Craig Newmark, founder of Craig’s List, published an infographic Oct. 13 showing social media use by the 50 largest US nonprofits as ranked by revenue reported to the Nonprofit Times.  The survey was done as part of  CraigConnects, which is Craig’s initiative to connect the world for the common good.

With tools like WordPress, Joomla and Drupal, a nonprofit  can update their sites with a few clicks. In my experience, I’ve found many nonprofit executives think their website and social media presence has to be expensive and complicated, and they don’t take advantage of the passion of their  fans to populate their YouTubeFlickr and other channels. I suspect that the reason large size and budget is not necessarily an indicator of  effective use of social media has more to do with internal politics than anything else.  Internal politics is also likely the reason for relatively scant use of Twitter by  the surveyed nonprofits.

After looking through the results, I had additional questions, which Craig and  collaborator  Allyson Kapin of RAD Campaign answered for me.

Q. When you were doing this study, how were you measuring effectiveness?
A. We wanted to know if the top nonprofits, ranked by net income, were the ones actually being the most effective with social media. We looked at how active they were on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, how many followers they had, how often they engaged with “their people” on these social platforms and to some extent, where we could see the data, if their followers/likers were being engaged by “Liking” and commenting on their Facebook posts, and retweeting  them on Twitter.

Q. Give the simplicity of adding SM media, why are so many NPOs NOT using all the buttons? Is it because of the complexity of their website build outs?
A. Nonprofits are strapped for resources. Many don’t have the budget to have web developers and social media staff to manage their website and social media presence. However, in this day and age, it’s very important that nonprofits carve out some time and resources to address this.  This is where their supporters are and spend a chunk of their time.

Q. Did this research provide any insights into what the challenges are for NPOs in using social media?
A. While our data did not look this per say, we do feel that the biggest challenge here is staffing and resources, which I mentioned above.

Q. Did this research help you understand ways that would be cost-effective and easy for NPOs to improve their social media presence? And will you be sharing those understandings?
A. We recommend that nonprofits utilize 5 key strategies to improve their social media presence.
1.      Provide engaging and relevant content about some of the great work you are doing.
2.      Don’t be wonky. Social media is about being “social”.
3.      Foster conversations. Ask your followers/likers for their opinions.
4.      Be responsive. This is about building a community.
5.      Practice dipping in and out of social media in 10- to 15-minute increments.

Q. It seems that those NPOs — like the Red Cross — that have a critical mission seemed better able to develop a critical mass and a conversation in all channels. Did you get any feedback relevant to that?
A. The Red Cross has at least 2 social media staffers who do a great job engaging people on social networks. They understand the space and how to connect with people, particularly in natural disasters — as we all witnessed during the earthquake in Haiti.  They are also incredibly responsive to the community, which is so important.

Q. What about fundraising? Did you look at those tools and their effectiveness?
A. No this study did not look at that.

Q. This survey seemed like the first step in a deeper analysis, ie. it did not really draw any conclusions. Will there be a second round in this research?
A. The biggest take-away from the study was that income doesn’t necessarily increase a nonprofit’s interactions on social media. Some of the most engaged organizations on social media are not the one’s with the highest income on the list, yet they are doing a good job with their social media. Why? Because they are fostering engaging conversations and interactions.

We are releasing another infographic in early November that looks at nonprofit verticals ranging from Veterans to Environmental organizations and how they do social media.


Among the survey’s findings:

  • 92% of the top 50 nonprofits have at least 1 social media presence on their homepage.
  • The most followers that an organization has on Twitter is 840,653 (PBS).
  • On the other hand, the organization following the most people is following 200,522 (The American Cancer Society)!
  • The American Red Cross was the first organization on the list to create a Twitter account.
  • Food for the Poor is the most talkative organization on Facebook, and has posted 220 posts over the course of 2 months.
  • The organization with the highest net income, the YMCA, only posted 19 times to Facebook in 2 months, but has over 24,000 Fans.