JD Rucker JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of both Judeo Christian Church and Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Charities are doing an awful job at social media

4 min read

Keep Your Coins

Keep Your Coins

There is a decent amount of “good” going on through social media. Changes, revolutions, and innovations happen on and as a result of social media every day. And yet, for every good action, there are thousands of neutral or negative actions that occur that wash the benefits out with noise.

How should we really be using this amazing technology?

Those of us who grew up without the internet can (potentially) remember a world where we needed to check our mailbox (that thing on top of the pole outside of your house that seems to have an endless flow of junk mail in it replenishing magically every day) to see if there were any new pictures of little Timmy sliding into third base. Today, we simply go to Facebook.

The wealth of content and sharing has given us a playground through which we can communicate with friends, family, and strangers across the world with minimal effort and even less time. When will the real benefits of social media start to manifest? When will playtime be over?

Charities are dropping the ball. There are hundreds of ways that social media could improve the world more rapidly and efficiently than it is today. Let’s explore what they’re doing and what they should be doing.

How they are failing

Feeding the Poor

After looking at the ten largest charities in the the United States and checking out their Facebook pages, one thing is clear. People aren’t supporting them there and for the most part, these charities don’t know what to do with their pages or social media presence in general.

There are currently 901,568 people liking these 10 pages combined. That number includes admirable efforts by the Red Cross (335k) and the American Cancer Society (249k) which account for more than half.

Compare that to Ferrero Rocher, a chocolate company, that has nearly 13X as many Facebook likes as the top 10 charities combined.

Perhaps worse than the exposure aspect is the fact that only 2 of the 10 pages we looked at had a way to donate. 3 others linked to the website somewhere other than the link section (which nobody ever goes to) and none of them were proactive in their approach to get their word spread through the viral machine of social media.

Stop and think about all of that for a moment.

Imagine if the large (and often questionable) operational budgets that these charities need were reduced because of the one simple benefit of social media? Through Facebook alone, a properly-run series of pages, groups, and campaigns could yield much better results than traditional methods. It may be insane to suggest replacing the Salvation Army bell ringers at Christmas time, but considering that their Facebook page has a miniscule 38k likes, certainly they could be doing much better.

What they should be doing

Wake Up

Every charity from the local children’s centers in most cities to the March of Dimes must look at their assets and organizational personality to come up with the right strategy. There is no one-size-fits-all technique that will work best for everyone, but there are certain things that they can do to at least improve their current results.

  • Ask for Help – This sounds simple, but it’s surprisingly not happening enough. Everyone seems to be taking the “be interesting and engaging” aspect of the social media too far. Yes, it’s important to keep people happy by posting funny images or entertaining/heart-warming videos, but they all seem to be for forgetting to ask. It’s not as simple as posting an event on a tab or putting up some artwork. The wall is where the action happens because that is what gets posted on everyone’s news feed. As a charity, be proactive. Ask those who like your page to donate, participate, and share what you’re doing.
  • Challenge People – Charities are in a unique situation in that they can do or say nearly anything they want without seeming “spammy”. People will give more leeway to them because of the good that they’re doing. Challenge them. Tell them that you want them to get 10 retweets about your latest blog post. Challenge them to share one of your videos with 1000 people through various social media sites. Give them incentive – anyone who says something about your charity every other day for two weeks gets their name on your “Tab of Fame” on Facebook. Be creative.
  • Use the Walled Garden – There are good and bad things about Facebook’s attempt to keep people on Facebook as much as possible, but one way to take advantage of their advancements is through direct donations through Facebook. The greatest benefit of this is not simply the ability to give. The ability for people to share when they give does more than expose your charity. It gives an added incentive. People want their friends and family to know that they’re giving. By allowing the giving to be done through Facebook and with an option for them to share their gift giving with their friends, it allows them to “toot their own horn” while challenging their friends to do the same.
  • Expose the Charity – The good thing about the huge charity AmeriCares is that they do have a good donation tab on their Facebook page. The bad part is that they only have 4,400 likes. This is absolutely unacceptable, particularly for a charity so large. Expose and expand. It’s a technique that our Facebook Marketing Firm is able to do every day for business clients. A charity that size should have at least 100X as many likes as they currently do. It’s not hard. It just takes focus.
  • Point EVERYTHING Towards Social Media – The power of social media isn’t always what a company or charity does on their page. The real power is in the way that people interact with you and your pages. Everything you do should center around social media. Facebook in particular has everything you need – images, videos, stories, communication, methods of donations. I would go so far as to say that charities should even direct their website traffic to their Facebook page. You WANT interaction and involvement and there’s no better place than Facebook. While it excludes some, the ability to let people promote your charity as a result of the venue far-outweighs the risks.
  • Interact with Corporations – There is nothing more compelling to a large company than getting called out publicly by a charity. Thanking them through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and your blog is far more effective than posting a press release. More importantly, those who have stopped giving can be asked publicly about their decision. It’s aggressive and risky (they could always say that they didn’t like the way their donations were being used, which would completely backfire on the technique), but for some charities it can be a “dirty” tactic that creates positive results.

Social media is way too powerful to be squandered on Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber. Charities of all sizes should be leveraging it as their most powerful asset. I would be happy to consult with any charity free of charge. Just ask. We’re here to help.

* * *

Here’s an infographic by our friends at SocialCast that takes a look at some of the companies doing their part.

Charity on the Enterprise

Avatar of JD Rucker
JD Rucker JD Rucker is Editor at Soshable, a Social Media Marketing Blog. He is a Christian, a husband, a father, and founder of both Judeo Christian Church and Dealer Authority. He drinks a lot of coffee, usually in the form of a 5-shot espresso over ice. Find him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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6 Replies to “Charities are doing an awful job at social media”

  1. The article makes some excellent points, however there are a few challenges for non-profits not mentioned here. 

    The first is limited resources.  In many charities, one person is handling SEO, SEM, online PSA placement, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.  This lack of resources, obviously, impacts even the best laid plans for constituent engagement. 

    The second is shifting a business model away from direct mail or in-person asks.  For most charities, these are still the most effective means to solicit donations.  Social media, for all of its value in engaging people with your cause, has historically had very little success in turning that engagement (whether it be someone who is dedicated to the cause or a simple ‘why-not-click-like’ slacktivist) into revenue.  I do not think it is for want of trying or planning on the part of non-profits, but rather people are not thinking about pulling out their wallets when they are posting a new hilarious picture of their cat.  Much of the value of social media isn’t ROI, but ROE (Return on Engagement and I cannot take credit for coining it). 

    Third, many charities have natural peaks and valleys when it comes to engagement in social media.  As an administrator of a certain charity’s Facebook page, I can attest that during a campaign we see thousands of people sharing their stories, photos and videos on our page daily.  As the campaign ends, activity drops off.  Thus, looking at a snapshot of a charity may not be the best indicator of their overall performance in social media.  Continuing to engage those folks post-campaign becomes an organizational challenge–not just a social media one. 

    Fourth, in my experience, corporate sponsors are far more interested in siphoning off a non-profit’s ‘liker’ base than helping them grow one.  The ubiquitous “dollar-for-like” campaigns seem to almost always drive traffic from the non-profit page to the corporation page and not the other way around.  With many non-profits (even the large ones) feeling the pinch of touch economic times, sponsors are more free to dictate the terms in which they will give their large donations.  Social media has borne the brunt of this, often resulting in a non-profit going out of their way to make the sponsor feel like their “donation” was earned rather than the sponsor giving the donation for largely philanthropic reasons.

    Lastly, I don’t think we can compare for-profit models of success to non-profit models.  Engagement with a for-profit brand is done in a completely different context and with a different expected outcome.  For example, many people engage with their favorite brands to reap the benefits of loyalty, e.g. coupons, special offers, first stab at new products, etc.  This, combined with large investments in human resources and cross platform advertising, create those big numbers.  There is no real analog for non-profits that yields the same level of personal gain on behalf of the ‘liker’.  People who are dedicated to the cause do make up the core of the ‘liker’ base, but for those less philanthropic individuals, the slacktivists, it is a tough sell.  Ultimately, we are trying to get them to part with their money.  Short of a mega-disaster that spurs the public into jumping on the bus (which certainly doesn’t help most non-profits) we have only a few things to offer–thanks, the feeling that they have done something good and the intangible evidence of what their dollar has done through personal stories, videos and pictures.

    Bottom line:  Yes, many non-profits are not using social media effectively.  But I think the causes of and solutions to that problem are far more complex than outlined here.

    1. Wow. You know how you want to type something but then you read a post that says literally everything you want to say? This is one of those moments. Great response!


  2. So, JD who “is President of Hasai, Inc, a Facebook Marketing firm” thinks charities should direct everything towards facebook does he? Excuse me whilst I take his advice with a hefty pinch of salt thanks.

    Whilst I do agree that charities do need to think clearly and cleverly about the opportunties offered by social media in reaching out to connect to people, there are also inherent dangers that come from not doing this very well, and I have certainly come across enough UK charities who have f/b stes that simply don’t work for them,

  3. I don’t know if the outlook is as bleak as you make it out to be. You seem distraught that the Red Cross only has 335K likes. But the Red Cross is a chapter-based organization, with each probably having their own Facebook presences (and I’m sure many more of the top 10 organizations you looked at may operate in the same way).

    Another issue is the audience. I know you’ll tell me that the future is all about Facebook, but right now, the average demographic of the non-profit donor is not on Facebook 24-7. They are a little bit too old for that. It’s tough to convince a non-profit to spend all their time and energy on Facebook when it’s not where their donors are going to be.

    That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be engaging in using Facebook.  It’s important to get quality over quantity. It just needs to be part of an overall media strategy, and not the only strategy.

  4. I don’t think the author chose the charities in the best way.  Which 10?  Many of the largest nonprofits are hospital systems which do not rely on individual donations or involvement in the same way.  Many large nonprofits are funded with grants or large gifts, or their causes don’t need to align with a broad base of public support.  How about Fenix 281?  They are a very new nonprofit, benefiting military families, and they have 1.7M Likes on Facebook, more than all of the nonprofits considered for this article.

    Don’t get me wrong – the recommendations in the article are sound, and nonprofits (and corporations) can always be doing a better job with social media. 

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