Nonprofit New Year’s Resolutions – What is Holding You Back?

We are already a week into the New Year and I cannot help but wonder how many personal resolutions have already been disregarded, if not outright discarded, or as I prefer frame it – tweaked into something more … manageable.  We all have big dreams on January 1, but to paraphrase Ms. Grant, nothing short of payment in perspiration is going to turn intention into reality.  Let’s just face it, evidence suggests that our resolutions are more likely to fall by the wayside than be attained.  Nothing horrible will happen when day #364 arrives and you never did register for that marathon or crack that volume of Proust, but when your organization is the one in desperate need of a “lifestyle change” how do you ensure that the change sticks?

There are at least three major problem areas nonprofits may need to reevaluate for 2013:


This year will be even more challenging on the funding front for any nonprofit that hopes spending cuts and words of austerity were just a passing storm.  This is an excellent opportunity to directly confront departmental or organizational fears that keep you hanging on to events that are no longer profitable and deferring serious talks about diversifying methods of giving and ditching your two-decade-old donor profile.  Be creative.  Be bold. The time for wishing things were different is over – 2013 is the year to revamp and revitalize your fundraising strategy and Beth Kanter has an excellent post on how to start thinking about doing just that.



The ability to meaningfully communicate why your nonprofit does what it does uniquely and effectively is key to successful messaging.  Solid content and consistent promotion of your organization indicates a good level of fitness, but engagement is what will take you to the next level.  The goal of storytelling, posting, and other social media activities is to compel your audience to action. This requires genuine engagement. Who are you talking to online?

I agree with Debra Askanase – 2013 is going to take social media to a whole new level in nonprofit communication, marketing, and even operations. If you are not doing more than dabbling in it (as in the requisite accounts and an intern as sole content curator/poster) you have whip your social media muscles into shape! Check out Debra’s post on nonprofit technology for plenty of workout material.


Making it Happen.

You could have the most knowledgeable staff working for the most dynamic Executive Director but your nonprofit is going to keep spinning its wheels if the Board is more impediment than inspiration. Board performance is a sensitive issue, but in this challenging climate it is one that can no longer be ignored with a “boards will be boards” attitude.  Challenge your board to explore their capability as a group and move beyond what can be accomplished around the big table to how they can actively help your nonprofit get closer to your organizational vision by December 31.   A helpful tool to begin this conversation is Elephants in the Boardroom: A Framework for Discussing Board Effectiveness Issues from the Fieldstone Alliance.


What is your nonprofit-related New Year’s resolution? 

Social Media and Education

If you are interested in the impact of social media upon student learning, check out the paper  How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education by Darrell M. West (Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute) that discusses the positive impacts of new media, Web 2.0 and even interactive gaming on individual learning and the collective classroom experience.

The rise of digital media (and all the nifty tools it has brought us) have lead to increased communication and ease of information dissemination among groups, resulting in a lesser role of the traditional subject expert. The expert is no longer the gatekeeper to a topic area as enormous amounts of data from legitimate sources are just a few quick keystrokes away for nearly any of us with an internet connection.  Granted,  nowadays  s/he could just start a blog and be right back in the running as “expert”.  Web 2.0 laid the groundwork for the challenge to traditional hierarchical communication in organizations, with some of  the more innovative companies creating in-house social media platforms to enhance and encourage collaborative communication among staff.  Is the classroom next?

Will the current generation growing up using  peer-to-peer learning  and crowd sourcing (albeit informally) on a daily basis truly learn in a traditional classroom? How can social media and networking platforms be used to enhance learning at all ages?



Nonprofits: Yes to Facebook & Twitter, Blogging…Not so Much

The latest snapshot of nonprofit social media use and strategy comes from a recently released report from Sage, a company specializing in software solutions for business and nonprofits.  According to first quarter data from their Nonprofit Insights 2012 survey, the majority of nonprofit organizations used social media (84 percent) and reported that that it was important to their organization’s overall mission (75 percent), with 46 percent indicating satisfaction with their social media outcomes.

Other key findings include,

  • The top 3 social media sites among those surveyed were Facebook, Twitter and YouTube
  • Just over 1/3 (35 percent) of survey participants used a tool  to manage their multiple social media accounts
  • 71 percent of the nonprofits surveyed indicated that public relations or creating “buzz” was their primary reason for using social media
  • Determination  of social media “success” was often through the number of  social media clicks, friends or followers (reported by 61 percent of participating nonprofits), although 17 percent link it to the amount of  dollars raised
  • Less than 1/3 (29 percent) of nonprofits blog

Download the report Sage Nonprofit Insights, Q1 2012 Social Media Study for additional survey data as well as social media tips for nonprofits.

Well Done is Better than Well Tweeted (or you know social media but do you know your nonprofit?)

When I’m chatting with nonprofit professionals and the topic of social media comes up – which is inevitable given the nature of my work – I tend to respond to their concerns about if it is really “right for us” by waving the strategy banner. We rely on a sound strategy to provide the foundation for every other operational issue, why wouldn’t it be used to guide agency outreach, messaging and marketing via social media (or any other medium)? I mean, giving your social media activities a clearly defined purpose, measurable goals and parameters to guide usage just makes good business sense and lays the foundation for some very exciting exploration and expansion of how you communicate with stakeholders, donors, clients and potential supporters. Right? Rah-rah – let’s hear it for strategy!

But maybe I’m wrong.

While I pontificate on the need for organizations (nonprofit or otherwise) to have a well-formed strategy driving their social media, I may be missing a bigger issue. Actually, I am now convinced that I have been stepping over a rather large one in my eagerness to preach all that is holy about strategy and data and planning and feedback loops, and it is more critical than any strategy or metric. It is the question – do you know your nonprofit?

A post by Steve Olenski at Social Media Today captures the fantasy world that many businesses, and yes, nonprofits, are living in regarding social media and their bottom lines. If you have ever wondered why your tweets and Facebook posts have not led a steady stream of contracts, collaborators or donors to your door after six whole months, you may be falling into the same trap.  No tweet, no post, nor strategy, nor social media expert can make up for a product, an event, or a fundraiser that, for whatever reason,  misses the mark. Are you certain that you are hitting yours ?

So, do you know your nonprofit? Not the mission statement, or the goals set for 3 years from now or the buzz words from the branding session held at that board retreat a decade ago – do you know the here and now of your organization?

  • What sets your organization apart?
  • How are your services different from,  and a level above, what is offered elsewhere?
  • How have you changed the lives of clients and families and what might have happened if you were no longer providing those services?
  • How has that impacted upon your community/city/region?
  • What does your presence and your “product” mean to the community?
  • Who is your audience?
  • What is important to them?
  • Why should they care about what you do?

Services, advocacy and education are the products of nonprofits, particularly those in the human and social services field. Their quality and effectiveness are, and always should be, priority one. Social media comes second. Before you revise your communication and marketing strategies because of disappointing numbers, revisit the heart and soul of your nonprofit – those you serve, how you serve, those who support you and why (or why not!).  Take time to reflect on what is happening in that intersection.  Discuss this reflection (and any tweaks you think are advisable) with other leaders in the organization rather than plan how quickly you can hit the 5,000 followers/likes/+1  mark. The better you know yourself (your organization) the better you will use social media to communicate and connect based on who you are, as well as what you do.