While I was in grad school I was prone to marvel about the power of social media. Historic events such as the political revolution in Egypt to less significant social flash mobs here in the states – we see the impact that social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, and simple mass texting programs) provides our global community.
The source of social media’s strength is its ability to connect ideas to people and people to occasions to throttle ideas into action.
Facebook’s Place in a Nonprofit’s Playbook
Facebook does have a place in a nonprofit…but it must be well managed.
Many foundations now ask their applicants to list websites and social media presence on funding applications.
I took a course with a president of a Texas based foundation before I graduated from Texas A&M University, The Bush School of Government last year. As a daily reviewer of funding applications, my professor gave some insight into the purpose for this trendy request. He said that websites and social media pages provide extra windows into the applicant organization. If the website or page is professional this may provide signs to the foundation that, because the internet page is professional, so must be the applicant’s management systems. These digital windows may be to the advantage of nonprofits that are either far from their potential foundation partner (and thus cannot benefit from a field visit) or may not have an appealing office space to wow a foundation visitor.
Facebook is good at providing a window into an applicant’s organization. However, it is only good if someone in the nonprofit takes time to clean (or tend to) that window. It takes time to provide weekly updates of pictures, events, info etc. I have seen one nonprofit where this daily maintenance was given to a full time graduate intern; at another organization it was a shared duty between two full time staff.
There is nothing sadder than a Facebook page that has 6 month old information. Facebook users may ask the question: Did the nonprofit do nothing since that last post? Stale updates turn a Facebook from an asset to a liability. Someone at the nonprofit has to tend to the page on a regular basis (no less than a semi-monthly update).
It is not good enough to have constant updates; quantity ought to bow to quality. I attended Texas A&M University’s Bush School Nonprofit Forum this past spring. One of the session speakers spoke about the importance of relevant mission-driven updates. Pictures, issue updates, and the like must align with the mission. For example, a nonprofit whose mission is to serve minorities in the inner city may revisit their page if no minority students are featured in their events or services. The same can be said of a food bank that does not feature images of people being fed or a bookless library.
Facebook can be a useful tool if it is maintained by nonprofit staff. However, it can easily become a liability if unattended.
The nonprofit sector is increasingly under pressure to become transparent: the internet is an easy way for nonprofits to tell their own story.
As foundations and private individuals turn more towards the web before making their giving decisions social media is becoming more relevant in the nonprofit sector.