When it comes to technology, it's often assumed that smaller organizations just don't have the resources to use the tools and services that larger nonprofits do. Fancy databases? Too expensive. Up-to-date computers on a working network? Not enough tech savvy staff to keep it going. While there are exceptions to the rule – and cloud services are helping make more of those exceptions – it's generally the case.
We see it year after year in our IT Staffing Survey – unless, as it turns out, you are talking about social media.
In the recently released Nonprofit Network Social Network Survey, we see that when it comes to social media, smaller nonprofits are keeping pace with their larger counterparts, adopting and using social media at similar rates. It helps, of course, that Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are all free to use. But it still takes an investment of time, and small nonprofits are making it.
Melissa Barber, Electronic Communications Specialist with Death with Dignity National Center, agrees. Her organization is committed to social media “because our constituency tends to skew a bit older. Social media has been a huge help for us to reach a younger group of potential supporters.”
More impressively, they plan to maintain the investment. The vast majority of smaller nonprofit respondents reported that they will continue or increase their level of staffing for social media in the coming year.
So how do small nonprofits make the most of their investment? And what returns can they expect? Let's take a look at some of the data and find out.
Focus. One of the perceptions of social media is that you have to be in a thousand places at once. Not true. You have to be in the RIGHT place for your needs. We asked which factors contributed to the success of respondents' social media efforts and learned that developing a strategy is the most important, even for small organizations.
Barber agrees with this point. “We’re a very small nonprofit, and in order to get the most value out of social media, we have to think strategically about where potential supporters are likely to be, and how we can interact with them on different platforms.”
Allocate staff time. In smaller nonprofits, it's tough to find budget for a staff member that's dedicated to any one thing, let alone social media. It's clear however, that most nonprofits aren't funding a full time staffer to social media anyhow, and the vast majority allot only about one-quarter of a Full Time Equivalent (FTE). But being purposeful about staffing - ensuring that someone has social media built into their formal job description - is an important part of success.
Barber has found this to be true at DDNC as well. “Our staff is simply too small to allocate all of one staff member’s time to social media. It’s actually hard to break out exactly how much time I spend only on social media because I try to integrate it into all our communications.”
Smaller is, well, smaller. Though small nonprofits are investing in social media like the big guys, the numbers do look different. The average number of Facebook fans from survey respondents at large organizations was roughly 2.5 times higher than the average for responses from smaller nonprofits.
That doesn't mean that smaller nonprofits aren't succeeding. Respondents to the survey indicated that the top two methods for reporting social media channels is "Placement on Our Website" (82%) and "Emailing Our List" (65%). Smaller nonprofits tend to have less web traffic and smaller email lists, leading to smaller social networks.
Death with Dignity is a small nonprofit that also sees smaller numbers of followers and interactions. But, says Barber, “the numbers are increasing steadily.”
Good things come in small packages. Just because small nonprofits have smaller social networks doesn't mean that those networks are less valuable than the big guys. Small nonprofits respondents saw just as much value in their social networks as the rest of the respondents, There was no statistical difference between small nonprofits and the average.
How does this measure up to your experience? Share your perspectives with us in the comments!