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Networked and Nice: Social Media for Nonprofits

April 30, 2009

Last year, Goodwill of Greater Washington hoped to entice more young professional women interested in vintage fashion to shop at its online and real-world secondhand clothing stores. After lots of furrowed brows, it came up with a solution: a fashion advice blog and a virtual fashion show.

Goodwill’s strategy worked. The blog averages over 600 readers a week, retains more than 25 percent of readers, and converts more than 3 percent into online shoppers.

Much is being said, printed, blogged, and tweeted these days about how for-profit companies can benefit from engaging in social media. But Web 2.0 offers unique challenges and benefits to nonprofits as well.

In many ways, social media is well-suited to non-profits, which must network with and engage large numbers of people on a small budget. Here are some important ways that nonprofits can benefit from social media:

  • Faster awareness. Once a nonprofit has enough supporters on Twitter, it can raise awareness for a cause by encouraging all of its supporters to tweet the same message at the same time or on the same day.
  • Easier action. Web 2.0 technologies like widgets and mashups can make it easier for people to take action. On the homepage of, for example, an interactive map clearly demonstrates upcoming events across the country. On, Amnesty International’s social media campaigning platform, artistically rendered icons promote key actions: sign petition, e-mail, bookmark, spread the word, blog, join a group, upload a video, rate, comment, make a donation, and more.
  • Less expensive campaigning. Nonprofits have notoriously slim budgets. And while a social media strategy might take time, it requires fewer actual funds than a traditional marketing campaign.


This interactive map on helps visitors find events near them.

This interactive map on helps visitors find events near them.

Despite the benefits, though, social media offers some unique challenges to non-profits:

  • Negative feedback about sponsors. Traditional for-profit companies need to worry about people delivering negative feedback about them on social media channels. But nonprofits also need to consider what will happen if users badmouth valuable sponsors.
  • Tiny budgets. Microscopic funding means that nonprofits often can’t assign a dedicated person to manage social media strategies and campaigns. Often this work is divided between a number of people within the office. This means that it can be difficult to agree on a single approach, and that sometimes the social media campaign gets dropped during busy times.

Overall, though, Web 2.0 technologies offer value to nonprofits, as long as they can be leveraged effectively. For more information about nonprofits and social media, check out Beth’s Blog at

 — Jessica Hirst

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