Awareness, engagement and advertising. Facebook and Twitter are great platforms to showcase your commitment to your cause, sharing your stories and engaging with both your best donors and potential new customers. You need to provide content all the time here but don’t expect people to just jump over and donate (maybe for a small campaign or short one). I use Facebook to drive people to sign up for email campaigns. This way you can have a more intimate connection through their inbox (personalized) and make specific asks.

Video Sharing – No. 4. YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google. YouTube gives you the opportunity to share your stories and drive people to your website/email. Don’t miss the opportunity to share your story in video (or make a PowerPoint into a movie). Proper use of YouTube can elevate your nonprofit quickly; just make sure there is a call-to-action at the end.  Take them to the next step – how to get involved.

Mobile/SMS – No. 5. Mobile is moving fast for campaigns but you have to remember that their phone is one of the most intimate electronics people have. If they gave up their cell phone number to you (very difficult to get), don’t abuse it. Understand the medium and ask with urgency (and a specific price point). Most people don’t give large donations via phone – they need a relationship with you. But mobile can be much more effective than email campaigns with the right audience.

What is the biggest impact that social media has had on the nonprofit sector?

I wouldn’t say that social media has had a big impact on the nonprofit sector. I would say that social media has had a giant impact on the world itself, including turning most business models upside down. The donor/customer is in control, has more information on you than you on them and is leery of being taken for a fool. If you adopt social media within your business and in your communication with your audiences, you will garner more insight into how things really function both inside and outside. Social media has given voice to everyone who wants to use it – learning and mastering these types of communication will dramatically change your nonprofit’s reach and effectiveness.

Are there specific tools and/or programs that you use for implementing, measuring and reporting on your online efforts?

There are so many now and it really depends on what you want reported on. I can tell you that for startups, I would stick to the free tools like HootSuite, Topsy,, Facebook Insights, Twitter internal analytics, MailChimp, Talkwalker Alerts, LinkedIn, Google Analytics, etc.

If you are a bit bigger and have more cash to put toward your online efforts, I would go with what your social media team suggests. Popular tools are SocialOomph, HootSuite Pro, Simply Measured, Visible, Sysomos Heartbeat and Radian6 (now part of Salesforce). This is just to name a few.

If you have these tools in place, I recommend getting an advocacy awards program together for your employees and outside advocates. You want them to spread the word.

Social business is here to stay and I would recommend using the same types of tools for communications that your donors are using outside of your business.

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"I am taking Principles of Leading Transformational Nonprofits and have enjoyed Dr. Ricke-Kiely's interactive online teaching style. Our virtual classes have been absolutely amazing. The classroom included tech support as well as classmates from other parts of the country. Dr. Ricke-Kiely's knowledge, experience and subject matter expertise were outstanding. Her ability to reference the other recorded lectures and bring them into our virtual lectures made things really come together. This course is a must for anyone in nonprofit leadership."

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Category: Nonprofit Leadership