blogging for the hearts of donors

Shel Israel just posted an interview he did with Dr. Nora Barnes, chancellor professor of marketing and director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

It’s a good review of some of the thinking that went into, and results of, the study her team did last year on adoption rates of social media within large charities in the United States, called Blogging for the Hearts of Donors: Largest US Charities Use Social Media.

I remember when this report came out – it supported what I had already believed to be true, based on personal experience and purely anecdotal evidence. It’s always deeply gratifying when a methodologically sound, quantitative study backs you up like that.

“Seventy-five percent of the charitable organizations studied are using some form of social media including blogs, podcasts, message boards, social networking, video blogging and wikis. More than a third of the organizations are blogging.”

She mentions in the interview that charities tend to be nimble in their operations, which might increase their capacity for responding to new developments in technology like the Web 2.0 tools listed above, compared with their for-profit counterparts.

“It’s very slow to turn a big boat around.”

And while that’s certainly true, I suspect that it is more a cultural difference that sets charities apart from large businesses than just size. Because the charities she polled were, by and large, pretty large (taken as they were from the Forbes 200 largest charities list).

Primarily, the disparity lies in the staff time charities have available to allocate to social media projects. Most of these social media tools are either free or very cheap — the only real cost incurred is in time spent. So where does this leave the smaller nonprofit, with a lean and mean staff with little or no time to spare?

Well, as in all things, they get creative. They look for volunteers and unpaid student interns to get the ball rolling. In some cases, they don’t feel they can make the case for paying staff to work on social media projects until the return can be proven.

So it’s a bit of a bind for smaller nonprofits, but there are pockets of amazing creativity erupting in small and medium sized organizations. I mostly work with arts and culture nonprofits, which have different “audience development” (read: community-building) strategies than cause-driven charities. So the social media strategies for cultural organizations are going to differ somewhat from the cause-driven organizations.

But the common thread in all nonprofits is passion, and passion is an attribute that is also widely shared by social media enthusiasts. Passionate people find a way to make it happen. They blog on their own time. They buy decent recording equipment on their own dime and stay up for hours at night editing a five-minute podcast. They share resources, collaborate, and make connections in unlikely places.

It’s not surprising that there’s a lot of overlap between the nonprofit world and the social media world. We’re already members of the same tribe.


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