November 16, 2017

Supporting grantees to go further on social media

The research is compelling: Social media is a powerful tool for nonprofits.

Last year, M+R partnered with NTEN (a local nonprofit based in Portland and former Meyer grantee) on the 11th Benchmarks Study of nonprofit digital advocacy, fundraising, social and advertising. The study followed the social media trends of 133 U.S. nonprofits and found that social media platforms have taken center stage in the work of nonprofits and are now essential to reaching vast audiences. Additionally, the study reported:  

  • For every dollar nonprofits raised online, they spent 4 cents on digital ads

  • Online revenue for nonprofits grew by 14 percent over 2015 totals, with monthly giving growing at a rate of 23 percent;

  • The average email donation was $87 for one-time donors and $23 for monthly sustainers; and

  • Between 2015 and 2016, numbers of nonprofits’ fans grew by 23 percent on Facebook, 50 percent on Twitter, and their followers doubled on Instagram.

The overall trend was hopeful: Nonprofits use social media to reach more people more often and in more places, resulting in increased donations.

As Meyer’s social media specialist — and as someone who is constantly looking for new ways to amplify our grantees’ impact online — I see first-hand the importance social media can play in advancing the work of nonprofits. So I created a half-day training program to provide our grantees practical tips for developing strategic messaging on social media.

I wanted our grantees to have social media tools to help with organizing, time management and communicating advocacy. Those  strategies are helping our partners to increase their presence and engage their audiences across social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

To better understand how Meyer could support our grantees as a funder, I surveyed current and former grantees to understand how they use social media, how they manage it and ultimately how Meyer can support grantees to build organizational capacity around social media and digital communications.

The responses were enlightening.

About 90 percent of the responders felt most comfortable using Facebook, the most important social media platform for engaging with supporters and building a credible online presence with or without a website. Two-thirds of those said they wanted to improve their mastery of the platform.

About half of the social media survey respondents wanted to use Twitter — the character-limited social media tool favored by pop stars and the president — more effectively, and about the same percent — 47 percent — needed training to increase their engagement on Instagram, the social media tool designed for images.

The survey identified that our grantees wanted support and training on social media best practices, effective time management, tracking metrics and how to advocate effectively on social media. Additionally, our grantees described their most significant challenges on social media as inconsistency in messaging, too little time and uncertainty about which social media platform to use.

One respondent said, “with less than 2.0 FTW, how do we decide which of the many social media options we utilize? I can barely post to FB once a month.” Another asked for insights in “helping management understand that social media can be a powerful tool for building advocacy.”

And a third wrote, “Training is the most important to us at this stage. Social media is new to us and we want to continue this but don't know enough about FB and how it works. We have two staff that post to our orgs account but they also have full-time jobs so this is not ideal. Our agency is small and this is challenging for us.”

The feedback helped us to tailor training specific to the needs of our grantees and launch a pilot series of social media classes in August 2017.

The four-hour sessions included training on how to set social media goals, develop strategies and navigate an array of tools that can lessen the burden of managing a nonprofit’s social media.

Laura Nash, communications manager at Northwest Health Foundation, led a section on how to communicate advocacy on social media. Attendees got hands-on Twitter exercises and opportunities to learn from their peers. And I used local case studies to model ways that nonprofits can use social media to reach their organizational goals and engage internal and external stakeholders.

Feedback from the trainings went into the creation of this social media recipe booklet, a tool I designed to help nonprofits get started on social media and to provide quick tips on how to use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

After the training, our grantees said they felt more comfortable and empowered to begin using social media at their nonprofit. They said they had a much better understanding of how social media can advance their organization's goals — whether those goals are to raise $5,000 to support a campaign or to recruit 50 volunteers for a capital campaign.

Meyer grantees who attended the sessions followed up to seek additional training for their staffs and boards. Stay tuned: We are exploring ways Meyer can provide broader support for digital communications to our nonprofit partners.

If you’re a Meyer grantee or partner with questions about the trainings — or another funder curious about ways you can support your grantees on social — don’t hesitate to darion [at] (contact me).

— Darion