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The Power (and Pain) of Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

Using Facebook in Your Nonprofit

Facebook_logo_2 I spent yesterday with my college freshman daughter who revealed to me the extent to which FaceBook has taken over the social lives of teens and twenty-somethings (with the "older folk" coming on fast). Let's just say that if it's not happening through FaceBook, then it's not happening. By sheer coincidence, I'd used the train ride into NYC to read (among other things)  Fast Company's profile of 22-year old (!) founder, Marc Zuckerberg.Then this morning this post by Rob Cottingham on the Turn It Off! British Columbia campaign he launched on the site slid into my inbox. Clearly I'm being told by the universe to blog a little about FaceBook. So a few resources . . .

What is Facebook?
FaceBook is a social networking site, an Internet site that allows users to post online profiles (including photos, information about themselves, etc.) and then connect to other users who share the same interests, experiences, etc. Zuckerberg threw up FaceBook while he was a student at Harvard to provide an online avenue for students to find one another. It has since morphed into a social network for everyone.

Why Facebook (or any social network, for that matter)?
The first question to ask yourself is why use social networking at all? What can a nonprofit get from the experience? According to this TechSoup article, "What Can Social Networking Do For Your Organization?" the answer is that you can get quite a bit:

"Social networking platforms give nonprofits a forum for meeting like-minded organizations and potential supporters, and provide a medium for spreading their messages beyond the immediate community," says Alan Rosenblatt, Executive Director of the Internet Advocacy Center.

In other words, social networking can expand your reach and help you find volunteers, donors and supporters for your cause inexpensively and relatively easily.

So you've decided to consider social networking. Why Facebook? There are tons of other social networking sites on the Net, including MySpace, Ning, Idealist and Change.org. But as Katrin Verclas of NTEN noted in a March post, Facebook is where it's at right now. It has the most traffic and the biggest reach, and, as she points out, "it's infinitely less annoying than MySpace." (Agreed!) It's your best bet for finding people where they're already congregating online, especially if you're trying to reach the 18-24 year-old set. (Although as this article indicates, the 35-54 year-olds are coming on strong, with about 33% of Facebook users in this age group.) It's much easier than trying to create your own social network (ala Ning), where it can be difficult to attract and maintain users. It also makes sense to go where people are already engaging socially. It's the difference between going to the party and talking to people about what interests you or trying to throw a party that people might not even want to attend.

How Can I Use Facebook?
Besides the TechSoup article above, here are some good resources to check out:

  • Start with Fast Company's slideshow, "Eight Things You Can Do With Facebook". You'll see that you can connect with like-minded users, promote events, start your own groups, etc. You might also want to take a look at this profile of Facebook (scroll down to the features section), which gives a decent overview of the different Facebook elements.
  • Read through Rob's article on how he started his campaign and how he went from 8 supporters to 60 in a few days.

Whatever You Do, Avoid Looking Clueless
The one thing you CAN'T afford on a site like Facebook is looking clueless. No one sniffs out inauthenticity faster than a social network native. As the Chronicle's article reports:

"Any organization interested in leveraging communities on MySpace and Facebook must learn about them firsthand," Mr. Gammel says. "You will come across as clueless and wooden if you try to make a big splash in either place before you really understand their culture of interaction."

He recommends looking at social-networking profiles of other nonprofit organizations, examining how they interact with people online, and reading their blogs to get a sense of the tone and content online.

So your first task if you want to explore using Facebook is to join and observe the culture.Check out Martin Lemeiux's article on getting started with a Facebook profile.  I'd suggest having a staff person join on their own and then do some research for you. You might also consider talking to young people and asking them how they use the site and how they react to various nonprofit messages.

In addition to seeing how other nonprofits are operating, I'd also suggest looking into how your "target population" interacts online. I noticed, for example, that my daughter and her friends (the 18-24 year old set) are drawn into groups that use humor and off-beat group names.  One of her favorite Facebook groups is "You Know You Grew up in the 1890's When . . . " Yes, I typed that correctly--the 1890's. This group puts up hilarious "fake" posts about "Where Were You When McKinley was Shot?" and "What Should We Do With Kaiser Wilhelm?" This isn't the "normal" way that nonprofits would position themselves, but for a culture that really thrives on smart humor, you may need to think differently about how you market your groups and ideas in a setting like Facebook.

Finally, you may want to jump in cautiously at first, rather than going "whole hog." Set up a basic profile for your nonprofit, but then try using it at first to promote a specific event or online activity (signing an online petition, for example). This article on running ads on Facebook has some helpful ideas. Also see the Lemeiux article I mentioned above for some other options.

OK, so there you have my basic primer for using Facebook in nonprofits. If you're going to go the social networking route, this may be your best bet. It will take you less time and is easier than starting your own. It gives you another way to engage your volunteers, supporters and donors. And it's probably where you'll eventually need to be anyway. Online networks are a fact of life now and even if a lot of our constituents aren't using them yet, I think it's only a matter of time. Do you want to be ahead of the curve or behind the 8-ball.

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A lot of fundraisers who raise money through our website, Firstgiving.com, use Facebook and MySpace to rally their supporters for their amazing mission. It's amazing to watch people connect over their causes and also pass on the news through online social networking channels.

Thanks for the link... and the very good point about appearing clueless. These services reward people who behave like citizens, not interlopers.

Hi Michele,

Great post about Facebook! Inspired by it, I wrote a beginner's guide to Facebook for non-profits along with some helpful tips for using it effectively.


Face book is cool but we still use myspace to promote our band. Whats cool is the automation software out there like http://www.myfriendbuilder.com/ it automates adding friends and emails. Probably not for what you are useing myspace for but it is great for bars and bands.

I am wondering if I could get a link to the article "The Chronicle of Philanthropy- Special Report- Face Time." The link does not appear to work as it is presented on http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/2007/04/some_resources_.html


Sorry about that, April. It's been fixed now.

I really think Facebook is the most effective social networking site out there right now. Thanks for this great post!

Great post! Thanks for sharing all these insights, tips and resources. I will surely take note of all of these. I have in fact bookmarked your site. Thanks! :)

Great post about facebook. Web 2.0 is offering some great tools for everyone to use, including non for profits.

- Check Us Out!
- http://koinoniasolutions.com

I cannot figure out how to start a nonprofit Facebook account. All sign-up and login pages seem clearly set up for individuals, and I can't seem to find my way to a sign up for organizations.

Similarly, Michele, I've got my own individual page but am hoping to add our nonprofit page as a 'group' etc. as well...Wonder if there's any way to convert/alert current friends to the populate the new Shaping Youth 'nonprofit group' page when it goes live? (or do they need to 'become a fan' or what?) Guess I'd better do more homework before we launch our new page along with the Network for Good drive for little guys like us this spring! More on that later, great post as usual!

Thanks, Amy Jussel

Great Post. I recently started a new group called Singapore Malaysia Association. Send out invites but I think there is something amiss about this page. Not sure what it is but I am not getting the people whom I sent invites to look at it. I see padlocks under my name in the post section about this group. I guess my question is how do I know that it is out there and or if I were someone else looking in, what will I need to do to see this facebook group?

There are many interesting uses for Facebook Apps & Groups - particularly for a non-profit. Came across these that show some range. Thought it might spark some ideas. http://bit.ly/oFRz9

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