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.

4 Studies on Social Media and Branding

Empirical, statistical, reliable, causal, there many phrases to attach to  research that is done for industry and scholarship. I’m attaching definitive, questionable, advertising, digital, pay-per-click, SEO, and social media to the list gathered below. I wanted to share, and dissect a little, of the studies I found in the past week or two.

Study #1 – Branding Forward Project with Fast Company and Mechanica

Study #2 – Think Insights with Google

Study #3 – UMass Dartmouth’s 2011 Fortune 500 Social Media Adoption

Study #4 – State of Digital Marketing Report  by Webmarketing 1 | 2 | 3

The Branding Forward Project

An on-going research project formed through the partnership of Fast Company and Mechanica, the Branding Forward Project aims to unravel the mystery behind the emerging field social media and it’s impact on the advertising, public relations, and related industries. The project is designed to investigate “…the challenges and opportunities faced by those on today’s branding frontlines, and the tools and approaches being considered and leveraged. The study reveals a branding world that is undergoing a very real, and often polarizing, transition.”

Chart 4
The Branding Forward Project takes a look at the revolutionary impact of social media on brands, ad agencies, and business in general.

The branding forward project is about creating a set of standard benchmarks to gauge new marketing efforts against. It’s an interactive project allowing users to comment, download, and share the material found. Most of what the branding forward project offer is likely best applied by ad agencies and branding boutiques that serve medium to large sized businesses. Albeit, the concept is an interesting one and one that not only remind us of the impact that social media has had on businesses of all sizes, it too offers a framework not unlike the next research project below.

Think Insights with Google

Certainly one of the more interactive and interesting (to me) studies is that of Google’s Think Insights with Google. Listed on the Official Google Blog as ‘out of beta’ Think Insights provides areas of Research Library, Planning Tools, and Facts and Stats to name a few.

The Real-time Insights Finder, in the planning tools section, allows one to access the deep pools of data available to Google by performing (surprise) searches for things like “How are people searching?”, “What are people looking for?”, and “Where are people clicking?”.

Overall  this project – today – feels big on wow, but a little thin on targeted, meaningful data. There are links to various studies, along with tools to find targeted data, and that is a good start. Insight’s needs to continue to grow. It does feel like a ‘project’ in the sense that it could (and likely will) grow. Adding more data, more links to search will make Think Insights with Google more of a useful tool and less of a showy whirly-do.

2011 Fortune 500 Social Media Adoption

I found this study via Twitter with the question, Has Social Media Adoption Hit a Plateau? Linking to a Marketing Pilgrim post the Dartmouth study, entitled Study: Fortune 500 Usage Leveling Off, presents some interesting information. Conducted with the rigor of a peer-reviewed journal, the U-Mass Dartmouth 2011 Fortune 500 Social Media Adoption tracks the pick up of corporate blogs, twitter accounts, and Facebook pages among the world’s biggest corporations (some of which, interestingly enough, represent economies larger than some nations).

Fortune 500 2011
Datmuth's study reveals a leveling off of social media adoption among F500 companies.

In their words, the author’s conclude:

The adoption of blogs, Twitter and Facebook in the 2011 F500 appears to have leveled off with no significant change in the past year. Twenty-three percent (114) of the 2011 F500 have corporate public-facing blogs. There has been a slight increase in both Twitter use (60% in 2010, 62% in 2011) and use of Facebook (56% in 2010, 58% in 2011).

2011 State of Digital Marketing Report from Webmarketing 1 | 2 | 3

Found in Search Engine Land this study boasts of big things, but should be read with some reserve.

In short, 500 plus marketing departments (2/3s B2B; and 1/3 B2C) were polled on (1) where their money is being spent, and (2) what they are having the most impact with among PPC, SEO, and Social Media Marketing. Oddly, the connection between money spent and impact felt is never discussed.

Moreover, accessing the 2011 State of Digital Marketing Report requires sign up via landing page and information capture system. This whole things smacks of the standard ‘business practice’ of hiring a firm to conduct a – valid – research projecct, then using it as a vehicle for gaining leads. All-in-all Webmarketing’s 2011 State of Digital Marketing Report isn’t a bad study. Much of the data and the means for gathering it are quite believable and timely. The, albeit a little over the top, telling or should I say selling of the report is my only beef with it. Otherwise, the information is compelling, presented well, and an interesting cross-section of important Internet industries.

I am interested to know what you think of these studies. If you have comments, or would like to share other studies that you have found, please use the comment box below. …. And, thanks for reading!

@eMarketer on SMB spend toward Websites, Email and Social Media

A wide swath of small to medium sized businesses focused on their website this years as eMarkter reveals website spending in 2010 is up. Moreover, continued cash flow toward websites (17%), email (15%), and social media (13%) is predicted.

Amplify’d from
Small Businesses Focus Online Spend on Websites
Looking to other low-cost marketing options
This year, SMB allocation of online marketing budgets leaned toward websites, where 27% of SMBs with 1,000 or fewer employees spent at least 30% of their budget. Email took second place with 18% devoting 30% or more, followed by social media, where 10% of SMBs said they spent at least three in 10 marketing dollars.
Allocation of Online Marketing Spending in 2010 According to US SMBs (% of respondents)
The tilt toward investment in websites should continue, as 17% of respondents said they planned to increase budgets for their site in 2011—the highest percentage planning to up any budget line item. In comparison, 15% said they would spend more next year on email and 13% on social media.
Features on Websites of US SMBs*, Oct 2010 (% of respondents)

See more at

Engagement: How We Now Do Marketing

Engagement is that really so important?

I read a blog post recently commenting on the differences of publishing and marketing in today’s new media marketing environment. And it’s a great point to make. Today’s social media marketing approach is quite different than that of simply publishing content.

And while we, as new media marketers, do a large number of ‘awareness’ campaigns, we know too that engagement is the solidifying factor; not simply the icing on the cake, but the proverbial glue that brings it all together.stick together

So, pushing pushy products without any real concern for the validity and value of a product – accordingly – has a limited shelf life as an approach to sharing your brand’s story and driving interest. Moreover, understanding a community and being (1) capable and (2) willing to engage on that very honest level is currently how it’s getting done.

If your agency, if your company is online in the networks and isn’t bolstering their campaigns and programs with genuine engagement you need a redirect. Remember people talk to other people and without trying, you may well already have a reputation online.

Keep today’s new rules for engagement in mind. Find your influencers, stay relevant, and stay engaged. As you pursue success with your own ‘engagement’ campaigns, don’t forget new opportunities do arise. Here are a few to consider.

Spring and Summer Potentials for Your Next Community Engagement Campaign

foursquare_logoGo Mobile & Get Social ~ Mobile will sweep you and your customers away this summer. While the gadgets take a beating occasionally we know they likely aren’t going anywhere soon. And now with 4G approaching and iPhone look-a-like/act-a-likes on the market the marriage of mobile and social networks continues to gain shape and evidence in our lives.

Businesses should find ways to share their unique value proposition in places where they can be found.

There are a growing number of case studiesarticles, and blog posts pointing to this potential. So, let’s get to it.

Yelp, the nifty review site, is a resource and opportunity for local and smaller businesses looking to tap the web for work. Consider yelp-logotapping into Yelp’s free business tools. And again, recognize Yelp has a collaborative, simplifying aspect that we hope to see in more of the tools and networks we use. Resources of this type have a promise and staying power that complicated systems just cannot enjoy. Choose wisely and don’t avoid building with the long-view in mind.

The need to clarify and simplify continues to go unfulfilled. Use that.

Wear-down of Networks ~ A lot of people are still looking for that one-in-all tool that can help make things online cleaner, simpler and less frantic. Businesses should be aware of the exhaustion and obscurity potentials when asking cusotmers and clients to join yet another group, page, network, or outing. Some poeple need more, most need less.

For instance, the recent announcement of Google Buzz left a lot of social media enthusiasts saying, “no more, please!” Though it’s usefulness, at least in my mind, is closely tied to it’s namesakes suite and the ability to bring regular users one step closer to Wave, Google Buzz, still represents, just that, another network.

Gist is an organization tool from a company that understands users have a need to up with contacts across multiple networks. I’ve just recently started using this service, but really like it so far. The modules that bring items including email attachments, searches for individual contacts, RSS feeds and more all together really do seem like a potential time-saver and advantage.