How can our nonprofit leverage the social media networks of volunteers?

Brittany Alba

By Brittany Alba

The word “exponential” sure gets tossed around a lot these days. It seems to have become a favorite catchword of companies and businesses looking to generate excitement around a particular product or growth opportunity, regardless of whether the math actually checks out.

On social media, there’s no denying the exponential potential for nonprofits to grow their support base. And that’s because every volunteer plugged into social media has the ability to introduce dozens, even hundreds of their own followers to your organization with the click of a mouse. The only question is, how to make it happen?

Best practices are a bit of a mix between old and new techniques. One golden rule certainly holds true: “People give to people, not to organizations.” But networks like Facebook and Twitter advance this one step further: People give even more to people they know.

One of the best tactics a nonprofit can use on social media is to promote a story or blog post about a volunteer in their organization. Dunleavy client Angel Flight East, a nonprofit that provides free flights for those who need distant medical treatments, has done this to great effect. The organization’s Facebook page is full of posts about its volunteer pilots and constituents, and the unique relationships they share.

While such volunteer spotlights have long been a staple of nonprofit print communications, posting them on social media offers the unique benefit of tagging the individuals involved, so that they can easily share the story with their network. Privacy should be respected wherever necessary — especially in cases involving medical issues — but a nonprofit’s communications manager can help volunteers feel more at ease taking the spotlight by prompting them to follow the organization’s social media accounts well before ever asking them to be featured on it.

Social media also opens the door to new, creative ways to highlight the work of volunteers. A great example of this occurred at Community Partnership School, a nonprofit school with a mission to provide high-quality education to low-income families in North Philadelphia. A longtime classroom volunteer overheard a Pre-K teacher remark about how she wished she had more booster seats, so that more children could participate in field trips.

Amazingly, the volunteer went right out and bought twelve new booster seats for the teacher, and a short Facebook post documenting the act performed incredibly well on Facebook. This was a perfect example of how a single photo and a few words about one individual introduced hundreds of new people to the good work of the school and its volunteers. And it doesn’t just have to be volunteers: A brief introduction of a new board member can quickly circulate around that individual’s well-connected circle.

Even if your organization’s social media pages are still fledgling, you should not be deterred in implementing new social media efforts. By spotlighting volunteers or even constituents, you can rapidly introduce the people in their networks to your organization and grow your following.

This was recently the case after our firm helped bolster the social media efforts of CORA Services, a nonprofit that helps youth and families overcome a variety of life challenges. By posting several times a week and tagging volunteers, the page’s following grew nearly 25 percent in just a few months. And while that’s not quite exponential growth just yet, it’s certainly a meaningful advance toward the organization’s full potential reach.

About the author: Brittany Alba is a Project Manager with Dunleavy & Associates, and has worked with clients across the education, human services, and community development sectors. She specializes in media relations, graphic design, market research, and event planning, and has embraced her role helping the firm and its clients find new ways to raise funds in the digital age.


How should a nonprofit talk to potential donors about overhead costs?

Megan Lepore

By Megan Lepore

In a world where everything is scrutinized, administrative costs (also referred to as “overhead”) have almost become dirty words in nonprofit fundraising. Everyone's heard some version of the following, usually from an uninformed friend or family member: "Can you believe [insert organization here] keeps a third of every dollar? They won't get a dime from me!"

With the budgets of even large, nationally respected organizations being targeted for criticism in recent years, the dilemma for small and mid-sized nonprofits is great. How much financial information should you openly offer to donors and prospects, and how can you best convey it? Is it best not to mention overhead costs at all, or perhaps speak in generalities?

At Dunleavy & Associates, we believe strongly in the importance of honesty and transparency. Leaving donors or prospects in the dark about where their money is going will eventually have negative repercussions, and you can bet they'll never donate again once their trust is broken.

What donors are really concerned about is not just confirmation of where their dollar is going, but whether or not it's being wasted. Donors by nature are considerate people, capable of understanding that yes, your staff must earn a salary in order to carry out your nonprofit's mission. And they (should) recognize that there are real costs involved to doing your work.

So, what is the solution? Use your organization's communication channels to talk about those costs. It’s okay to talk with prospects about the expenses associated with using current technologies to provide integral services to your constituents, the need to sometimes outsource services (such as graphic design), and the everyday cost of running a successful nonprofit organization.

At the same time, it’s not unreasonable for them to want to know how well you steward their dollars. Be prepared to share what percentage of donations goes to overhead costs. You can share how your organization has worked with vendors to make more cost-efficient decisions (bulk printing, shared resources, in-kind services, etc.) and how the staff and board have resolved to more closely monitor expenses to increase revenue in the new year. This type of information will help to build trust that your organization is careful with every dollar.

And don't be afraid to spice up your communications. Many organizations report their financials only at the end of the year, often in a large, dense report. Let your donors know how their contributions are making an impact in the community – in both big and small ways.

Send out brief recaps that utilize statistical infographics or photos of your clients and staff. Tell them how the campaign they donated to fed 300 families for a month, or helped 30 pups find forever homes. Highlight your top corporate or individual donors to reward them for their support.

And don’t just wait till the end of the year. Break with tradition and send a brief mid-year synopsis detailing the accomplishments of the first six months, as well as your capital and campaign goals for the next six. Not only will your donors feel more involved in the process, you'll keep up with your financials and avoid the end-of-year pileup.

Always remember, in a time when donors, prospects and journalists have access to your 990s at the click of a mouse, any effort to cloud your financials is a disaster waiting to happen. Instead, get ahead of the conversation and build trust with transparency through smarter, more engaging communications.

About the author: Megan Lepore is a Senior Project Manager at Dunleavy & Associates and has more than 10 years of development experience in the fields of healthcare, education and human services. She holds a Master of Science in Communication Management from Temple University, where she has also taught undergraduate courses in speech communication, public relations and news writing. Annual appeals, corporate sponsorship, grant writing, foundation relations and event planning round out her professional expertise.