Title of post: The future of social media and small non-profits like rare
Organization: rare Charitable Research Reserve
Industry: Non-profit, Environment
The framework of social media is constantly changing – this statement brings on an equal wave of excitement and panic for small non-profit organizations. With staff often already stretched thin and talent often with less experience than larger organizations, the ever evolving world of social media sometimes feels like a dark cloud following you around. How do you capitalize on Facebook’s new “Donate Now” button? How do you take advantage of Pinterest? How do you determine if the new photo-sharing social site is worth investing your time in? The answer, I’m afraid, is: I don’t know –and really, I don’t think anybody has one clear cut answer. Social media is such a new tool that most of the time the only way to figure out if something is going to work for you is through trial and error. That takes time – time that those of us that wear a communication hat in a small non-profit organization don’t necessarily have. I was once told through a webinar that you need to be consistent throughout all your social media platforms, only to watch another webinar two days later and told that every platform needs to have different content. You know what the kicker is? Both tactics have seemed to work for other organizations – so which one is going to work for rare?
I work for a small non-profit in Cambridge, Ontario, called rare Charitable Research Reserve. We own and steward 900+ acres of natural landscape with the goal of preserving it in perpetuity through conservation, research, and education. We serve the Waterloo Region, and beyond, by offering educational community events, passive recreation on our eight km of trails open to the public, the 110 community garden plots we have available to our community, and through offering our Every Child Outdoors (ECO) environmental education programming to an average of 2500 students a year . How does the ever changing world of social media fit into our future development? In a world where everyone is plugged into their smart devices and we want them to unplug and recharge with nature, it sort of seems counterintuitive – but I think the future of social media might actually work in our favour.
For starters, the world of crowdfunding is becoming more popular and with the success businesses are starting to see from it, charities are also starting to take note. Over the past five years, the crowdfunding industry has grown from a fringe phenomenon, allowing indie artists to monetize social capital, to a multi-billion dollar industry. Everything from video game designers to university research projects are jumping in on the action. So how do experts see the world of crowdfunding changing? According to Jed Cohen, the co-founder and COO of RocketHub.com, one of the world’s top crowdfunding platforms, crowdfunding is going to make its way into the retail market on sites like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy; it’ll start becoming more prominent on major media outlets allowing audiences to participate and invest; and it’ll start becoming more integrated in online communities to keep users engaged, like Reddit. Charities and non-profits have already started to use crowdfunding, but with its gaining popularity I think we will start to see them making use of it a lot more – with major corporations utilizing it and people seeing it more integrated into their everyday lives it adds a bit of legitimacy to it, and with donors slowly becoming the generation that uses social media the most we will start to see an acceptance that these micro-campaigns are the new way charities are fundraising.
Here’s a great video on the concept of crowdfunding and how it can be used effectively.
Twitter users are also changing its social good game. There is a new phenomenon on called Tweet-a-thons – 12 to 24 hour Twitter events which encourage followers to tweet as much as possible about the campaign to all their followers and include donate online links. This is meant to create a buzz and rank high on trending now pages for better visibility with a secondary goal of raising money in the process. There is also something called a Twibbon in the works. This is meant to act as an online version of a wristband allowing followers to customize their Twitter profiles with a decorative banner, showing their support and increasing visibility for charities.
Lessons for others
I think more than anything the future of social media will see the world more connected – with Facebook’s big dreams of bringing the internet to the remaining 2/3’s of the world that are currently in the cyber-dark, to the increasing use of hashtags to have conversations that span the globe and cross languages and generations, to even the almost immediate emergence for crowdfunding when natural disasters strike. This global connection will allow non-profits and charities to extend their reach but it will be up to them to find the flexibility and nimbleness to use the tools that are available. Social media is a two-way communications channel, and it’s noisy and it’s crowded. The beauty of it for charities is that by using it well they build trust and increase the noise they make by allowing staff and supporters to engage with their public as ambassadors, and inspire more people to support them. Charities and non-profits shouldn’t fear the evolving nature of social media – and they shouldn’t be afraid to fail – even just one more connection than you had before is bringing you that much closer to connecting on global scale.
To start taking advantage of social media as small non-profit now, listen to this podcast from social entrepreneur, Andrew Swallow, who offers up some tips.
Submitted by: Erika Kastner, rare Charitable Research Reserve
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