Overwhelmed Trying to Keep Up on Social Media for Your Ministry? The Non-Profit Life Raft is Here!


…is the word I hear most when talking to ministry leaders about social media. Many ministries and non-profits have less than one full-time person assigned to leading their social media efforts (by that I mean most do something else besides social media). Or if there is a full-time position, that person often reports to multiple people, making it difficult to see significant progress in any area.

The Non-Profit Life Raft is a weekly email to help you keep your head above water. It’s not everything that’s going on, but the key trends, reports, infographics, and blog posts related to using social media effectively for ministries and non-profits.

My goal is to save you time and provide you with just enough information to be empowered and lead the changes you know need to happen for your ministry to stay relevant.

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Do Your Volunteers and Staff Have Permission to Engage?

“Successful social business leaders recognize that engagement at scale is only realized when the company is able to move beyond mere fan acquisition tactics and actually cultivate a core community of advocates.”–Advocacy, Dachis Group

A social media specialist or community manager are critical to a ministry’s social media strategy, but unleashing staff and volunteers to engage on social media on behalf of your ministry or non-profit will achieve greater results.

Strategy and tactics to capture fans and followers often come before training and educating staff. Sandy Carter, IBM’s VP of Social, notes that Germany is the global leader in deploying social media effectively. Their secret? Deploy a program for encouraging social media use internally among employees.

Although a dedicated team or community manager can set the strategy, provide the guidelines, and share best practices, the staff and volunteers have the potential to absorb the increasing demand to communicate personally with donors and constituents.

5 Tips to Improve or Help You Blog More Often#

The Number 1 Goal for Your Ministry’s Online Strategy

Create unique and meaningful (to your audience) content.

Every day it becomes easier to design an online strategy. Chris Brogan’s homebase/outpost/passport framework works well for for an organization of any size. Social Business By Design provides an advanced and clear framework for medium to large organizations.

Yet every day the amount of unique, meaningful, and web-optimized content produced by many ministries relatively stagnant. Looking through the posts of those I follow today it’s mostly general announcements and RT’s. This kind of content is necessary to buy attention and maintain a presence.

Turning this attention into action that accomplishes your organization’s mission, vision, and values requires more.

Perhaps the most underestimated form of unique content is replies–@ replies and Direct Messages on Twitter, likes/comments/shares on Facebook, Repins, Likes, and Comments on Pinterest. Although these do not scale as well as outbound posting the potential effect they have on your audience is much higher. Interestingly enough replies are perceived as more personal than updates (besides the Auto-DM, which needs to be eliminated anyway).

Before you design or redefine your online strategy consider an audit of your existing content, and determine the percentage of unique content relative to all of what you are sharing. Soon nearly every non-profit will adopt an online strategy and share content on a regular basis–but few will have committed to being unique and personal, and dedicating people, money, and time to producing quality content.

Your Non-Profit’s Brain Needs to Think Creatively

Cognitive Flexibility Theory is about preparing people to select, adapt, and combine knowledge and experience in new ways to deal with situations that are different than the ones they have encountered before,” says Rand Spiro of Michigan State University.

silly putty

The non-profit landscape changed significantly in the last ten years. Digital and social media provides new opportunities for transparency, customization, and interaction between non-profits and their supporters and volunteers.

While some newer non-profits have leveraged these changes, many have been insulating themselves from these changes. 43% of non-profits currently spend $0 on social media.

A lack of understanding of these new tools as well as feeling discouraged, overwhelmed, and under-resourced keep many from moving forward. Yet it’s clear that unless executives and leaders deeply integrate these tools into every part of their organization (marketing, fundraising, HR, etc), they are headed for decline and irrelevancy.

“There are always new contexts and you just can’t rely on old templates. Cognitive security is what people want. It doesn’t work in the modern world of work and life.”–Rand Spiro

Fortunately many opportunities to explore digital media abound, and the cost and effort to get started is close to zero. A common practice for non-profits who find themselves frozen is to start a Facebook Page or Twitter account without formally announcing or promoting it, and to start posting and measuring their success.

This can provide the space to innovate and freedom to fail, encouraging those in the organization who value digital media, and demonstrating to the decision makers the value of investing in it’s implementation.

Someone has to start the process. In ministries and non-profits it’s often someone on the fringe of the organization. Leaders looking for these digital champions can perform a Twitter search or see if anyone has created a Facebook group or page for their organization.

Change can start to gain momentum once their is at least one executive and one digital champion working together.

Favorite Quote on Why Instagram is a Threat to Facebook#

Engagement Over Activity

“In the age of social networking, relevant engagement counts for everything.”-Brian Solis

Most ministries have an online presence, and are spending time each week maintaining it. Recent conversations with ministry leaders from around the US revealed that many are creating blogs and Twitter accounts to catch up or resuscitate an old website.

The missing piece for many ministry leaders and their ministries is focused content with a specific purpose in mind, for a specific group of people. Likes and comments are great, but are they coming from the people whom you want to influence?

Social media streams are full of irrelevant and distracting content. Ministries that create and use lists will learn valuable information about their audience and be able to craft a social media strategy that’s integrated and helpful to living out their mission.

Strategic Engagement on Social Media

“There is no future in any business model that is cemented in reactive engagement.”–Brian Solis

lego ninja

Transitioning from an organization that shouts to one that listens and interacts takes leadership, vision, and patience. It’s difficult to help an organization understand that those outside of it’s walls expect a relationship, not just transactional interactions (giving and volunteering in particular).

A social media strategy is more than marketing. It’s a tool to help change an industrial era mindset that focused on products and transactions more than services and interactions.

Practically this can start by using a tool such as Hootsuite or Buffer to begin scheduling content to share with the different segments of your audience and opportune times. Scheduling content in advance also helps those maintaining these social media channels invest more time on interaction and engagement (liking, commenting, RT-ing other people’s content).

When a crisis or major opportunity happens it’s also easier to dedicate energy towards either responding to it or creating content to leverage it for maximum engagement.

“Contributing value to people and investing time and energy into networks of relevance will also earn any organization a position of equal or greater influence.”–Solis

“Value to people” rarely comes from talking about yourself online. Relevant influencers and organizations online share content from a variety of places, and take the time to regularly listen to what others are saying, and integrate that information into what they share online.

What if 1/3 of the content you scheduled came from other people? Thoughtfully sharing content from other people is still extremely rare online (especially on Facebook). This is a tremendous opportunity for non-profits, who often want to translate their caring personality to their online personas.

Do you know the online influencers in your particular areas of desired influence? Does your content resemble the same themes that they are sharing? If they visited your Facebook page or Twitter account would they see mostly information about you or a genuine interest in interacting and empowering others?

The first step is to stop reacting.

Fine Tune Your Facebook Timeline

Edelman Digital released a complete checklist for optimizing your Facebook Page for Timeline’s new features.

Here are the highlights:

  • How do I measure success (number of fans, user engagement, increase in sales, and so on)? What do I want to achieve? Which metrics should I use? 
  • The new cover photo ideally measures 851 pixels by 315 pixels and has a resolution of 96 dots per inch.
  • Add past events in retrospect with the new timeline features to create a rich company history on Facebook.
  • What is happening on the fan page? What happens on weekends and outside of working hours? 

Since more and more people continue to be wary of liking an organization’s page in fear of spam or irrelevant messages, it’s critical that the measurements set up include more than the number of fans.

The cover photo provides a significant opportunity to show off your organization to new or prospective fans (90% of current fans never view content on the page, but only in the newsfeed). Make sure your picture is bright, in high-resolution, and features close up views of people.

Along with adding past events it’s critical to hide events from your timeline that do not effectively tell the story of your organization. Remember this page will be viewed most often by new or prospective fans–removing posts that are heavy with text, include insider language, or are outdated in terms of time or relevancy will make tell the story of your organization more coherently.

Consider that the “hot hours” for your fans might be different than your posting preferences. If you are maintain the page as part of your job many of your posts could come during the hours when most of your fans are working. Using a scheduling service such as Hootsuite can help, but native posts from Facebook that use Photos as the primary media on average receive the most likes and comments. It’s worth setting aside time later on in the evening on a regular basis to share updates and test their effectiveness against your others.

Why Traditional Ministry Outreaches Have Lost Value with Young Leaders

“Today, for the first time in history, we can accurately map and measure person-to-person interaction. Our online social networks connect millions of people and support communication between these people. We can measure who is connected to whom, who talks to whom and who share ideas with whom.”–Jeff Hurt

Traditional outreaches involve lots of front-end promotion, a large in person gathering, an emotional appeal, minimal follow-up, and metrics around an intellectual response (a decision of some sort).


Social media provides a new opportunity to measure the sentiment of the audience before, during, and after the event, as well as track the action behavior that resulted from participating in the event.

Many ministry leaders intuitively sensed that these events involved a lot of effort and often lead to minimal long-term results, but now social media reveals exactly whether a decision resulted in any life-change.

Drawing a crowd and mobilizing people towards significant life change are not as interconnected as once thought. The data coming out of social networks such as Facebook reveal that most people are connecting with a few close friends even though they may have a large network, and are influenced more by the choices of these friends than the words of a speaker.

“Successful organizations of the future will move toward an understanding of how groups of friends talk about their brand, products and services.”–Jeff Hurt

Successful outreaches in the future (or present) will focus their resources on influencing and mobilizing small groups of friends with content that they are already interested in and are talking about, instead of using resources to push people towards content that is unfamiliar. By successful I mean long-term life change, not a high energy, large group, event.

Any ministry would do well to use social media to evaluate whether there is evidence of the life-change and mission that is being talked about. If people are participating in activities but posting pictures of themselves living a worldly life-style then there might be a gap worth addressing.