While I was speaking at and attending the Emerging Philanthropy Conference last month, people kept coming back to the same question, regardless of the session or roundtable topic listed: “How do I sell my boss on the value of Social Media?”
It became clear as the two days progressed that this weighed heavily on many people’s minds. Although most nonprofit leaders are at least conceding the point that social media isn’t going away anytime soon, many of them still aren’t moving beyond basic lip service. That is to say, too many don’t realize that experienced staff and a (gasp!) budget need to be committed to this endeavor as well.
(Mostly!) gone is the illusion of, “Give it to the intern – s/he needs something to do, anyway . . .” and then crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. Enough studies now exist to show that nonprofits which take social media seriously really do get results from their audiences.
I’ve often found, though, that elaborating with details (even when I have plenty of them!) doesn’t really help me make my case . . . it only causes people’s eyes to glaze over. Just as it’s essential to tell a potential donor a story that she can relate to when trying to solicit a gift, the staff member must tell the director a story that he can easily relate to when it comes to equating a new fundraising or marketing campaign to one he is already familiar with.
Comparing what is unknown to what is already known is always a good place to begin.
Most directors not only find social media to be new and confusing, but will often point to the fact that they don’t see the staff time or expense invested yielding any income for the organization, so why should they begin – or continue – to invest any of these resources in such an endeavor?
This can be answered by relating to several areas that nonprofits frequently already invest in, which take a lengthy time to produce income – indeed, some never do. For example:
• Acquisition mailings: It’s a commonly accepted industry standard that this segment will need to be mailed to four times before breaking even, after which only then will nonprofits expect to start making money on this investment. Why do they do it then? Because they realize that it takes time, money and repetitive, consistent messaging in order to get people in the habit of donating to the organization when it is a new behavior that they are being asked to participate in. Investing in bringing new constituents on board is something that smart nonprofits do all the time. They are used to doing this via mail, and many of them also acquire email lists, too, so moving into the social media realm is just an additional channel.
• Special events: A great many nonprofits have annual, signature events that take many staff members nearly all year to plan and implement. Some have more than one. Although the hope is to raise a great deal of funds, quite a few others consider themselves lucky if they turn a profit at all, and some even operate in the red, because it’s obvious that there are other benefits to such events, such as cultivation, publicity, networking, etc. The amount of staff time and expense invested to execute an annual event can’t even begin to compare to how much staff time is required to create and maintain your social media channels, and yet most directors won’t think twice about budgeting for events as a “regular cost of doing business.”
• Major Gifts: For organizations that have dedicated staff or departments pursuing major giving, the directors realize that cultivation efforts of major donors can take many, many months, and the gifts may not come even in the same year – but that it all takes an investment of time before paying off. The expenses involved often include a great deal of travel, meals, entertainment, etc., and many variables can affect the outcome of when and whether the gifts will be realized; again, however, this is seen as an investment that is worth pursuing.
Social media is no different than any of these above examples. Typically, the greater the investment, the greater the return, but the principles are the same:
• Constituents are being asked to participate (often in a new way), and repetition of the messaging is required before they become used to it and respond
• Boosting income is only one of several goals, such as publicity and networking
• Over time, the cultivation efforts will pay off, but not immediately
Another effective analogy that has been used to measure the importance of social media can be seen with recent and upcoming elections. There was a greater correlation found between elected gubernatorial candidates who had larger social media followings in the 2010 elections, for example. It’s already clear with upcoming presidential politics that social media will play a crucial role. If it weren’t important, the campaigns wouldn’t invest so much time and money in it – particularly this early.
There are certainly directors who will want figures to back up these arguments, and I have often been accused of being a number-crunching geek who tracks my campaigns’ data, ad nauseum! I do love analytics, and will create tables, charts and graphs to demonstrate this, that and the other whenever I can.
I’m simply pointing out that in the above examples of mailings, events and major gift cultivation, I’d be willing to wager that most nonprofits can’t produce a great deal of analytics to show detailed ROIs, expenses, splits on LYBUNTS, SYBUNTS, lapsed, etc. either, so why is management holding social media to a higher standard and a shorter timetable to produce results? Especially when “results” are being defined on an entirely new landscape that’s changing at a much greater speed than the others? This is very unrealistic. There are many directors who’ll disregard data in favor of their gut reactions or anecdotes instead.
Obviously analysis can be done to measure results, and several social media experts offer good advice on how to do it; however, many nonprofits don’t invest enough in their staff to have someone who delves deep into the data for any aspect of development. Often, gross income, net income, average gift and perhaps percentage of donors retained is the extent of the analysis conducted for each campaign.
The alternative of abandoning social media – or doing it half way – is a poor choice, simply because it appears not to measure up to unfair standards that no other campaign strategy is being held to.
Keep the base of the pyramid strong