It’s easy for a business to know whether or not they’re succeeding on social media. After a reasonable amount of time on social media, the business makes more money. For a business, that’s the meaning of success. End of story.
For nonprofits, it’s not so simple. Nonprofits are mission-based organizations. They need money to do their work, but the purpose of their work is not to make money. When your “business” is arts, health, the environment, rights, or justice, what counts as success on social media? Here are six signs of success.
- Mobilizing. If your mission involves changing policy or institutions, you need people power to achieve it. From calling Congress to getting out in the streets, getting people to take action is a measure of success for your social media efforts.
- Organizing. There’s power in numbers, and people taking direct action can succeed in changing things directly. Boycotts can change the behavior of companies. Sit-down strikes can prevent foreclosures. On the constructive side, people can get together to build houses, or to assist survivors of natural disasters. Social media have been indispensable in situations as varied as Occupy Wall Street and Superstorm Sandy.
- Changing the culture. Some nonprofits work to change the way we think and behave. In an earlier era, social marketing turned smoking from a widely accepted habit into a public health threat. Today, social media are full of ongoing discussions aimed at changing our ideas about rape culture and body image.
- Sharing. More people are seeing works of art online than in museums. More get their news online than from newspapers. Freecycle and similar email lists allow people to pick up goods they need for free, and every giveaway prevents a throwaway and reduces the waste stream. If your nonprofit is concerned with arts, public information, or the environment, social media may be part of how you do your work.
- Building assets. A nonprofit’s greatest asset is often its reputation. As Nir Kossovsky has pointed out, your reputation may actually be worth money. You may spend less on recruitment and purchase of services because the people with whom you do business know and trust your organization. Employees may tolerate the low salaries typical of the nonprofit sector because they are proud to work for you, and you may acquire partners and funders because they want to be associated with you. Social media are part of your brand, and they help build your reputation.
- And yes, making money! Just because you’re a nonprofit doesn’t mean you can lose money. As Robert Covitz writes, a nonprofit is “an organization that reinvests profits and donations into its programs, services, and personnel so as to better fulfill its mission and goals.” To reinvest, you must make a surplus to begin with. Giving via social media is on the rise, and even the check in the mail is increasingly likely to arrive after the donor has learned about you on social media.
So, is your nonprofit succeeding on social media? Comment to tell us your success stories and the challenges you face.