Non-profits, organizations, and social media

I have gathered several questions recently related to social media and non-profits using technology to further their causes. Many other people are writing about this with much more authority than I, but I would like to share my perspective and link like crazy to the experts.

What sites or tools are defined as social media? Blogs, wikis, Second Life?

Scoble has an excellent article, What is social media?, explaining how social or new media is different from old media. This article gives me a gold standard to compare all tools with traditional media like newspapers, television, and so on.

How have non-profits and professional organizations found ways to use social media to further their causes or to serve their members?

There are plenty of examples, especially now that Facebook has introduced the new Causes application. This blog post “The Long, Long Tail of Facebook Causes” describes it with links: The very cool Causes application by Project Agape enables anyone with a Facebook account to support and engage their Facebook networks to support a “Cause” – be it “Save the Seals!,” “End Global Warming!,” or “Fight Hate.” All of the Causes have to be attached to a Guidestar-verified 501(c)(3).” The quoted blog post also has tips for promoting a cause on Facebook. Plus it has number to back up its claim of the Long Tail at work – the total donations ranged from ran from $5 to $22,871. There’s another blog post that gives you steps for promoting your cause on Facebook.

The Red Cross created a visual in Second Life to raise awareness about disaster recovery. Often this type of display is too costly for most non-profits, and it’s difficult to measure the effect and return on investment. There also is a subculture of “griefers” on Second Life that makes any investment in presence risky.

This blog entry says “As I mentioned in my blog post on the Red Cross entry at Second Life, depicting a disaster zone, one way is to create awareness, convey a mood or show people the challenges in such areas. This awareness is much more valuable than the lousy linden bucks it brings in tips.There is a thin line though; It is great to raise awareness but the cost is a consideration. The presence should be sponsored, not funded with sponsorship money.”
Good analysis and commentary. Linden bucks are the currency in Second Life and there’s a direct exchange rate between Linden bucks and US Dollars (300 to 1 USD I believe?).

What are mashups and are they automatically part of social media and web 2.0?

Mashups combine and layer information on top of another item to bring more information to the reader. Layered maps are an excellent example of a mashup. Microsoft’s latest CRM offering shows a mashup of layering an aerial photo of the event location or venue in order to offer additional information to event planners. I believe mashups are directly related to social media because it is putting extra data together to form a more user-centered picture of the user’s goals.

But what if I’m not in my twenties?

My former coworker Michael Cote is now an industry analyst and he has this great post about how different websites like facebook and myspace are actually “colonies” where you are gathering with like folk. It starts with this great quote about how difficult it is for
30-somethings to get 20-somethings to read their blog. I cracked up because I realized it’s so true for me. Read his post here:
Cote talks about the “web I know” and it’s different for all of us, based on age, based on experience, based on education level, based on professional achievements, and so on. I feel like I too need to constantly be on the lookout for what “teh kidz” are doing, as a parent, as a blogger, as a writer.

There is some research on the average age of people on Facebook and I would guess it is moving upward.

Actual usage may go down as users age, though, so they need to continue to get people to sign up and join their “colony.” And Danah Boyd has written a wonderful essay about class and MySpace and Facebook. She’s truly a pioneer in this research and writes so well that you want to finish every essay right away.

Anyway, besides the nagging detail that I’m in my 30s, and have a job, house, spouse, kids, pets, and other responsibilities, there’s another reason why I had been hesitant to sign up for facebook, and that’s the little feminist voice in me that dislikes the term facebook because for me, it has the connotation of that book that all the first year college students get where they’d look up incoming students and rate them on looks. (Am I the only one who had that type of incoming book in college?) I think that perception is melting away rapidly, though. Facebook only opened to non-current-college-students in September 2006, so it hasn’t even passed the one year mark as an open area.

How can I keep up with social media and the technology?

You don’t have to feel like you’re telling the kids to “get off your lawn” but you should be aware of the social media push and also recognize (and throw off) the hype when needed.

I have discovered the new tag “nptech” for non-profit technology, and will keep an eye on that tag in, in blogs, and other areas of the web. There’s a lot to keep up with, and constantly analyze.

I’d also encourage everyone to try out the sites to gain familiarity with the site’s look and feel and implementation, and find ways to use them for your everyday pursuits.


  • August 7, 2007 - 11:40 am | Permalink

    What is even more exciting is everyday people just starting up their own fundraising campaigns for non-profits! I work at and we always find it exciting when fundraisers makes up their own events and rally their friends in a truly organic process!

    Take the Helwett wedding for example!

  • August 7, 2007 - 7:40 pm | Permalink

    That’s a really cool example of thinking outside of the box for fundraising, thanks for sharing. I just read an Ask MetaFilter posting asking what an appropriate amount is for a wedding gift, and was rather taken aback with the US East Coast traditions mentioned where you should try to guess how much was spent and match that. Yipes.

    But to instead calculate what can be bought by Doctors without Borders at, that’s really going to make A difference rather than make UP the difference on wedding costs. Kudos to the Hewletts for starting their lives together with a great idea. I have friends who have done the same concept with their wedding, thanks to the web.

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