Tuesday, February 18, 2014

10 ways to get your nonprofit board behind you on social media

I get the best questions from readers of the blog, and today's is no exception. Last year, I spoke to the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium in North Carolina about storytelling three ways--including social media--and this week, one of the nonprofit executives at that session wrote for help. She said:
Do you have a good resource on the benefits of using social media for non profits? Just the basics really, for some of our older board members who don't really understand it. We really want to get them behind us and help us get our message out, but I would love to have some back up to convince them why this is important. 
Boards can be tough customers when it comes to change--I can attest, having worked for several nonprofit boards in my time as a communications director. I know some very large nonprofits who've given up on convincing the board to change from old-school communications tactics. One of them prints hundreds of annual reports in order to give 15 hard copies to the board members, because it's feared they won't read it online. But that's not a tactic I'd recommend.

Instead, try these arguments and tactics. I've pulled together some data and perspective here for everyone, including my reader who first inquired, to bolster the case:
  1. Companies they invest in are all over social media: With boards, sometimes it's good to start with their main area of focus, the organizational wallet. Ask them what they invest in or pull out the portfolio for your organization's investments. Then show them what those companies are doing on social sites--both for their products and for their charitable efforts. Even if your work is nowhere near, say, that of Coca-Cola, try to think of the companies your board members like and follow and use them as examples. If not investments, find out what interests them and find it on social media, then use those examples. (Even before social media, I was challenged by a board member to do this very thing with golf as the comparator. For health policy, which was a stretch.) I like to tell the story of the small company Blendtec, which made a handful of online videos for $50 and is now famous for its "Will It Blend?" videos--with accompanying 700 percent increases in retail sales. You'll know how to segue from sales to fundraising.
  2. This is where most people are communicating, even in their peer groups: More than half of all adults and 3/4 of all teenagers are on social media. (Plumb the latest Pew data for numbers.) Some of the fastest-growing groups on sites like Facebook are in the age range of your board members. Become an expert on the social media habits of people their age--one reason a lot of people like to hire me, a late-stage baby boomer, to talk to their boards about social media. We have stuff in common. I get their jokes. Help them find their peers online.
  3. Remind them that our assumptions about audiences don't always apply, as this post on minority audiences on social media hiding in plain sight points out. For example, African-Americans are the fastest-growing group to use mobile technology--even if there's no computer in their homes. The oldest known user of Facebook was said to be over 100 years old and her reason for liking the site was "It's easy." Hard to argue with that. If they keep using themselves as examples, you might remind them that they are not your audience. 
  4. You can replace outdated systems and save money: If I were you, I'd go pull the organizational expenses for publications, news releases and media monitoring, file storage, or fundraising from, say, 10 years ago and show how social media has reduced your costs, including hours of work. If you need to, collect today's data for six months and compare it to the past. Never had a budget for such things? Show how social media will let you expand your efforts at low cost. Sometimes the systems argument, tied to cost savings or an expanded audience reach, works best with board members.
  5. You can get your "real" work done on social sites, too: You don't have to just use social media for outward communication. Try getting your real work done on a versatile site like Facebook, from convening committees to conducting interviews. Remember, board members who only post family pics on Facebook may not realize how versatile the site is, so show them.
  6. The people you need are already there: More journalists are looking to blog posts instead of news releases for coverage ideas, and organizations in every sector are ditching the news release in favor of social media options. The same may be true for your potential partners, funders, donors and volunteers. If your donors or volunteers have offered to help you with social media, document that and let the board know. 
  7. Donors and foundations will offer you help: Forward-thinking foundations and donors are offering help ranging from funding to technical assistance to help nonprofits advance their social media skills. The Colorado Health Foundation encourages storytelling with such support, and this interview with Case Foundation communications chief Allyson Burns details the help and resources it shares freely for any nonprofit to use. And those are just two examples.
  8. Admit that it's not a be-all, end-all. Sometimes in our enthusiasm, we hand the naysayer a big fat favor. Be sure you add the appropriate caveats, but list the ways social media can help you raise funds, recognize donors, find new supporters.
  9. Ask for a time-limited period of support: There is no board of directors in the western world that can resist this magical two-word request: "Pilot project." Ask for six months or a year to pursue a social media pilot project, complete with budget, baselines and targets, and report back on its progress regularly.
  10. Get the board involved: Many boards view social media askance because they don't know how to use it, but want to keep actively supporting your efforts. Offer them training, and share my list of 50 things any volunteer (including board members) can do to support your nonprofit on social media. An easy orientation, with plenty of time to ask questions and learn it from their viewpoint, may be in order. 
And, thinking for the future, start using your nonprofit's social media feeds to recruit new candidates for the board if you want social-savvy board members! Let me know if you want me to facilitate a social-media orientation for your board of directors: Just email me at eloquentwoman AT gmail DOT com.

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