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Most Nonprofits Experimenting With Social Media, But Struggle to Measure Value for Organization

November 24, 2009

While seen as a good way to communicate with broad audiences and mobilize volunteer support, nonprofit executives are skeptical about social media's ability to reach donors, media and policy makers.

According to a recent survey by public relations firm Weber Shandwick, the vast majority of nonprofit organizations (88 percent) are experimenting with social media to engage key audiences, but a significant majority (79 percent) are uncertain of how to demonstrate social media's value for their organizations. And, only half (51 percent) report active use of social media.

Continued Investment

The survey found that the vast majority of nonprofit and foundation professionals believe their online presence helps raise awareness (92 percent), keeps external audiences engaged (86 percent) and reduces costs relative to traditional media (77 percent). In addition, social media is seen as successful in helping nonprofits reach broad external audiences (67 percent). Sixty-one percent say the rewards outweigh the risks.

For these reasons, the vast majority (85 percent) intends to make greater use of social media in the next two years and most (78 percent) will require additional and deeper social media expertise to keep communicating and garnering support for their work.

Challenge in Demonstrating Value

Despite predominantly positive perceptions about social media among nonprofits and foundations, several challenges were underscored in the survey. Two-thirds of the nonprofit executives surveyed (67 percent) believe that traditional media--including coverage in newspapers, magazines, television and radio--are more effective at supporting fundraising efforts than social media (67 percent vs. 22 percent). Equally as important, executives in the nonprofit world are more skeptical about social media's ability to help them connect with hard-to-reach audiences such as donors (45 percent), media (39 percent) and policy makers (31 percent).

Notably, the single area where social media is widely believed to be more impactful than traditional media is in mobilizing supporters and advocates (58 percent), a critically important audience for nonprofits. Yet, despite this firmly-held belief, and the additional survey finding that most nonprofit executives (84 percent) see the value of social media in connecting with advocates on their behalf, an equally large segment (83 percent) recognized that social media also makes it easier for advocates to organize independently of nonprofits - a cautionary note for nonprofit executives.

What's Ahead

With nearly 70 percent of nonprofit professionals projecting their 2010 communications budgets to remain the same or decrease compared to last year, finding the resources and expertise to implement social media strategies is a widely shared challenge. Fifty-two percent of organizations concede they do not have enough staff to manage their current social media outreach and almost two-thirds (64 percent) report that their organizations do not have social media policies and guidelines in place for employees and board members to engage appropriately online.


KRC Research, research partner to Weber Shandwick Social Impact, surveyed 200 nonprofit and foundation executive directors and communications officials via phone between July 29 and August 17, 2009.

For more information on fundraising and social media, check out the latest digital issue of Advancing Philanthropy (login required).

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