Why charities have been slow to adopt social media…and why they must do so soon

By Martin Campbell

I should be clear from the start that there are many charities making innovative and productive use of social media. Using social networks as part of a charity’s comms strategy is nothing new and charities of all sizes will have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+, using them to engage and interact with supporters, donors and volunteers, increasing awareness and raising funds.

Scared of social media?

But whilst many charities have embraced social media, there are still some that seem reluctant to take the plunge. I am convinced that this isn’t because they don’t want to – most people would acknowledge that as a tool for communication, engagement, mobilising supporters, fundraising and information sharing, social media could practically have been invented for the third sector.

There are two main reasons that charities aren’t active on social networks: they lack the time and resources and they feel they lack the skills required to be a success on social media. Larger charities will employ people to specifically manage their social media presence and grow their online community but there is no reason whatsoever why any charity shouldn’t be able to do a decent job with their social media presence.

Taking the plunge

The amount of social media sites to choose from can be bewildering. Of all the social networks outlined above (and there are lots of other more niche social networks to be considered too), Facebook has by far the highest number of active users – around 900M at the last estimate – but that doesn’t necessarily always make it the right option.

Managing a presence across all social networks is very time consuming so you would be better served doing one or two very well rather than spreading yourself thinly across them. Evaluate what content you have (is it lots of video?), where your target audiences are most active and select the most appropriate one for your need.

Content remains hugely important in building an audience on a social network. Whichever social network you decide is the best fit for your charity you must ensure that the content you supply is compelling. So if that’s Twitter, make your tweets newsworthy and interesting. This could be updates about your charity or sharing stories of a more general nature but it is important to gain an understanding of what your followers care about and aim to meet that demand.

The same is true on Facebook, although you have the room to explore issues in more depth on that social network. Before you post content ask yourself if it something your audience would find interesting and of value. If the answer is ‘no’ then don’t post it – too much bad content will drive people away.

What will I get from it?

Once you are active on your social network (s) of choice it can transform the way a charity interacts with its supporters. It affords a charity the opportunity to engage on a one-to-one level and by having a presence on social media a charity can learn what its supporters are saying and sharing about that charity and competing charities. Social media can also play a major role in driving traffic to a charity’s website. Search remains the main way in which many people discover a charity and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) should be a key part of a charity’s digital communications strategy. An active presence on social media, sharing and distributing keyword rich content will improve a charity’s placing on Google and other search engines, ensuring that more people find it online.

But an overarching aim for charities on social media is to increase funds raised. We recently audited 700 charities across the globe and 93.7 per cent of those raised more online revenue in 2011 than 2010. Social media can drive visitors to an online donation page, directly via a request for funds or indirectly, when a user sees a trusted member of their network donating.

Despite social media being potentially daunting for a charity that is yet to use it, the benefits it brings make it worth taking the trouble to engage. Any charity wishing to raise awareness, gain new supporters and increase fundraising should make social media an urgent priority.

About the author

Martin Campbell is Strategy and Innovation Director of Blackbaud Europe and formerly UK MD of Convio (online fundraising, marketing and CRM Software-as-a-Service supplier to third sector organisations). Martin has rich experience of understanding what clients need to achieve and creating a vision of how technology can support that and has led major digital projects for leading UK nonprofit organisations such as Cancer Research UK, Scripture Union and British Red Cross.

About the company

Blackbaud works with the nonprofit and education sectors, supplying cloud and on-premise software to more than 27,000 customers in more than 60 countries. It has a range of marketing, CRM, social media and fundraising software solutions and services that last year helped raise more than $100 billion. Blackbaud has offices all over the world but has a European HQ and three other UK offices that serve UK customers that include Cancer Research UK, Wateraid, Crisis, Breast Cancer Care and Prostate Cancer Charity.


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