Last week Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, and David Batstone, founder of Not For Sale, discussed using social media for social good at the Hub in San Francisco (which, by the way, has a great collaborative space for social entrepreneurs in SF and many other cities).
I was particularly impressed by something David said about the way his organization, which fights human trafficking around the world, approaches social media. He said that while most organizations think about how to gain more online followers Not for Sale first meets nearly all of their online supporters through off-line interactions.
Not for Sale organizes educational events, meet-ups, an annual conference, and myriad other offline interactions (including David’s busy speaking schedule) which serve to 1) connect with potential supporters, 2) convince them of the urgency of human trafficking and their ability to help fight it, and 3) funnel them into online lists and communities that keep them connected to the organization. According to David, “online is where we re-connect and engage” people who are already familiar with Not for Sale and its work.
My own experience working with nonprofits on Causes’ platform suggests that the Not for Sale model is viable, and probably preferable, for most organizations that have a grassroots or awareness raising component. Growing the number of cause members, fan page “likes”, or Twitter followers has value, but without a baseline level of knowledge and commitment amongst those supporters, that value is limited. Hence the frequent complain that “My cause has 25,000 members but we’ve only raised $5,000.”
For nonprofits, there are at least two big lessons here. First, worry less about the size of your online following and more about the quality. Use higher value interactions (particularly offline) to win over new adherents and use online interactions to keep them engaged and active. Second, if you already have large online followings with feeble commitment to supporting your work, find ways to spur engagement. I’d recommend starting with a weekly content-rich cause bulletin that contains opportunities to learn and act (including the opportunity to attend an offline event). To get you thinking, here are a few excellent bulletins from some of our most active nonprofit partners: