Social Media Engagement Lessons From Knight Foundation

Last week, I sat in on a webinar from the Center for Effective Philanthropy on their new report, Grantees’ Limited Engagement with Foundations’ Social Media (PDF).

The report contains some worrying statistics:

  • 80% of surveyed grantees said that their nonprofits use social media, but only 16% of respondents said that they personally follow the efforts of the foundations funding them.
  • Social media ranked as the least helpful of five communications avenues to learn about these foundations.
  • Interacting and sharing ideas with foundations was ranked below getting foundation news in a list of ways social media could be useful, even though one of the main features of social media is supposed to be its interactivity.

Although I have some questions about the survey’s methodology (such as, are executive directors the right people to ask about following their funders’ social media?), the concerns that it raises are undeniably important: how can foundations do better in reaching their grantees using social media, a communications avenue that grows more important every year?

Knight Foundation’s Elizabeth Miller

Fortunately, Elizabeth Miller, communications associate at MCF member Knight Foundation and a panelist on the webinar, offered some key insights when sharing the Knight Foundation’s engagement efforts:

  1. Create a social media positive culture throughout the foundation. In other words, make the entire staff feel welcome and encouraged to engage on social media, instead of leaving it up to one organizational account. One outward sign of this is the Knight Foundation staff webpage, where Twitter handles are included for each individual who has one, including the president and CEO. That way, grantees and others can carry their personal connections with Knight Foundation staff over into the realm of social media.
  2. Actively engage with grantees. Knight Foundation staff follow the social media accounts of their grantees, and if they know of a big event, significant report or other highlight, they will use social media to spread the word and encourage their community to check it out. This not only helps grantees reach their goals, it also shows a connection and interest in the nonprofits Knight Foundation is funding. If you are interested in having your social media accounts be an interactive space, the best way to make it happen is to start interacting yourself!

The entire webinar is now available to watch on YouTube.

Join the conversation: Do you work for a foundation that uses social media? A nonprofit that follows a funder’s social media? What’s been your experience with what works and what doesn’t?

-Chris Oien, MCF web communications associate

3 Responses to Social Media Engagement Lessons From Knight Foundation

  1. Thanks Jereme, glad you felt like the webinar resonated and I agree about the other foundations you mentioned doing great work. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

  2. Great webinar and a great follow-up post. I thought Elizabeth’s take on the best practices of a foundation were spot-on. As a practitioner at a nonprofit and someone who watches social at foundations and nonprofits closely, I always like to hear about what’s working/not working for others. Knight is certainly a force in the digital space and I’d also tip my hat to Robert Wood Johnson, the Patterson Foundation, and a few others, too (hint: follow them).

    Additionally, I wondered if the nonprofit staff behind the Twitter handles are communications folks that aren’t aware of which foundations support them (though they might not be willing to admit that in a survey). Are the development and marketing/communications departments working closely enough together on social at most nonprofits? This research is definitely a welcome start to a larger conversation — one which I look forward to seeing unfold.

    Thanks for the wrap-up!


    • Chris Oien says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jereme! I definitely agree that a big part of the solution also lies in better social media engagement and alignment in nonprofits themselves. How many nonprofit ED’s follow their OWN organizations on Twitter or Facebook? But that’s a blog post for another day.

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