Prior to working for CustomScoop, I served as executive director for a non-profit for several years. We utilized social media tools in the ways you might expect: online reputation monitoring, getting our message out, and tracking its overall effectiveness. We were not necessarily actively participating in the space, but we were certainly paying attention, and occasionally would reach out to bloggers with whom we had good relationships. It got me thinking about how other non-profit endeavors utilize social media to promote their causes. When I first started doing research, I wasn’t overwhelmed with answers, but I eventually found a great study examining successful use of social media in philanthropy.
Dr. Nora Barnes, Ph.D. and Eric Mattson of the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research conducted a study in 2007 [[PDF](http://www.umassd.edu/cmr/studies/cmrblogstudy4.pdf)] titled, “Blogging for the Hearts of Donors.” The research aptly reveals some of the methods successful charities use in social media. The researchers contacted the groups included on the Forbes
– While 62 percent of respondents are familiar with blogging and other forms of social media, only 34 percent actually participate. One of the more surprising results of the study reveals that charities are outdistancing business in use of social media (34 percent of charities surveyed versus 8 percent of the Fortune 500).
– The most utilized social media platform used by the charities in the study is online video (41 percent) and the least-used are wikis (13 percent).
– An approximately equal number of respondents use social media for networking (34 percent) and podcasting (33 percent).
The study was conducted last year, which means the industry has had time to grow into the new media, and perhaps the results would be a bit different in 2008. However, the study did reveal that a quarter of all the charities do not participate in any form social media.
The study points out that while charities are more likely to use online video, the least amount of respondents are familiar with the platform (40 percent). Barnes and Mattson suggest that this is because charities outsource beyond their capabilities for proficiency. That’s a great option for charities on the Forbes 200 list, but what about smaller non-profits with fewer resources and equally worthy causes? For charities working on a shoe string budget, how high of a priority should it be?
While nonprofits and other charities have a presence online, it doesn’t seem to be nearly as prominent as in the PR industry. Or maybe we just don’t hear about it in charitable world, because it’s less controversial. After all, who would say “no” or criticize others for helping the Red Cross? (For a good example of how the Red Cross uses social media, see [here](http://overtonecomm.blogspot.com/2007/10/red-cross-uses-social-media-tools-to.html).)
According to the study, charitable organizations are willing to examine new media, though it seems that the industry as a whole hasn’t quite embraced social media, as revealed when doing relatively uncomplicated searches about philanthropy.
With all the untapped potential of Twitter, wikis, podcasting, vlogging, etc., it is only a matter of time for philanthropy to fully embrace the blogosphere. While only some non-profit groups (the Red Cross in particular) already seem to be employing social media tools thus far, the majority do seem willing to consider including them in overall strategy. As the landscape changes and evolves, it will be no surprise that social media will play an increasingly important role in charitable causes.
What are some other examples of non-profits embracing social media tools? What can they do better?
*Jennifer Wrobleski serves as an account manager for CustomScoop. She is responsible for creating BuzzPerception reports, which track messages and trends in social media for Fortune 500 clients. She can be found online http://twitter.com/jenwrobleski*