Monthly Archives: November 2011

Nonprofit social media presence growing, social fundraising still slow

Large nonprofits tend to have more resources to dedicate to social media, but a growing number of small organizations say Facebook and other social platforms are key to engagement, marketing, and fundraising. According to a just-released survey of more than 11,000 U.S. nonprofits, almost half of all organizations now raise money via social networks.

Fundraising via Facebook is still small change, with about a third of respondents reporting they raised less than $1,000 in the last year using the tool. Yet a growing number of “Master Social Fundraisers” raised more than $100,000 last year using social networks. Key findings from the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, conducted by nonprofit technology organization NTEN, consulting firm Common Knowledge, and software provider Blackbaud, include:

-46% of nonprofits raised between $1 and $10,000 last year via social networks, up from 38% in 2009.

-Only 0.4% of organizations raised more than $100,000 via social networks, although this number doubled from the previous year.

-There is a strong connection between the size of an organization and the size of its social network. However, 30% of organizations that raised more than $100,000 via social networks are small organizations (those with budgets under $5 million.)

-Environmental, animal welfare, and international services organizations are said to be using social networks “most efficiently” in terms of ROI.

-Facebook is the most popular social network for nonprofits, with 89% of nonprofits using the platform.

-The average Facebook fan base for nonprofits is up 161% from 2010 to 6,376 members.

-The average Facebook following of organizations raising more than $100,000 per year via social networks is 100,000.

-30% of nonprofits that raised more than $100,000 last year via social networks dedicate at least two staff members to managing and fundraising through their social media presence, compared to two percent in the rest of the sector.

-On the staffing side, 86% of respondents commit some employee time to commercial social networks, with the majority (61%) allocating a quarter of a full-time employee equivalent (FTE), and nearly 15% dedicating at least three-quarters of an FTE.

-57% of nonprofits use Twitter.

-One in three nonprofits uses LinkedIn.

-Small numbers of nonprofits report using other platforms, particularly FourSquare (four percent.) Other social networks used include the Facebook spinoff Jumo, Vimeo (video sharing), Picasa (photo sharing), Yelp (local user reviews), Ning (build your own community), and Delicious (social bookmarking.) Respondents also reported using donor-empowered peer-to-peer giving sites such as, CrowdRise, FirstGiving, Razoo, and Causes.

-Nonprofits use traditional avenues, rather than social media, to promote their social media presence, with 78% reporting they use their websites to promote their social network communities, 62% using email, and 48% using events.

-Four out of five nonprofits say their social networking efforts are valuable to their growth and community engagement.

-Three-quarters of respondents say that engagement is the most important goal of their social media work.

-58% report measuring the soft benefits of their social networks, such as increased awareness, education, and supporter participation, while only nine percent measure hard ROI in the form of revenues received from donors, sponsors, and advertisers.

-Three out of four nonprofits prioritize the measurement of site visitor volume, which is also the most popular metric for evaluating the success of social networks.

-The roughly ten percent of nonprofits that don’t use social media say their reasons include a lack of strategy, staff, expertise, and concerns for privacy.

What not to do in a crisis

Penn State University and the nonprofit Second Mile have major media crises on hand in the wake of sexual assault charges against former football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The New York-based nonprofit A Better Chance, which sends talented students to high performing schools across the country, has scrambled to publicly distance itself from Second Mile, even though it placed 30 adolescents in the residential program between 1988 and 2001.

When it learned of the charges against Sandusky, the nonprofit Fresh Air Foundation contacted Pennsylvania authorities to alert them that up to six children had been placed in the Sandusky home through its program in the 80s and 90s.

The university and nonprofits that worked with Second Mile were suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the story broke that Sandusky is facing 40 grand jury charges of sexually abusing eight young boys. Even though it’s been more than a decade since either A Better Chance or the Fresh Air Foundation had connections with Sandusky, both organizations found themselves making headlines and issuing careful statements about their former relationships with the coach and his organization.

The Penn State scandal, along with last week’s pepper spray incident at the University of California, Davis, should remind us that all organizations are subject to crimes, scandals, media attention, and public outrage, and all organizations should be prepared to handle a crisis.

The first official statements released by both Penn State and UC Davis after the respective incidents are good lessons in what not to do. Calling the assault allegations “presentments,” Penn State President Graham Spanier announced his “complete confidence” in and “unconditional support” for the athletic director and the VP charged with perjury and failure to report information under the Child Protective Services Law. In his statement to the press, Coach Joe Paterno took care to claim his own innocence, stating that “while I did what I was supposed to…I can’t help but be deeply saddened these matters are alleged to have occurred.”

Penn’s Board of Trustees quickly issued a heartfelt statement to the community, expressing its members’ horror and sorrow and pledging swift, decisive action to uncover the truth. But in defending themselves and their own against the grave charges, and distancing themselves from what people were feeling, Penn State leaders had ready left lasting damage to the university in the public eye.

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi also took the well-known “CYA” approach in her initial statements to reporters, condemning the police officers’ actions but defending her own role in the incident. Katehi then angered the campus community with the announcement of a 90-day timeline for a task force to investigate the incident. Subsequently, after calls for her resignation, she announced “full responsibility” for the attack on the protesters, suspending the campus police chief and the two officers who used pepper spray and shortening the investigation to 30 days.

Few nonprofit leaders are prepared to deal with devastating scandals like those at Penn State and Davis, and most won’t have to. But regardless of a nonprofit’s size or line of work, basic knowledge of how to handle sudden media attention is an important organizational capacity. For a start, honesty, humility, and empathy with what victims and the public are feeling are key to communicating in a crisis. (Don’t be this guy.)

Effective crisis management also includes anticipating risks and vulnerability before incidents happen, and developing a plan of action that designates roles, coordinates response strategies, and protects the organization and those it serves. A solid crisis communications plan can reduce tensions, ensure a timely and accurate flow of information, and ultimately save a nonprofit from ruin.

Do you have a crisis communications plan? We’d love to hear from members who have developed (and used) this important tool. We’re also interested in hearing from nonprofit leaders who’ve had formal media training–who taught you and what did you learn? Thanks for sharing!

In the meantime, check out these related links:

BoardSource on crisis communications planning.
Mission Controls Fact Sheets on Crisis Management, from the Nonprofit Risk Management Center.
Lessons learned about social media in crisis communication, on NTEN.
A great crisis communications toolkit, including policies, checklists, and examples of decision-making tools, from the Colorado Nonprofit Association.
Brad Phillips, aka Mr. Media, says to be prepared for three types of questions from reporters: those you don’t know the answer to, those that call for speculation, and those that ask for a personal opinion.

The Alliance for Nonprofit Excellence wishes all our members and readers a very happy Thanksgiving.

Can Twitter do more for you?

Twitter has just announced its new Twitter for Nonprofits program. The program combines existing services designed especially for nonprofits, pro-bono services awarded to approved nonprofits, and a new nonprofit analytics service into a single package aimed at getting more nonprofits “tweeting for good.”

First, just in case you don’t quite know what Twitter is: a tool for quickly communicating a short message to a group of people. Individuals and organizations use the Web or text messaging to “tweet” short messages and updates to inform and connect with others.

Nonprofits use Twitter to share information about issues and events, organize people and activities, and raise funds. It’s extremely easy to use, and offers the potential to reach a vast audience. Its format allows people to participate directly in conversations, which is why it’s such a useful tool for listening and engagement for nonprofits. Twitter has become one of the fastest growing platforms for nonprofit organizing and communications, not to mention raising millions of dollars. 

Here’s what the new program provides:

1. Promoted Campaigns for Good
Select numbers of registered nonprofit organizations receive pro-bono tweets and accounts. This program is booked solid with a 6-month waiting list right now, so organizations must apply early.
Paid: Registered nonprofits that do not receive acceptance into the pro-bono program can apply to receive 20% bonus on all ad buys.

2. Promoted Crisis Campaigns
Registered nonprofits that provide valuable resources in times of crisis (natural disaster, civil unrest) can apply to be considered for pro-bono promoted tweets and promoted accounts. Organizations are asked to apply early, and are slotted as the need arises.
Registered nonprofits that do not receive acceptance into the pro-bono program can apply to receive 20% bonus on all ad buys.

3. Hope140 Spotlights

Guest Blog Posts and tweet coverage: is Twitter’s website dedicated to “unique uses of Twitter in the world of social good.” Nonprofits may contribute a guest post for the blog at @Hope140 is a Twitter account dedicated to highlighting positive social uses of Twitter. Nonprofits can apply to have their issue or cause tweeted out @Hope140.

4. Pro-Bono Analytics
Twitter just announced a new service offering pro-bono access to the comprehensive analytics system typically reserved for paying advertisers. Nonprofits must apply and be selected for the pro-bono analytics service.

If you’re thinking of adding Twitter to your social media tools, or you want your organization to get more from its tweets, check out these resources on Twitter for nonprofits.

Intro to Twitter for Nonprofits and Social Enterprises, from Net2
Best Practices for Nonprofits on Twitter, from echoditto
10 Ways Your Nonprofit Can Use Twitter, from Netwits Think Tank
Microblogging and Nonprofits, from Coyote Communications
Extensive compilation of posts, opinions, and resources on Twitter from nonprofit social media guru Beth Kanter

Program cost analysis…everyone’s doing it (or should be)

Among the strongest themes to emerge in our annual surveys on nonprofits and the recession are the need for and value of program cost analysis.

Most nonprofits have functional accounting systems that break out indirect costs (administration, marketing, facilities operation, etc.) And most nonprofit executives can easily identify the direct costs incurred by each of their agency’s programs. But connecting indirect organizational costs to programs—and consequently, to mission—is a trickier proposition.

The true cost of programs includes the allocation of indirect costs to each of your program or service streams. Understanding this allocation is essential to making clear decisions about your portfolio of programs and services.  Yet most nonprofits have a pretty cloudy picture of true costs, preventing them from truly understanding the financial health of each program area.

Program cost analysis includes calculating how costs like occupancy, technology, communications, fundraising, accounting,  HR, and administrative support are distributed across your programs, as well as direct costs. The true costs of each program are almost always higher than what is stated in program budgets, service contracts, and grant proposals. Usually this difference is subsidized through general operating funds, earned income, or other sources.

How a nonprofit allocates this subsidy is one of the most critical financial management decisions it can make. In addition to a rigorous economic analysis, the process involves a careful evaluation of mission, impact, and strategy. It’s hard work, but time after time, we see the process directly result in financial stability, a sustainable set of programs, and a sound future for our members.

  • Do you know the true program cost of core programs and services?
  • Do you know your essential “per unit” service delivery costs?
  • Do you have adequate subsidy dollars available to support all your programs and services?
  • Have you justified the subsidy you provide each program by its mission fit?
  • Have you connected the subsidy you provide each program to its proven effectiveness?

We’d love to hear from you about how you’ve analyzed programs and what you learned and changed. And if you’re looking for a consultant to help guide the program analysis process, let us know–our management consulting program will help you find a good fit for expert advice and guidance.

Farm Bill gets fast-tracked

Advocates for small farms, rural community development, and sustainable food systems were dismayed to learn last week that prospects for substantially reforming the next Farm Bill may have dimmed.

Reauthorization of the 2012 Farm Bill was not expected until late next year or early 2013, but the House and Senate Agriculture Committees suddenly announced the entire bill would get written by next week at the latest. The bill is now expected to be much smaller than anticipated, and omit proposed funding for conservation, small farms, and local food systems.

Passage of the Farm Bill occurs every five years, usually involving a lengthy process of lobbying and debate. The bill has traditionally been seen as responsive to large agribusiness corporations rather than environmental, public health, animal welfare, and community interests. In recent years, activists for these interests have begun to see the bill as an opportunity for change, calling for more funding for conservation practices, organic farms, farmers markets, and fresher, healthier school food.

The fast-tracked bill isn’t likely to have much input from these interests given the timeline and the fact that it will also be much smaller than expected. The decision comes as part of the deal cut by Congress to have a plan for reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion before Thanksgiving. Twenty three billion dollars will be cut from the USDA budget.

Traditional farm interests are working to maintain the $18 billion in annual subsidies currently given to the country’s largest commercial farm operations, which produce corn, soy, and other commodities. Subsidies are distributed via direct payments based on acreage and yield, and are seen by opponents as maintaining concentration in agriculture and fostering environmentally unsustainable production methods. The subsidy proposal circulating would alter the structure of the subsidy program but offer the same basic protections and guarantees to big commercial operations. Critics of the proposal also say it will prevent payments from being tracked and the public from knowing which farms receive payments.

What programs are likely to be sacrificed? Experts are speculating that food safety enforcement is on the chopping block, even though consolidation and vertical integration in food processing have led to increased outbreaks of foodborne illness. Land and watershed conservation initiatives are also threatened, such as those that provide incentives for farmers to leave buffer strips to minimize chemical leaching into groundwater and keep erosion-prone land out of production. The “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” effort, a group of programs that connect local farmers with schools and communities, may also be eliminated.

Given the power of the corporate farm and food lobby, getting community-oriented food and farming efforts into the Farm Bill has never been easy.  Those pushing for more progressive, publicly accountable legislation were expecting to have months to build momentum and support for change among taxpayers and public officials. As Congress puts its finishing touches on the bill, activists have stepped up the pressure, calling for the following legislation:

•                A Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act. Among other provisions, this bill would double funding for the Community Food Projects competitive grants program, expand access to local and regional food in school meals, level the playing field for farmers markets and other local food enterprises to serve Ffederal nutrition program participants, and build local and regional food infrastructure.

•                The Community Agriculture Development and Jobs Act, which would create an Office of Community Agriculture, specifically tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that existing USDA programs address the root causes of food deserts and food insecurity.

•                The Expanding Access to Farmers Markets Act, designed to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants use their benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables by providing wireless EBT technology to farmers markets and other local food enterprises.

Given the short timeline and closed door environment, it’s uncertain how much play these proposals will get amid the corporate agenda.  Many people are concerned about the lack of transparency and public engagement in the process. No details are public yet, although final recommendations are expected later this week. We’ll keep you posted as the bill develops. In the meantime a great analysis of how the lack of regulation in the poultry industry has led to poverty and the gutting of rural communities in Arkansas is here.