Nonprofit Organizations and Social Media

Nonprofit OrganizationsNonprofit organizations are lagging in the use of social media for outreach to their constituents, according to a recent survey by software and service company Sage, covered in an article in this week’s PR News.

Almost two-thirds of respondents in the study said they don’t use any digital tools to manage social media programs. Not surprisingly, more than half of the respondents weren’t happy with their social media efforts.

Since social media marketing would seem to be made for nonprofit organizations and their communications programs, this is an unfortunate situation.  But from my point of view as someone who has handled public relations for many nonprofit organizations – large and small – there is no mystery as to why this is happening.

While there are many large nonprofit organizations, there are also many more than have limited budgets and operate with a small, multi-tasking administrative staff whose work lives are stretched pretty thin.  Very few charities have an in-house public relations person – let alone a communications staff.

Outsourcing these activities is the answer for these organizations, but they often opt for pro bono work by an outside agency, where necessity dictates their taking a back seat to paying clients.

To be effective, social media marketing takes strategic planning, time and dedication.

It can be a vicious circle:  nonprofit organizations who don’t communicate with their publics on a regular basis miss out on fundraising opportunities, and lack of fundraising opportunities keeps them from adequately funding their communications programs.

Nonprofit organizations that eventually become financially stable have one thing in common: they have leaders who think big and look to the future.  they invest in a public relations program – and in today’s world, that program includes social media.

Post by Margot Dimond

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Is that all we can expect? Or did we choose the wrong PR firm?

As the owner of a professional services firm, I decided late last year that we needed to do a better job of promoting our services.  I know other firms similar to ours that receive quite a bit of attention in the media, and they seem to be expanding at a faster pace than we are, so it definitely seemed like the thing to do.  We interviewed several firms – small, medium and large – and chose the largest firm because it seemed to have the most to offer.  They touted their contacts at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and gave us every indication that we would be featured in those national newspapers.  Unfortunately, after six months our total media coverage has been a small feature in a local business publication.  We are very disappointed and have decided to end our public relations program entirely.  Is this a common occurrence?  Why did this happen?

In answer to your direct question:  This is not a common occurrence, but it does happen all too often.  Unfortunately, it usually happens to business owners who have never before used any type of public relations service.  If your knowledge of public relations and what it can accomplish comes from what you see on television or in the movies, you may think that PR people can pick up the phone and news people will come running.  If only it were that easy!

It is rare that a small firm or a startup gets covered in major national newspapers, and for a public relations firm to dangle that idea in front of you was very misleading.  If, in fact, they promised you editorial coverage, they are in violation of the requirement to “accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish,” as listed in the code of ethics of the Public Relations Society of America, the professional membership organization for PR professionals.

Rather than giving up on having a public relations program, why not think about what you really want to gain from it?  You seem to want to expand your business.  By that, do you mean simply to have more clients?  Or do you have a specific type of client that you would like to work with?  Once you have determined the type of client you want to reach, you will need to have your PR firm work with you to design the right kinds of messages and media outlets to effectively reach them.  At that point, you should expect to see some kind of Action Plan with tactics, activities and timetables.

Your public relations program – whether undertaken internally or by an outside firm – should be viewed as an ongoing enterprise.  It’s all about reputation building and reputation maintenance, and that takes time.

Should you hire an outside firm, or go the DIY route?  Here are a some guidelines.

Posted by Margot Dimond