Staffing Expected To Increase

Nonprofits that have two or more full-time employees managing online communities have the highest level of satisfaction from social networks, according to a new survey. Those organizations also are more likely to measure return on investment (ROI), describe the investment as “very valuable,” and believe the biggest barrier to doing better is not training or education, but more staff.

Half of respondents said they expect to increase employee staffing related to social networks during the next year, according to the Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report, released recently by Portland, Ore.-based NTEN, ThePort Network in Atlanta, and Common Knowledge in San Francisco.Approximately the same proportion of respondents expects staffing to stay the same, but only 4 percent will cut staff time on social networking. About 20 percent said they plan to increase “funding for external resources,” such as consultants, designers or programmers.

Almost 1,200 nonprofit professionals were surveyed between Feb. 3 and March 15 as to their organization’s use of social networks. It’s the second annual social network benchmark report from the three organizations.

The biggest change from last year’s inaugural study, according to Jeff Patrick, president and CEO of Common Knowledge, is the use of Twitter. The social networking site, which limits “Tweets” to 140 characters, experienced the most growth, up 60 percent compared to last year. Twitter also saw its average nonprofit community size skyrocket from 286 to nearly 1,800, a jump of 627 percent.

Community sizes are still relatively small on Twitter, which factored into the large jump, the report noted. “Communities now are getting large enough that they’re worth our time in the development world,” Patrick said.

Use of LinkedIn and YouTube remained steady, at 33 percent and 48 percent, respectively. The findings also confirmed that associations and higher education tend to gravitate toward LinkedIn, with 65 percent of professional associations and 45 percent of educational institutions reporting they have created and manage one or more groups on LinkedIn.

“At some point, a nonprofit must decide whether to build its own network,” said Patrick, adding organizations also should know what others in the industry are devoting to social networks.

Full-Time Commitments

Organizations that commit two or more full-time equivalent (FTE) resources to social networking are ones that reported being most successful and report the most ROI, but most common are nonprofits that commit one-quarter to one-half FTE. Managing a social network includes marketing, management and cultivation. Approximately 85 percent of those surveyed committed at least one-quarter FTE to social networks during the previous 12 months.

Of the 2 percent of nonprofits that commit two or more FTEs to social networks, one in five aim to get a clear measure of ROI. “It is logical that these organizations that are committing significant resources are most motivated to understand the real value of their commitment,” according to the study. “This is important, as one of the biggest barriers to more mainstream adoption of commercial social networks will be proof of their financial viability and value to mission (i.e., demonstrable return on the investment along with measurable contribution to their mission, necessary to build out this newer social networking channel).”

These “heavily committed” organizations make up more than half of the respondents who answered the commitment is “very valuable.” The biggest barrier to a more productive community, they said, is a need for additional staff (44 percent). Conversely, those nonprofits that have yet to commit any FTEs selected training as the biggest barrier. “We interpret this to mean that the heavily committed have ‘figured out’ how to leverage commercial social networks, while their peers in the ‘not yet committed’ group have not, and need training to help them do so,” according to the study.

Those organizations also have developed a good understanding of how to leverage commercial social networks and view social media as part of their business.

While the majority of organizations are not spending much on external resources for social networking, a small number are spending a lot. About 8 percent said they set aside $10,000 and another 2 percent indicated they spent $50,000 or more. Approximately 41 percent of organizations said they used outside resources at some level during the previous 12 months.

Most of those organizations appear to be larger ones that are more likely to spend on social networking than smaller peers. In most cases, it’s the marketing department that owns the social networking initiatives at large nonprofits while the communications department handles them at smaller organizations. The small percentage of early adopter nonprofits are seeing success and are dedicating big funds to leveraging this success, but the sector is not yet seeing the expected mainstream adoption.

Fundraising On Facebook, Social Networks

Social networks present a “mixed picture on fundraising,” said Patrick. Anywhere from 77 percent to 95 percent of nonprofits reported raising some revenue from commercial social networks but less than 5 percent reported raising more than $10,000. Successful fundraisers on Facebook had an average community size of 4,284 compared to the average of 2,440 and two out of five are small organizations, with budgets of $1 million or less.

But less than half (46 percent) of nonprofits say they’re on Facebook to raise money. The overwhelming majority (93 percent) used it for traditional marketing, promoting brand, programs, events and services. About 35 percent indicated they use Facebook for program delivery and 24 percent use it for market research, according to survey results.

Facebook still rules the day when it comes to social networks, with 86 percent of nonprofits surveyed having a presence on it; an increase compared to last year’s 74 percent. More nonprofits are using Facebook but those that already are there are still using it, said Patrick. Meanwhile, nonprofits appear to be flocking from MySpace while still maintaining a similar presence on LinkedIn and YouTube. MySpace suffered the biggest decline in usage among networks in the report, going from 14 percent to 26 percent.

The increased percentage of nonprofits joining Facebook likely caused a decline in the average community size, according to the study, from nearly 5,400 members last year to 2,440 in 2010. “There are still nonprofits coming on board, and those previously present are sticking around; all good signs for Facebook and nonprofits building communities on this booming platform,” according to the report. Among those with the strongest presence on Facebook are international nonprofits and those focused on the environment and animal welfare.

The complete Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report is available at www.nonprofitsocialnetworksurvey.com