October 31, 2014


Nonprofits must use multiplatform conversations to engage with donors, constituents

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Amy Sample Ward

Amy Sample Ward

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If you still think "the Twitter" is just a crazy thing that kids use and #hashtag is some sort of breakfast game, Amy Sample Ward has a message for you: "New media" is no longer new, and nonprofits that steadfastly refuse to update their business plans to include it are missing opportunities.

It's no longer enough to use email or occasionally update your agency's Facebook page, says Ward, author of Social Change Anytime, Everywhere: How to Implement Online Multichannel Strategies to Spark Advocacy, Raise Money and Engage Your Community (Wiley/Jossy-Bass). Nonprofits need to actively communicate with their constituents via the methods they like best, and at the time that most convenient for them.

"I still hear people say, ‘I'm too busy to make time for social media.' Or, ‘I have a Rolodex on my desk; why do I need a database?'" says Ward, who will be a keynote speaker at the June 6-7 NCTech4Good Conference at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. "It's because you can do so much more. People think nothing of taking out their phone to check in with their communities while they're waiting on line, but nonprofits are not taking advantage of ways to be part of that conversation."

Ward believes that the days of using direct mail campaigns and blast emails to solicit funds and support are over, and paper checks will soon join 8-track cassettes as things that millennials don't recognize and other donors no longer rely on. Nonprofits that wait for annual reports to share their success stories or state a case for future giving are more than merely out of step, she says. They are likely to find their base lured away by robust online campaigns that build loyalty by showing how donations are making immediate inroads toward mission-specific goals.

Whether members of the nonprofit sector attend a conference to demystify cross-channel communications or learn on their own, Ward says agencies that embrace fast-changing technology will both improve their communications outreach and boost their bottom line.

"Social media changes every day. It can feel deflating for organizations that don' have a dedicated staff person," she says. "But it does not have to be extremely time consuming. One you create your sites and develop a basic familiarity with how they work, there are ways to schedule tweets and texts and posts that reach your audience when and how they want to be reached."

This is what Ward means by sharing content across platforms. Snippets of programs and stories that define your mission - the child whose reading skills improved or the number of meals served to at-risk citizens - become the reason someone chooses to follow your feed and support your approach to problem solving. Include photos when appropriate, and always drive traffic back to your website for both detailed information and easy access to online giving.

"Those social channels build relationships, but they also build trust and transparency," Ward says. "If you have to put out an appeal for fundraising, they know why you need it. People trust you because they already know you do good work." 

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I completely agree with Amy and her points. What she outlines is the new competitive landscape for acquiring, cultivating and retaining donors and supporters. Millennials are soon to be the lifeblood of nonprofits and using out-dated means of communication and not speaking to them on their mobiles is a recipe for struggling to compete for their time, talent and treasure.

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