“Nonprofits have a unique opportunity to use social media to grow and scale their causes and donations online.”
The summer after my sophomore year at Boston College I worked as the Social Media and Marketing intern at a nonprofit cancer society. It was a 10-hour, unpaid, virtual internship. I went into the office the first day to meet my manager, and for the rest of the summer I did my work from home. For me, it was the perfect setup. I was able to continue earning money at my summer job from the previous year, while also gaining marketing experience. My main responsibility was to control the social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a blog) for their big, annual fundraising event.
Nonprofits are often tight on funding, so in some ways it makes sense to have an unpaid intern responsible for something that is not seen as a vital aspect of the organization. However, social media is becoming increasingly important and can have a huge effect on organizations, nonprofits in particular. After being in this class for only a few months, I now see the benefits of having a knowledgeable and strategy-driven employee in charge of social media. It is not just an added bonus; it is a powerful tool. Although I was technically qualified for the position description, the organization could probably have benefited more from having someone more experienced than a 20 year-old marketing major, who had only taken one marketing class!
I think it is safe to assume that everyone knows about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. This is an excellent example of how a nonprofit benefited from social media. The ALS Association raised over $115 million through the spreading of videos in this campaign. Although it is not likely that all nonprofits have the potential to have such a successful, and somewhat lucky campaign, social media can definitely benefit these organizations.
A major advantage of social media for nonprofits is that it is more cost-effective than big marketing campaigns or expensive fundraising events. One reason it is less expensive is because social media allows for more specific targeting, without needing to waste money on a broad audience. Additionally, it also allows for messages to be sent out more quickly and in real time.
Furthermore, organizations that use social media often benefit from network effects. People are more likely to be influenced by a post made by their friends than a post made by a company. For example, an individual might be more likely to donate to or join a Relay for Life team if a friend posts about the event rather than if the American Cancer Society posts to their own Facebook page. This feature also helps messages and news spread quickly.
Additionally, social media provides a platform for supporters to interact and work together. In the past, this may have only happened at big, live events. Now, people involved with these organizations have an opportunity to share news, collaborate, plan, and stay in touch through groups within social media platforms.
As can be seen by these benefits, social media can be a powerful and effective tool for nonprofit organizations. Currently, nonprofits are focusing on email and websites as their main avenues for engagement. Additionally, the Case Foundation found that “lack of manpower is still the biggest challenge facing nonprofits.” However, once these organizations realize the power and potential of this tool, they may be more likely to devote more manpower to it. It is also important that nonprofits establish ways to effectively use social media metrics to inform their activities. Lastly, the Case Foundation also stresses the importance of ensuring websites and newsletters are mobile-friendly.
Although many of these benefits apply to for-profit companies too, they are especially applicable to nonprofits because these organizations usually do not have big marketing budgets or departments. It may not seem like one of the most important aspects of running a nonprofit, but social media has huge potential to make an impact. Organizations should be putting more effort into learning about these opportunities and putting them into practice, especially as the social landscape continues to change. I had a great learning experience throughout my internship; however, I think it definitely benefited me more than it did the organization!
What are your thoughts?