Non-Profits Struggle to Show Social Media’s Value

December 1, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Creative & Formats | Non-Profit

Though 88% of execs at US non-profit organizations are currently experimenting with social media, only 51% report using it actively and 79% are uncertain about how to demonstrate its value for their organization, according to a survey conducted by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research.

Online Presence Raises Awareness

The study, which was conducted among 200 non-profit and foundation executive directors and senior communicators this past summer, found that the? majority of these professionals believe their online presence helps raise awareness (92%) of their organization, keeps external audiences engaged (86%) and reduces costs relative to traditional media (77%).

Additionally, 67% of respondents see social media as successful in helping non-profits reach broad external audiences and 61% say the rewards outweigh the risks, the study found. For these reasons, an overwhelming majority (85%) intend to make greater use of social media in the next two years and almost the same number (78%) will require additional and deeper social media expertise to keep communicating and garnering support for their work.


Showing Value Remains Challenging

On the other hand, despite these predominantly positive perceptions about social media, the study also revealed that respondents are facing several challenges. Two-thirds (67%) believe that traditional media – including coverage in newspapers, magazines, television and radio – are more effective at supporting fundraising efforts than social media (22%). Further, 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%), media (39%) and policy makers (31%).

“While two-thirds of nonprofit executives believe social media has a positive impact on their communications with external audiences, they are less convinced about social media’s resonance with donors, journalists and policy makers,” said Weber Shandwick’s Stephanie Bluma. “These results imply that organizations need to develop more targeted and sustainable digital connections with these critical yet narrower audiences.”


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

Budgets to Decrease or Remain the Same

With nearly 70% of nonprofit professionals projecting their 2010 communications budgets to remain the same or decrease compared to last year, finding the resources and expertise for social media outreach remains a big hurdle, the study found. More than half (52%) of respondents say they do not have enough staff to manage their current social media outreach and almost two-thirds (64%) report that their organizations do not have social media policies and guidelines in place for employees and board members to engage appropriately online.

Additional survey findings:

  • Organizations with annual operating budgets of $25 million or more are more likely to say social media positively impacts their communications with all audiences, and that they are good at social media.
  • Both large and small nonprofits? believe social media are least likely to assist their outreach to policymakers and donors, compared with external audiences.

“We know from our work with nonprofits that most realize the potential of social media and are experimenting with it, but many are not maximizing the full opportunity, said Weber Shandwick’s Paul Massey.

About the survey: The survey was conducted by KRC Research, which? surveyed 200 nonprofit and foundation executive directors and communications officials via telephone between July 29 – August 17, 2009.


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