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Last week, Blackbaud, provider of services and software for nonprofits, released its 2010 State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey. The report covers the state of general operations, fundraising, technology and Internet usage, and accountability and stewardship. One of the more interesting findings was around nonprofits' increasing use of interactive and social media tools (including Twitter and Facebook), without using those tools to replace traditional channels.
As the Philanthropy News Digest summarizes, the survey found that:
...the use of new social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter is placing a tremendous strain on nonprofit organizations, which, in the aggregate, have yet to see a significant increase in revenues from the use of these new tools, even as the costs associated with each channel have risen.
This got me thinking about something that Scott Stratten, author of the book UnMarketing, said during his opening keynote at BlogWorld a few weeks ago. He expressed a strong dismay about the emphasis on ROI of social media - and concern that organizations continue to resist social media and/or try to measure its success through increased revenue and other business metrics, and said "it's about relationships, people!!" That really struck a chord with me, because while I think there is certainly a place for measuring social media impact, I agree that its key value is in developing and maintaining relationships. These relationships, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit world, ultimately lead to increased awareness, brand reputation and a whole host of other benefits that can be a challenge to measure in a spreadsheet.
So I wonder if the Blackbaud survey misses the boat a bit in looking at social media as a potential "replacement" for other fundraising tools. While I agree with their assessment social media is placing increased strain on organizations because the cost of communicating to current and potential donors has risen, there are so many other factors - most notably the down economy - making the cost of acquiring new donors increase. Just like any other fundraising or communications channel, Facebook, Twitter and other tools are just that - tools that become an integral part of an overall strategy. While there is certainly an initial investment cost in getting up and running and adopting new tools, I think the cost of NOT embracing new approaches and technologies would ultimately be far higher.
On the flip side, if the communications department is too overwhelmed with the strain of adopting new channels, the overall communications strategy can suffer - messaging can become inconsistent, and the overall effort can suffer from trying to do too many things at once. So the question is, in the near-term, what can we do to help nonprofits better manage their upfront investment in social media and ensure that organizations don't overextend their communications teams? We hope you'll share your thoughts and tips in the comments below!