Your Nonprofit is so Vain… Bet you Think Social Media is about You

Social media is about relationshipsIf you’re like most nonprofits, you’re still trying to figure out how social media can help you sustain and grow your mission.  Most of you are getting it wrong.

Sorry to be so blunt.

Here’s how you’re going astray:  (1) your posts are too promotional; (2) your content isn’t relevant to your readers, and (3) you’re too repetitive and boring, without adding value. If you’re simply counting up your numbers of “likes” and “follows” and patting yourself on the back for how you’re growing your lists, you’re totally missing the point.

Social media is about being — dare I say it? —  SOCIAL.

Counting vanity metrics wont’ get you far. Likes, follows and +1s are just the beginning of the “relating to” process; not the end.

Though I see much less “we’re on Facebook… like us!” than before, I still see plenty of outside/in broadcast type posts and tweets that do absolutely nothing to build a relationship with your constituents.  They’re all about you… how great you are… how much you accomplished. They don’t engage your audience. They have no purpose beyond checking off your list the fact that you posted them.

Are you suffering from the dreaded anti-social disease of making social media about list building and checklists – and you – rather than about relationships and constituent-centered connection?

There’s a 6-step cure to the anti-social disease.

1. Employ the “3 to 1 Relationship-Building Formula.”

When all is said and done, successful marketing and fundraising is all about relationships. And relationships are built on giving, giving, giving; and then asking for engagement. So every time you enter the social media space I want you to offer three gifts; one ask.

Here’s what I mean.

Offer up three pieces of content your audiences will value. Three gifts of practical tips, useful advice, recommendations, stories, inspiration, timely news, entertainment or humor.  Three gifts that answer frequently asked questions. Three gifts that engage your readers’ emotions.  Then…  follow up with one ask.  And I don’t necessarily mean an ask for money.

Asks are ways to stimulate conversation and active participation with you. You can ask for comments and retweets. You can ask folks to sign a pledge or petition. You can ask folks to volunteer, play a game, enter a contest or respond to a survey.  You can ask folks to simply share their accomplishments or social updates with you. Or ask them to share inspiring quotes, reading recommendations, funny photos, memories or stories.

What else can you do to engage folks and make it more about them?

2. Publicly recognize and honor your constituents.

Show some volunteer and donor love by praising them in front of other folks in their networks. Endorse them on Linkedin. Send a twitter shout-out singing their praises. Repin something from their Pinterest board to one of yours. Retweet their posts. Comment on their online discussions. Send a laudatory email with updates on their latest personal or professional accomplishments or life cycle events to others in their group (e.g., alumni association; advisory committee; auxiliary; giving club).

3. Respond to constituent interaction

It’s easy to overlook this important step. Two of the most important words in social media are “Thank You.” Show that you’re grateful for your constituents’ participation. Show that you’re listening! If someone comments, respond. If someone offers up the fact that they’re getting married or receiving an award, celebrate with them!

When you put something up on your social media page(s) why not hang out a few minutes to engage with your network?  John Haydon, Facebook, social media and nonprofit marketing guru, suggests not calling it ‘posting’ but ‘planting seeds.’ Want your relationships to grow? Nurture them.

4. Give ‘em something to talk about!

Create a conversation; get people talking. When folks share your content with their friends and associates it’s an indication you connected with them. That’s what you want! You know that feeling you get when you meet someone and you say “I feel a real connection with you?” That’s the beginning of a relationship.

For this to happen you’ve got to give folks stuff they want to share, make it easy for them to do so and include an engagement value proposition that gets people talking. Think of social media as online word-of-mouth water cooler talk. It’s got to be interesting… intriguing… inspiring… educational… funny… something your reader perceives as worth reading, commenting on and sharing.

5. Talk to, not at, people.

Tell, don’t sell. Tell stories centered on your reader. You can do this quickly through a photo with caption or a 30-second video. And listen before you join the conversation. Listen and learn. Social media is like having a 24/7, 365-day focus group to listen to. This used to cost organizations big bucks. Not anymore. Take advantage.

6. Know who you’re talking to.

Honest-to-goodness!  Can you really have a conversation if you’re just blathering mindlessly into the ether?  That’s the essence of making it all about you. Yet you can’t make it about your reader unless you stop and think about who they are.

Rather than write to a faceless mass, I suggest creating marketing personas. As marketing guru Heidi Cohen tells us: “Marketing personas are imaginary versions of your prospects, customers and the public that contain in-depth, lifelike character traits, including fun names, to help develop content and marketing.”

Shed the narcissism. Stop the me, me, me broken record syndrome. People aren’t interested in you. They’re interested in how you can help them – even if that’s simply making it possible for them to act on their values and help others.

Speaking of Getting Social Media Right…

Check out Social Media for Non-Profits: How to Raise More Money and Get More Attention. I’m so pleased to offer you this special E-Course by my friend Joe Garecht of The Fundraising Authority. You’ll get fundamentals plus specific guidance for supercharged Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media pages and campaigns for your non-profit. Plus some bonuses from both me and Joe. Check it out here. Early Bird Registration gets you $30 off!

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. dANIELLE MACK says:

    Great post Claire! These are excellent points and I can’t wait to implement them into our social media strategy.

  2. Once again, Claire, you have nailed it! So much of the nonprofit content on social media seems to be the equivalent of standing in the center of a town square with a bullhorn shouting “ME! ME! ME! ME! ME!” Thanks for reminding us all to instead sit down and ask “What about YOU?”

  3. Thanks Julia! One Justice is doing a terrific job with your blog. And, yes, always ask the consumer-oriented question: WIIFM? That’s the only way to keep folks coming back.
    claire Axelrad recently posted…Your Nonprofit is so Vain… Bet you Think Social Media is about YouMy Profile

  4. Claire,

    My full-time “job” is as an academic and I am delivering a course on nonprofit fundraising this term. May I share this post with my students as we delve into the social media aspects? Thanks, Claire!

    Jeff Aulgur recently posted…Does Your Nonprofit have Tempered Radicals?My Profile

  5. Claire, you’re spot on with the dangers of nonprofits continuing to be too me-centric. We need to help our donors feel like *they’re* the heroes who are creating positive changes in the world. Our organizations are stewards to achieving those changes.

    But it comes back to how we’ve had to fundamentally transform our mindset around communication and relationships. Just ten years ago, we could still get by with a one-way, broadcast-oriented approach that allowed for organizational me-centrism. We’re still learning how to adapt to a multi-vocal world where we all want to be acknowledged, heard, appreciated by the nonprofits we support. We – both internal employees and outside supporters – not only want to believe in the nonprofit’s mission and work…we want for the nonprofit to believe in us.

    Keep up the good work and the wonderful writing.
    Chris Bailey recently posted…The Easy Way To Drive Away Online Supporters: Email FloodingMy Profile

    • Thanks for reading/commenting Chris. And, yes, the digital revolution is just that. A revolution. It’s changed business as we knew it. There’s no getting around it. It’s the elephant in the room. No business owns the conversation any longer. So may as well become the best contributor towards it!

  6. Good list – I’d add listen. When we were first talking to nfp’s to dip their toe into social media and there was rampant fear of it being too much work, the baseline was signing up for a variety of channels and listen to what users are saying about you.

  7. Really great points discussed about social media for non-profit by Claire. Exactly every non-profit organization has some mission which they want to achieve within the prescribed time. Social media is the best place to introduce your missions to the people and let them know about your policies. I am pleased to read 6 steps cure for anti-social disease which sounds really helpful for people :)

    • Thanks so much Stephanie. I appreciate your reading and commenting on this post. Too many nonprofits remain “the best kept secret in town.” We have a new tool in our communications arsenal, and it’s a shame not to use it.

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