Social Networking and Nonprofits Study

BlogHer Original Post

During the NTC, ThePort Network, Inc, NTEN, and Common Knowledge released results of a survey that examines the use of social networking as a marketing and fundraising tool.  There was also a webinar presentation of the results.   The survey polled 978 nonprofit professionals about their organizations’ use of commercial social networking sites (e.g. Facebook), as well as their own hosted social networking communities.

Some definitions they used in the study:

"House Social Network" refers to a socialnetworking community built on a nonprofit's own web site. 

"Commercial Social Network" An online community platform owned and operated by a corporation such as Facebook.

Where do branded social networks like Ning sites fall? 

The survey provides us with a baseline of social network use by nonprofits.

Some highlights:

  • Capacity:  Nonprofits are committing staff and budgets to support social network projects and presences, although budgets are small with four-fifths of respondents reporting at least one-quarter of a full-time staff person (10 hours per week) to social network strategy implementation. More than half of respondents expect their staffing or budgets to increase over the next 12 months. According to the survey, nonprofits are more likely to grow expertise from within than use outside help. 

  • Strategy: Nonprofits prefer to use more traditional communications and marketing tactics to promote their social network presence – prioritizing web site, email list and events to get the word out about their online communities. 

  • Policy: The communications and marketing departments are most likely to own the social network project, with fundraising and executive management the next most common boosters of the nonprofit’s social network projects.

  • ROI: Very few nonprofit survey respondents are generating real revenue on commercial social networks like Facebook or branded social networks on their web sites. On Facebook, about 39.9% of respondents have raised money via fundraising, but 29.1% have raised $500 or less over the past 12 months.  On social networks on the organization’s web site, 25.2% of nonprofits survey respondents are fundraising and 1/3 of these fundraisers accumulated $10,000 or more over the last year.

Some thoughts


A few months ago, I came up with a somewhat arbitrary framework to answer the age-old question, "How Much Time Does It Take To Do Social Media?" and contributed it to the WeAreMedia Wiki.   I laid it out in terms of type of project and minimum amount of time to accomplish.  I scaled the projects in terms of crawl, walk, run and fly.    For social networking projects which is all about online community management, I estimated 20 hours to get results.   (Those are flying projects)

Community management is more than blasting out messages to members of a Facebook group or posting or streaming content onto your house social network.  It's NOT about "Here's my crap and now let's talk about it."   The work flow is about relationship building.  I was quoted as saying that USAToday. That takes time and skills.

So, it isn't necessarily a function of how much staff time is allocated, although I believe 20 hours is probably the minimum.  It's how that time is being spent.  Is it spent deploying "traditional marketing tactics" or the hard work of community building one relationship at a time.  If not the latter, chances are the effort won't be as successful.


My colleague, Allison Fine, in her analysis of the study wondered why groups would choose to set up a house social network rather than use
a commercial site and what are the benefits and drawbacks of doing so?  There's a lot of advice available on how to make that decision (see slide 30), but there's a lot to be learned about the steps nonprofits are taking to develop their online community strategy on social networks or house social networks and a greater understanding of the life cycle of a nonprofit's social network community.

What isn't being discussed or described, except in self-organized pockets of the social web
is the overlap between communities and networks.  Remember self-organized networks of people coming together in a moment don't just happen all alone, as Clay Shirky reminded us - there's a core in the center.  

Another point on strategy is whether or not the social network (house or otherwise) is using more of a "cross-posting" strategy versus community building effort - and having an understanding of the pros/cons and potential results.


According to the survey, the communications and marketing departments are most likely to
own the social network.  I wonder how or if  silo culture is or is not getting in
the way of better results and the whole nonprofit organization owning
its social networking effort.  We are seeing more and more nonprofits
develop effective social networking policies that may pave the way for
more higher returns if culture is considered


At least the survey did not proclaim that lack of impressive dollar amounts raised as a failure of nonprofits using social networks.  There's a lot more learning -- especially around connecting social networking results to real change that needs to be happened.  And that won't happen because scarcity mindsets keep us focused on using social media for other objectives.

The survey asked which metrics respondents used in their definition of success for their “house social networks” (social networking community built on a nonprofit’s web site). Respondents indicated that they used number of members and the amount of user-generated content, with fundraising was a lowest ranked metric. What’s unclear is whether or not nonprofits in the survey are measuring engagement and return on relationships.  Of course, that would assume a broader use of networks than just fundraising and marketing, take for example this recent article about social networks and nonprofits from USAToday.

The study provides a great baseline for nonprofits and social networking activity from here forward.

Research Studies of Nonprofit and Social Media Adoption

Overbook Foundation Web 2.0 Study by Allison Fine
Nonprofit Technology Survey from Robert Morris University (all technology, includes 1-2 questions for social media use)
Blogging for the Hearts of Donors by Eric Mattson
Social Media Adoption Study by Eric Mattson
Social Media for Social Causes Study


Beth Kanter, BlogHer CE for Nonprofits, writes Beth's Blog

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