Smart Investment: Social (Media in) Philanthropy

With the growing popularity of social media, learn how different nonprofits are using the various platforms to expand their reach digitally.

Social networking sites are connecting people and causes like never before.

In the philanthropic industry, these sites are being used by nonprofits and donors, alike, to advance causes, to strengthen existing and build new relationships, and to inspire community engagement through knowledge sharing, active listening and online fundraising campaigns.

"Social media has revolutionized the way nonprofits raise money, spread their message, and collect donations. Donors are more invested in these causes because they can follow along on social media throughout the year," says Kayleigh Apicerno, owner of Shelton-based Cloud Media Marketing. "With social media, the cost of finding and speaking to potential donors has been lowered to almost zero. At the same time, online payment sites such as GoFundMe have made collecting money very easy. Supporters can now send money from their phones almost instantly from anywhere in the world."

With advancing technology, giving has never been easier, or more attractive, especially to millennials.

"Studies have shown that this generation wants and enjoys giving and getting involved. They are also much more comfortable with sending money via apps and through social media than any generation before," says Apicerno.

Valley-based Spooner House knows the importance of making and keeping online connections.

"We use Facebook and Twitter at Spooner House to connect with the community and share the progress our organization is making," says Kate Pipa, development officer at Area Congregations Together, which operates Spooner House. "It allows us to share success stories of say, a resident finding permanent housing, or a need at our organization such as food for the pantry shelves."

Pipa attributes their expanded outreach to the many "great volunteers and community members" that support Spooner House. They enable "our message to be seen by a multitude of people ... within their networks or to spark ideas on how they may be able to help."

Both the platform through which nonprofits choose to communicate and the content shared can make all the difference in reach and engagement.

"According to the Pew Research Center, Facebook is the largest social network in the world and the second most visited web page for the U.S., with over 90% of the 18-29 age group, and over 50% of those over 64. So, it really covers the gamut in audience—and provides a platform for advertising and boosting posts," says Eileen O'donnell, partner and creative director of the Odonnell Company.

O'donnell teaches clients that social channels provide a space for people to connect, gain inspiration, and find a bright spot during their day.

"When a nonprofit organization fills that need—offering connection, belonging, inspiration, hope, or an emotional moment—a branded interaction is created."

That's an important step to building advocates, a volunteer base, friends and donors.

"Like most people, millennials do not like being sold to," says O'donnell. "It is important that nonprofits share their message and build real relationships with supporters through engaging social media posts."

The causes more likely to get stronger results are the ones that remember why people use social networking sites and provide a channel for meaningful conversation, she says.