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.