Communicating Community

I have to admit, I was pretty pleased with myself after reading the first chapter of Heather Mansfield’s book, “Social Media For Social Good: A How-To Guide for Non-Profits.” You see, last year, without any knowledge of the work it would take or the skills required, I started an e-newsletter for my fraternity. We had never had one before, and in an effort to reconnect with alumni and increase fundraising efforts, I volunteered to take on the endeavor. It seems that with only blind luck, my fraternity has been able hit most of the marks. Our layout is simple, yet appealing, we send out about one a month, and we have links to our social media. We use a reputable e-mail marketing service, MailChimp, and have an above-average open rate of 33%-35%.

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Of course, our e-newsletter still needs a lot of work and improvement, namely in relying less on text and more on image and video and increasing list size and diversity. In fact, one of the things I appreciated most about Mansfield’s book is the practical and straightforward way it addresses the issues of developing web presence. Instead of esoteric and philosophical ruminations on web-based development strategies for non-profits, she offers a step by step guide with concrete examples and advice.

However, despite this, neither Mansfield’s advice, nor the work of the most experienced social media director, can fix or make up for the structural organizational issues that both Drucker and McLaughin discuss.

Drucker teaches us that non-profits of every size and shape require a core message and mission, a long-term goal to be achieved. Every strategic decision, including those about communications and branding, must refer back to and be implemented with the core service and mission of the non-profit. Without this, non-profits will wander from goal to goal, without any notion of long-term building and success.Even the best communications strategy can overcome this. Communications requires content and substance to be communicated about, and this is best utilized when it is integrated with the larger, more long-term goal itself.

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Furthermore, as McLaughlin discusses, while well designed “donate now” buttons and well constructed appeals are necessary for development, relationships and networks are the most fundamental factors in fundraising. Donors give because they are part of a community, and social media professionals must work to build and grow that community.

Where to Begin…

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To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here.

I have never worked for a non-profit before, and while my brother works for one in Detroit, I don’t really have any understanding of non-profit management, organization, or issues. Most of my work experience is in political campaigns, where, along with spending countless hours knocking on doors and making phone calls, annoying every registered voter in my congressional district,  I have managed social media for candidates.

That being said however, my knowledge of the rapidly expanding and dynamic world of new media is quite limited. When you are the young intern on a cash-strapped and overworked campaign staff, sometimes you become automatically designated as the “social media guy” without any real bona fides. Sure I have a facebook and a twitter, but to actually effectively engage audiences and use new media as a platform for advocacy is an entirely different thing, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin.

And this is where my interests and this class converge. While there are certainly differences, political campaigns and non-profits essentially have to address the same question when considering their communication: how do we not only gain an audience to listen to our message, but also use it to motivate action for social change. Effective social media practices can attract donors, volunteers, and coalitions of support. I’m taking this class because I want to learn these strategies and tactics. I want to learn how social media professionals use these mediums to support their organizations.

My career goal is to become someone who can advise political campaigns, elected officials, and other organizations that I believe in how to use social media to create social good. In this way, this class is perhaps exactly where I need to be.

I am immensely excited for the rest of this semester and can not wait to get started learning and doing. This blog will be where I write down my successes, failures, and general musings on new and social media, the non-profit sector, and their intersection. I am not entirely sure what non-profit I will be interning for this semester, but I’m sure once I find out and start working, this blog will change dramatically. I guess this is where I begin…