How Non-Profits Are Using Social Media to Strengthen their Missions

As many of you may know, I have worked in the past with various non-profits helping them understand and build social media campaigns.

Among the list of non-profits I’ve worked with The March of Dimes, First Tee SVPA, Historic York, Inc., and Downtown Inc, few have been as memorable to me as Riley’s Toys Foundation (RTF). Started by a 4 year old and her mother RTF helps send toys to children in refugee camps and orphanages. In addition to overseeing the development of their website and storybook, I helped Riley’s Toys Foundation with their Facebook Page, Twitter account, and Flickr page. These channels have helped bridge a gap between the organization and potential donors, beneficiaries, and the like.

Today, however, I wanted to take a little time to look at how a few other non-profits are using social media to achieve their missions.

Fundraising with Social Media

In January 2010 a devastating earthquake hit Haiti leaving an already struggling nation to pick up the pieces. The American Red Cross is one organization that not only understood the need for help in Haiti, but they were poised and able to do something about it. By creating a network of connections before they needed it, the American Red Cross was able to quickly and successfully leverage social media connections when it needed to.

American Red Cross leveraged it's Social Network for big gain.

The initial call to action started on their website but soon made it’s way to the American Red Cross social media accounts. From there, the pleas for help traveled into the personal networks of those (who were tightly and loosely) connected to the organization. The entire event played out and was not only shared, but has been praised and archived online.

“When the earthquake in Haiti occurred, American Red Cross quickly sent their text-to-donate message across their social media outlets and it quickly became viral. Within a week, they raised $5M from texting alone. Over $20M was raised in a matter of months.”

But, the American Red Cross didn’t stop there. They continue to update, relate news, and to share stories and the importance of their work in Haiti via their website. Donation distribution charts, press updates, stories from the field, maps, and even podcasts documenting the developments are all available on their website.


  1. Build if before you need it – online and off, this makes sense.
  2. Campaigns are a quick get; programs are are a day-in-day-out commitment.  Both help make a solid online communications strategy.
  3. Use the service and/or the tools that fit the project.

Creating a Workshop Community with Social Media

Sick Kids is a hospital in Ontario, Canada. One of the many task the hospital has is that of educating doctors on the latest medical practices and procedures. Rob Petersen of Barn Raisers tells it this way…

“The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, set up a wiki, CasafinOntario Wiki, for Doctors to access resources and share “best practices.” Over 400 physicians participated in the Wiki and comparisons were made between those who did and did not. CafasinOntario Wiki users reported higher levels of practice change, greater CAFAS knowledge, and greater satisfaction with CAFAS implementation supports. Not only did they feel their learning curve had been accelerated thanks to the wiki, they felt more comfortable with transition.”

This case is an interesting one for me. No doubt networks like Ning provide similar capabilities as the wiki mentioned in this case study. Namely, the ability to collaborate with others, the ability to have user profiles, the ability to update information, and the ability to provide private or open access – are all capabilities provided by both wikis and Ning network sites.

The RSS Feeds on the website provide access to constantly updated information.

As a point of commentary, Google has made some strides toward making similar types of abilities (tools and functions) available through it’s new network, Google Plus (aka Google+). Specifically, the ability to host video chats with multiple other users, called hangouts, and more recently added to this, the ability to use Google Docs during a hangout – all of this serves to challenge what can be seen as accessible online collaborative opportunities.


  1. Social technologies allow new ways for creative and constructive collaboration. Be on the lookout for tools that work for you.
  2. Make important information archived, accessible (e.g. RSS), timely, keyword smart, and enjoyable to consume.
  3. Measure, measure, measure. Measure the impact of your efforts to get a sense of your accomplishments, gains, and any needs for re-directs.

Digital + Analog Relationships = Increased Connectivity

Lastly, the Museum of Life & Science in Raleigh, N.C.provides a good example of a non-profit using social media for outreach.

Prior to launching a new Dinosaur Trail representatives from the museum hosted a behind the scenes event for influential local bloggers and twitter users. The visitors were encouraged to take photos, tweet and blog about their experience and the new trail. Highlighting the importance of creating compelling, target-focused content, the museum also created their own set of blogs and connection points to support and fuel social media efforts with relevant content.  

More than 100 bloggers and tweeples attended the event promoting the soon-to-be-opened dinosaur trail. And the museum set up feeds to watch for, tag, and use the exposure generated from the influential attendees. Many of us who have been in the social media marketing field for even a little while know of Wayne Sutton. Sutton happens to be one of the influential bloggers that attended the museum’s pre-launch event. He wrote a blog post about his experience, highlighting what he thought worked with the campaign.


  1. Reciprocity rules; what you give is what you get. Be generous and gracious.
  2. Involving others in offline and online activities is important to growing support.
  3. Making others feel special and allowing them to participate can go a long way.

In Sum

The tools are only a means to an end. Social media is powerful in it’s ability to connect to, disseminate, and make accessible the information that is important to an organization and it’s constituents. Likes on Facebook, though, don’t keep the lights on in the office. The relationships that made the fundraising, education, community building, and outreach possible are ultimately what matter for non-profits and NGOs. Connecting with people in real ways to hear their stories, help them reach insights, to help bridge the gap from where they are and where they need to be should ultimately be the major driver of your mission. Social media can help galvanize these important relationships, but it’s important to keep in mind that the tools alone won’t do the work.

Here are a few consistently reliable non-profit resources to help you stay grounded, equipped for growth, and inspired.

Certainly there are more cases worthy of review, and there are more ways that non-profits can benefit from adopting new technologies to support their missions. If you know of other examples worth sharing, please do share them below.

Thanks for reading!
And, take care.


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