Getting Networked by Nature

January 13, 2014

nbnWhen it comes to a tool like social media, it’s important to think beyond official messages sent out from an organization’s account.

The real power comes when people, including staff and board members who care about an organization, are empowered to spread the word as individuals. After all, social media is social, and people value interactions with other people above those with brands.

That was the message shared by Cary Walski, technology education and outreach coordinator at MAP for Nonprofits, at a technology breakout at the 2013 MCF Philanthropy Convening. Walski used statistics from the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of the Twin Cities (where I also happen to be a board member) to make her point.

Traffic on the group’s website nearly tripled in one year, and event attendance increased 45 percent in the same time period. So how did they do it?

  1. YNPN-TC used social media as one part of a cohesive online communications strategy that also included a robust website and timely email marketing.
  2. YNPN-TC adopted a positive social media culture.

First Steps
In order for an organization to embrace a positive social media culture, several things must happen first.

  • Recognize that staff and board are always representing the organization; trust them to do it well on social media, as they do elsewhere.
  • Agree to a policy of 100 percent participation on social media, and include it in staff job descriptions.
  • Provide ongoing social media education
  • Write social media policies that are “Yes and,” instead of “No, no.”

Grantmakers Must Move Beyond Concern
Walski noted that grantmakers in particular may be hesitant to adopt a policy of complete availability on social media, fearing that it could lead to an increase of poorly-fitting grant proposals. However, she made the case that it’s time to move beyond concern and embrace openness. Here’s why:

  • Social media is a great way to promote and support the work of grantees.
  • It provides additional avenues for community members to reach out to foundation staff.
  • It may illuminate new opportunities for a foundation to meet mission and serve community.
  • It gives program staff new ways to learn about issues they care about.
  • It increases staff visibility, so they are increasingly looked to as thought leaders.

How does an organization transition to a positive social media culture? Here’s the roadmap Walski laid out:

  • Survey and Align: Determine who your internal staff and board enthusiasts are, and identify or hire a social media champion.
  • Build: Ensure your organization’s practices and policies encourage social media. Have your social media champions inspire and educate staff at informal gatherings such as brown bag lunches.
  • Evaluate: Demonstrate the value to leadership and board members by using metrics like those in Google Analytics. Share screenshots of particularly poignant social media “mission moments.”
  • Innovate: Stay on top of changing technology and help your organization find that next connection that will lead to improved service.

Through it all, don’t forget: people value interactions with other people above those with brands.

For further inspiration on jumpstarting your organization’s positive social media culture, check out Idealware’s The Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide and Unleashing Innovation: Using Everyday Technology to Improve Nonprofit Services by Idealware and MAP for Nonprofits.

– Chris Oien, MCF digital communications specialist

In Social Media, Is Less More?

February 7, 2013

twitter_cupcakeAllison Fine recently interviewed Kivi Leroux Miller, president of Nonprofit Marketing, for The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Social Good Podcast. They talked about ways to use social media for social change, and ways for organizations to improve their social media presence. Here are some of the highlights:

In order to be effective and focused on social media your organization needs to first answer this question: “What does your organization want to be known for?”

  • Gain traction by focusing on key messages for your organization and continually communicating those messages.
  • Don’t cut and paste the same information, but rather focus on repurposing content in different, interesting ways and using visuals where possible
  • Be selective and decide where the focus needs to be for your organization and then stick to it. It requires discipline and a thoughtful approach.

To help tackle internal capacity issues, volunteers can be utilized to assist with social media but need to be trained and understand the organizations messaging, plan, values and approach to the issues in order to be effective.

What are the trends in social media in 2013?

  • In addition to using Facebook, Twitter, email, blogs and their websites, many nonprofits are planning to explore Pinterest in 2013.
  • Miller believes that more nonprofits should be utilizing video for their messaging, but nonprofits are discouraged, thinking that it’s complicated and expensive.

Is social media effective for fundraising?

  • Miller believes it’s time to stop treating social media as an add-on to other fundraising channels, but rather put all the cards on the table (direct mail, email, social media, etc.) and integrate them for best results.
  • The other challenge for nonprofits is to figure out how to develop direct relationships with friends of people that support the organization. For example, if you donate to an organization on behalf of friend who is doing a fundraiser, does the nonprofit ask how the donor wants to be communicated with or give the participant control over how the organization relates to their friends? The core power of social media is relationship building, but it needs to be harnessed effectively.

Listen to the whole thing on The Chronicle of Philanthropy website, or through iTunes.

– Megan Sullivan, MCF operations and publications coordinator

Photo cc M i x y

Social Media Engagement Lessons From Knight Foundation

August 15, 2012

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

Going on Social Media Safari

June 21, 2012

Social media is now an integral part of our lives. Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, LinkedIn: social media is now something we interact with daily.

But what exactly is social media, and how can foundations harness its power to advance their mission, while simultaneously dodging some pitfalls?

Cary Walski, technology education and outreach coordinator at MAP for Nonprofits and owner of, led foundation communicators on a Social Media Safari to tackle these and other thorny social media questions.

First, what makes media “social”? It’s:

  • Online
  • Two-way or interaction based
  • Sharable to public groups
  • Measurable

Second, what are the building blocks that your organization should have in place before diving into the social media pool?

  • IT infrastructure (hardware to house the media and internet access)
  • Website (backbone of social media)
  • Email marketing (distribution system to send messages to supporters, grantees, etc. It still matters!)

Third, you need to educate your management and staff on the why’s and how’s of social media and determine how it aligns with the organizational mission and staff capacity. Once there’s agreement on the path to take, you can then implement your social media strategy. If you skip any of these steps, your social media strategy will be housed on shaky ground.

How much time should my organization spend on social media?

In Idealware’s Nonprofit Social Media Decision Guide (PDF), they recommend spending a minimum of two hours, per medium (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), per week. The more time spent, the better the result, but only up to a point. After a “breaking point” of four to seven hours per week per medium, the return on investment levels off.

For good ideas on how MCF members and other local foundations are making good use of social media, check out these examples:

How is your organization putting social media to good use? Let us know!

-Megan Sullivan, MCF operations and publications coordinator

Measuring the Value in Social Media

March 22, 2012

If you ever feel like this, don't despair: social media CAN be measured!

At last week’s Nonprofit Technology & Communications Conference, I had the chance to lead a session with friend and colleague Jamie Millard of Charities Review Council.  Our session was called Dashboards, Metrics, and Insights: Measuring the Value in Social Media, where we dove deep into social media analytics and the metrics that really matter. I’ll provide a brief summary here; if you’re interested in learning more, head over to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits download center where you can see the presentation and resources!

Stay Mission-focused

When you talk about how your social media activity is going, always bring it back to your mission, especially with your executive director or board. We hear a lot about how social media is about having conversations and building relationships, and that’s true, but your organization isn’t on Twitter to have conversations, it’s there to advance the mission, because that’s what all its activities are about. If you don’t do that, the higher-ups may rightly wonder what the point is.

Measuring Success Within Social Media

The above isn’t to say that you shouldn’t keep the pulse of your social media accounts on that tactical level — knowing what is and isn’t working is important. Here are three tactical metrics that matter, courtesy of Avanish Kaushik:

  • Conversations: Do your posts connect with your audience? (Number of comments/replies per post)
  • Amplification: How often is your content being passed along? (Number of retweets/shares per post)
  • Applause: What does your audience like? (Number of favorites/likes per post)

Facebook Insights and Twitter tools like Hootsuite will log some of this automatically; some you (or your intern!) might have to manually score.

Once you have the raw numbers you can turn it into a dashboard to keep an eye on what’s happening. You can also go a step further by asking, for example, if content from your organization or others’ content that you share gets a better response. It depends on what’s important to you!

Tie It to Organizational Goals

Once you’re done with the tactics, you’re ready for the next step! In the digital realm, many organizational goals get fulfilled on your website. Here’s our 3-step program on how to track goals fulfilled through social media, using Google Analytics:

  1. Set Up Goals. What are the most important things that happen on your website? Do people sign up for services? Buy things? Donate? Download research ? Set goals for those most important things in the Conversions section of Google Analytics. (Here’s how)
  2. Tag Your Links. Use Google’s URL Builder to add a custom tag to the end of your website links. Assign “Source” as social-media and “Medium” as Facebook/Twitter/etc. and you’ll be able to group your social media traffic efficiently! (Here’s how)
  3. Use Advanced Segmentation. Now that you can group your traffic, this part let’s you actually do it! Match the segments you create in this step to the tags in step 2. This part is easy, as Avinash Kaushik has set up a one-click method to creating a social media segment! (Here’s more on doing it yourself)

Once you’ve done all that, voila! Click the Advanced Segments button at the top of every Google Analytics page, select the one you made, and your custom data will start pouring in. (After you’ve done a bunch of tweeting and Facebooking, that is.)

Don’t stop just on your website either — do your volunteers or other constituents who engage with you on social media show a greater loyalty or likelihood to refer people to you? Measure it! Be creative and think about what else matters for your organization.

Communicate Your Results

Once that’s all rolling, it’s time to impress. During a presentation to your board of directors or management, start with tactics to show growth, move to organizational goals to show what it means for the bottom line, and end with a flourish by capturing and sharing screenshots of mission moments you’ve encountered — to drive the point home on a more personal level.

Hopefully this hands you some useful tools and helps reprogram your brain to talk about social media in a new way. Don’t forget to visit the download center to learn more.

-Chris Oien, MCF web communications associate

Foundation CEOs — Diving or Dipping Their Toes Into Social Media?

October 7, 2010

Are foundation leaders diving in or dipping their toes into social media? Foundation Center recently found many top executives are still testing the water when it comes to using web 2.0, but the number of CEO users of sites like Facebook and Twitter is rising.

Are CEOs ready to dive into web 2.0?

Are CEOs ready to dive into web 2.0?

Based on a survey of 73 foundation executives, the report, Are Foundation Leaders Using Social Media?, reveals that:

  • Established forms of online communications like e-newsletters and Listservs are used at a much higher rate (65% and 45%, respectively) than social media.
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents say that social media has been at least somewhat useful to philanthropy over all.
  • Only 50% state that social media has helped further their own organization’s work.

The report also yields interesting information including what blogs on philanthropy and the independent sector are read by leaders most frequently, as well as two profiles of social media “power users” with a breakdown of what their online activity looks like.  To read more and download the four-page report, visit Foundation Center’s Philanthropy News Digest.

– Cary Lenore Walski, MCF web communications associate

CC Image Seattle Municipal Archives

Mindful Media: Using the Matrix to Plan Your Messaging

August 16, 2010

Deciding what communications mediums to use should not feel like trying to read this.

What is the Matrix you ask? No, I’m not talking about the mind-bending late 90’s sci-fi flick. I’m referring to a nifty tool developed by Aspiration that helps you sort out the mind-bending  myriad of mediums both online and off that so many are using to spread messages these days.

Referred to as the publishing matrix, the tool is a simple grid that lists the types of messages you produce, and then has a column for each of the communications mediums that you currently are using. Using an “X” you can indicate which type of message, whether it be a press release or a blog post, should receive what type of distribution (e.g. facebook post, tweet, etc.)

It’s an excellent method for documenting what your promotional practices are for your messages among staff, especially if you have multiple staff members or even volunteers producing and distributing messages for your organization. You can download an example of the publishing matrix  at

I learned about the tool at a presentation that Allen Gunn, executive director of Aspiration, gave at the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmaker conference. Located in San Francisco, Aspiration is a 501 c3 organization that specializes in connecting nonprofit clients with software solutions to help them better carry out their work. There is a variety of free resources for nonprofit communicators interested in streamlining their use of social media on

– Cary Lenore Walski, MCF web communications associate

Image CC Patrick Hoesly