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Non-Profit Social Media Smarts: Internal or External Social Networking Tools?

crmNon-profit organizations are increasingly adopting social networking tools to create a sense of community among members and donors. According to a recent poll by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, two-thirds of non-profits are using social media, and 39% of respondents said they feel these tools are important for reaching the greatest number of donors.
Additionally, the Weber Shandwick Social Impact survey found that 88% percent of non-profits are widely experimenting with social media, 51% are active users, and 92% of executives said their online presence raises awareness of their organizations. Although these statistics reinforce non-profit's acceptance of social media, the numbers do not show whether organizations have adopted internal or external tools.

While many non-profits appear to be actively participating in external social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, many don't realize the risks of not fostering these groups within their organizations' website itself. Doing this allows a non-profit to collect member intelligence, automatically linked to an existing member / donor database.

Why Internal Tools?

Today, non-profits are competing with the likes of Twitter and Facebook that allow people to freely interact with others who have similar interests. If constituents are communicating on external social networks, non-profits will miss out on an opportunity to gain valuable insight by not being able to capture data about members and donors. By offering internal social networking capabilities, especially those that are tied directly to your website, your organization can maintain its branding, while deepening interactions with constituents. An internal community is also a great way to increase Web traffic and search engine optimization (SEO). Having the community tied to your organization's CRM system is important so that it can be easily administered and kept fresh.

Receiving direct feedback can help your non-profit learn more about constituents' needs and concerns and how well you are serving them. Encouraging members to participate in an online community will let them know that their thoughts and suggestions are being heard and taken into consideration, and will allow an organization to find its most active members or donors. This feedback can also give an organization insight that can help when planning for annual conferences, meetings and classes. Prospective members and donors will be able to communicate with current constituents directly about the benefits of giving to and joining your cause. Additionally, your online community can serve as a place for staff, board members and volunteers to share knowledge around the clock.

Creating an internal community also offers additional value to your members and donors. Online communities can serve as a venue for users to express ideas, share valuable information and contact details within a trusted network. As they contribute to discussions within the community, members and donors will gain recognition for their expertise and feel a closer connection to the organization. What's more, they will easily be able to access resources and tap into the collective wisdom of your organization. These communities will also appeal to younger members who are already networking through social media-based sites, and demonstrate that your organization is keeping up with technology and ensuring that content is fresh and engaging for members and donors.

Seeding Your Online Community to Promote Growth

Once your organization recognizes the benefits of creating an internal social network, ASI partner GoLightly, Inc. provides a number of best practices that will help get you started. First, look to your larger donor and member base, and select a group of pilot users. Then, seed the network with groups, blog posts and discussion questions, so that early adopters do not face an empty community. The feedback that your organization receives from these pilot members will help you make improvements to the network before it is officially launched. Donors and members must also be aware of why you are creating the network and what benefits it will bring to them.

To help grow your community, make sure you take advantage of every opportunity to showcase it. For example, share information about your internal social media tools at every event you attend, as well as on your external social media profiles. Since you will want to make it as easy as possible for people to sign up and use the tools within the community, select a designated staff member to moderate the network and answer donors and members' questions-people will be discouraged if they are seeking help and cannot find it.

According to GoLightly's CEO and co-founder, Sarah Golightly, organizations need to make social networking as easy as possible for their members and donors. "People are participating in your community because they are interested in connecting with like-minded professionals-they want to be responded to and heard. The community should serve as a knowledge base for them to communicate with other members, donors and staff. The easier it is to use the social networking tools, the more likely it will be for them to come back and continue to contribute," says Golightly.

Continuing to Cultivate the Community and Engage Members

Non-profits need to ask the community for input on how the organization can improve its internal social media resources. Once you find out what members want, your organization may realize it should modify some of its processes. Take what you learn from the community, and put it into practice to show members that you are listening to their concerns and working to address them. To keep members motivated, acknowledge those who use the community frequently-one way to do this is to feature the most active member of the month on your site or in a newsletter.

The community must be the first place that your organization posts any announcements or news-encourage donors and members to turn to the community as their main source of information. Always direct them to your site to learn more about the news; for example, include a link to the community when you publish the information in your newsletter-this is a great way to introduce newcomers to your network. Lastly, make sure to keep your content up-to-date to engage members and ensure that the community remains active. Golightly advises organizations to develop a blog where thought leaders can share important information, news and event photos and videos with the community. Non-profits also need to provide donors and members with forums to communicate and share their insight with one another.

With many non-profits actively participating on external social networks, it is essential that an organization creates an internal community to provide members or donors with additional value add. An online community will also present non-profits with the opportunity to collect valuable information about their constituents. Following these best practices will allow your non-profit to grow its community, promote greater online engagement, keep donors and members invested and make improvements that will lead to your organization reaching its goals.

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