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Untether Your Organization’s Potential and Soar!

Social Media Marketing - An Explosively Powerful Tool

Submitted Friday, December 27th 2013 7:48 pm by Timothy S. Jacobson
in   social media    going viral    marketing    blogging    Facebook    Twitter    YouTube    LinkedIn    Google+    causes  


By Tim Jacobson

~The Nonprofit Provocateur~

 “…the Internet has turned what used to be a controlled, one-way message into a real-time dialogue with millions.” -Danielle Sacks, Writer, Fast Company

“People shop and learn in a whole new way compared to just a few years ago, so marketers need to adapt or risk extinction.” -Brian Halligan, co-author of Inbound Marketing, CEO, Hubspot

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Social media sounds great, but how can a nonprofit fit it in?

You run a small, busy nonprofit organization. Your people and your budget are stretched to the limit. Social media sounds great—something you think you should be involved in at some level—but you don’t really understand how to make it work, it seems too difficult, and maybe it’s just a passing fad, one you’re planning to pass on.

Whoa. Who extinguished the fire in your belly for making the world a better place? Where did your sense of optimism go for spreading the word to a larger and larger circle of people who will respond to support your group’s mission and provide you with the resources you need?

Here is a key concept: A nonprofit organization that leaves social media networking out of its marketing arsenal or pays little attention to it will fall horribly short of its potential. It’s possible to reach thousands, or maybe even millions, of people for free or nearly free. Free and inexpensive marketing tools exist like never before in the history of the world. Wielding and mastering these powerful tools will become easy, by following the steps in this book.

Social media marketing is a strong, cutting-edge way to quickly build a base of support and funding. For an example in the fundraising realm, according to a New York Times article from 2012, “[n]early three million people have helped a total of 30,000 projects meet their fund-raising goals on Kickstarter, the largest such site, to the tune of $300 million in pledges.” According to, since their launch in 2009, 4.9 million people have pledged $805 million, funding 49,000 creative projects through that website alone!

According to a May 2013 article by Shea Bennett on, 27% of total U.S. Internet time is spent on social networking sites. Social media lead conversion rates are 13% higher than the average lead conversion rate. Also, 36% of marketers have found a customer via Twitter, and companies with more than 1,000 Twitter followers generate (on average) 800 new website visitors each month. Social media produces almost double the marketing leads of trade shows, telemarketing, or direct mail. (Source: Experian.)

A 2010 report by Convio entitled Going Social: Tapping into Social Media for Nonprofit Success, provides valuable insight into the reasons nonprofit organizations need to utilize social media to be successful:

Social media is a low-cost, effective marketing channel that allows you to empower your supporters to share your organization’s mission and achievements. It also makes it easier for potential supporters to discover you. Some of the benefits for utilizing social media include:

·      Building awareness of your mission by driving traffic to your website and social media properties.

·      Growing your organization’s influence by cost-effectively acquiring new supporters, donors and volunteers.

·      Harnessing the passion of your most active supporters by empowering them to promote your organization’s various programs.

Every day, social media’s influence grows and becomes woven into everyday life. This phenomenon is validated by the rapid adoption of social media technologies. Even more critical for nonprofits is the fact that social media usage is not limited to any one demographic. As of July 2010:

·      Facebook has 500 million users and 50% of these people log on daily. (

·      Twitter users send out 65 million tweets per day. (

·      YouTube exceeds 2 billion views a day with the average user spending 15 minutes on the site. (

In the three years that have passed since the Convio report was issued, there has been continued rapid growth of the use of social media, which makes it even more essential for nonprofit organizations to use today.

You undoubtedly have at least a passing familiarity with the usual social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google+. But new sites are popping up, and some of them are worth noticing.


Causes logoCauses started in 2007 as a third-party app on Facebook but as of September 2013 has morphed into its own social network for nonprofit fundraising. Matt Mahan, CEO of Causes, in a video on the site, explains, “We're not just an e-mail marketing platform that allows nonprofits to e-mail their supporters and ask for a donation. We're a storytelling platform, a campaigning platform, and most importantly a platform that helps nonprofits’ top supporters do grassroots organizing on behalf of the organization.”

There’s been debate about whether Causes has been truly effective for raising financial support for charities. A 2009 Washington Post article by Kim Hart and Megan Greenwel, entitled “’Causes’ Social Networking May Be All Talk, No Cash for Nonprofits Seeking Funds,” questioned whether it had been an effective tool. Although the information in the article now is quite dated, it’s an interesting snapshot in the evolution of social media. In a correction to the article by the Washington Post, the app developer claimed that 235,000 nonprofit organizations were using the application, of which three had raised more than $100,000 and 88 had raised $10,000. In the huge world of nonprofits, that’s not very many achieving noticeable success.

In the four years that have passed since the article was published, apparently a lot happened, though. claims it is the world’s largest online campaigning platform and that Causes members have raised more than $48 million for nonprofits, collected 34 million signatures for grassroots campaigns, and organized thousands of awareness campaigns. Since launching in 2007, Causes claims to have helped more than 186 million people in 156 countries connect with a cause. Those are impressive numbers.

Causes websiteI do think it’s worthwhile for nonprofit organizations to investigate use of To begin, one needs to hunt for a tiny, gray-letter menu bar near the bottom of the homepage and click the link for “Nonprofits.” From there, a page will appear that allows a group to join the waiting list for an organization profile. It is unclear how long the waiting list is at this time or why there is need for a waiting list.

For an individual who wants to support a cause, go to the homepage and click the “Get Started” button. The site prompts the user to first select five “stickers” or icons for one’s profile “to show the world what you care about.” There are tabs for “popular”, “social”, “political” and “religion.” (Oddly, under the “popular” tab there are stickers for anachronistic causes such as “Nixon – Agnew”, “I LIKE IKE” and “Roosevelt” in addition to more contemporary political figures such as Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton.) After the sticker-selection process, there are steps including support recommendations and supporting people you know.

Don’t assume that getting involved in any one site as an isolated marketing action is necessarily going to lead to significant fundraising success. That’s not much more of a fundraising strategy than the person who goes out and buys a lottery ticket in the hopes of striking it rich. I recommend integrating involvement in sites like Causes with other social media activity for a multichannel approach to explosive marketing.


In a world of limited resources, nonprofit organizations cannot afford to stand along the shoulder of the social media superhighway. There are a variety of tools that can be used by charitable groups to build an audience, disseminate useful information in furtherance of the organization’s mission, and generate financial and volunteer support. These online tools are free or low-cost, they provide a potential reach unparalleled in the history of mankind, and they’re easy enough to use that children can provide technical assistance to accompany your strategic marketing knowledge. Social media is a tool like no other for achieving explosive marketing results.

I recommend integrating your organization’s social media activity across several online platforms, and couple it with an earned media strategy for a true multichannel approach to marketing. Apply a generous serving of passion, creativity, genuineness and enthusiasm. In doing so, you will open up huge new avenues of funding and support for your charity.

P.S. Please ‘Like’ and/or 'Share' this article below if you agree that social media is a powerful tool for marketing nonprofits, and use the comment field to add your own thoughts or examples of how you've seen social media put into practice by charitable groups. What has worked well and what hasn't worked so well. What would you like to see improved with social media sites? I'd like to hear from you!

Tim Jacobson photo

Tim Jacobson is president of Visjonær Consulting & Communications. He's been a board member and executive of a number of nonprofit and for-profit organizations over the past two decades. He's the executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning documentary film, Mysteries of the Driftless, broadcast on PBS and author of the book Explosive Marketing for Nonprofits: Trajectory for Success, expected to be published in 2017. He has led successful efforts to raise millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations in the form of grants and individual donations. He's been featured numerous times in magazines, newspapers and on TV for his organizational consulting, nonprofit and business leadership, his film and writing projects, and his exploration of international peace issues.

This article is copyright (c) 2013, Timothy S. Jacobson. All rights reserved.


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