Profiting the Non-Profits

Groups go online to raise awareness at very little cost

By Elena Tayem | Atlantic Community High School

Placing a full-page, color advertisement in the Sunday Miami Herald: About $10,000.

Buying a 30-second commercial during WSVN’s evening news cast: $2,500.

Creating Twitter, Facebook, YouTube to reach a target audience: priceless.

“I’m pretty sure we would not have had such good attendance without using social media,” said Hank Resnick, co-founder of the Miami-based Green Mobility Network, an organization that promotes alternative transportation.

“Facebook and Twitter have helped to spread the word about events my nonprofit organization has organized,”

Nonprofit organizations like Green Mobility are using social media tools to reach specific individuals and raise awareness of their cause more effectively and at almost no cost.

Before social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and Ning, organizations relied on paying for advertising in newspapers and on TV or going door to door with flyers to reach their target audiences.

Organizations could spend thousand of dollars a year recruiting supporters and creating awareness for their causes. During the recession, organizations realized that to continue their efforts, they needed to find a more economical and effective approach.

With new social media tools like Google+ and Skype integration in Facebook being released seemingly every month, nonprofit organizations will have cheaper and more effective ways to reach audiences.

Aubrey Martinson, a 17-year-old high school senior who volunteered for the East Delray chapter of Relay for Life, finds social networking websites extremely useful. Martinson was responsible for using Facebook to market and promote the organization that raises money and creates awareness for cancer survivors.

“Creating a Facebook group was so easy. I was able to add all the team captains and communicate via the group through messages to inform members of upcoming meetings and fundraising events,” Martinson said. “Never did I have to print flyers to hand out and find all 30 of my team captains. It was extremely convenient.”

Relay for Life, through Facebook, has been able to “create more birthdays” by saving lives and raising awareness by promoting events.

Through volunteers and fundraising, the organization is able to give free lodging, transportation and support for cancer patients in treatments. There are currently 11 million cancer survivors and the American Cancer Society isn’t stopping there.

Martinson’s assessment of her use of social media is reflected in the 2011 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report. The report was conducted by the Nonprofit Technology Network whose mission is to help nonprofits understand the effective use of social media to achieve their goal.

Nine out of the 10 nonprofits surveyed reported having a presence on Facebook in 2011. In the past three years, Facebook usage among nonprofits has grown from 74 percent to 89 percent with the majority of the adoption occurring between 2009 and 2010.

The report claims nonprofits are increasingly using social media for fundraising efforts. Sixty-five percent of nonprofits use social networks to raise money.

Nonprofits are not the only types of organizations taking advantage of the benefits of social media. Small businesses that tend to have small budgets are leveraging the tools as well.

“I have found [Facebook Ads] so effective,” said Chris Meyer, the president of CM Photographics, a wedding photographer service based in Minnesota. “My business wouldn’t be anywhere close to where it is today if it weren’t for Facebook and the ad campaign.”

Meyer uses Facebook’s ad program that identifies women who have changed their Facebook status from single to engaged, he said. When the status changes, Facebook places an ad for CM Photographic if the user is in the Minnesota area.

Over 12 months, CM Photographics generated nearly $40,000 in revenue directly from a $600 advertising investment on Facebook, Meyer said.

Although nonprofits are raving about the benefits of social media to raise money for and create awareness for their causes, there is a down side.

“The biggest drawback is that once you start using social media you have to stay involved or people lose interest in your Facebook or Twitter page,” said Resnik, who uses Facebook “Like” button functionality on his website to spread information about events through Facebook’s 500 million users. “Social media are a very mixed blessing, or maybe I should say a mixed curse.”

The 2011 Social Network Benchmark Report supports Resnick’s assessment about the level of commitment to using social media.

Nonprofits who have not yet established a presence on Facebook or other social networks report that lack of strategy is the reason they stay off, according to the report. A lack of staff, budget as well as expertise are also contributing factors to not having a social media presence.

Despite the drawbacks, nonprofits will continue to use social media to its full advantage.

“Social media are so pervasive that my company has not been able to ignore them/it,” Resnick said. “We have had to learn how to handle Facebook and Twitter and maintain those accounts. Several of us are involved in doing that.”

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