Two Jewish Agency attendees weigh in on the recent NTEN 2010 Conference.

by Florence Broder and Ziva Haller Rubenstein

This year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Atlanta was a buzz: continuing many of the trends from the SXSW conference, and the seminars and the energy of the participants did not disappoint. Early on, five key areas emerged as critical parts of keeping nonprofit organizations on top of its e-philanthropy initiatives as well as way to be interactive with online communities.

1. Metrics and ROI

Most organizations already have a presence on social networks like Facebook and Twitter but that is no longer enough. It’s now time to become more strategic in undertstanding your audience through metrics analysis. Believe it or not, it’s time to go back to basics, that is, Google Analytics. The information garnered about your own site is the foundation for how you can measure success in your social media messaging. Numbers of site page views is not enough. You must drill down further and look at keyword searches that are being used for your site and use them in your own messaging. Beyond that, use Google Trends to identify key words in your area of activity and see how they rank. Review the Insights section of your Facebook page and find correlations between online activity and your messaging. Start adjusting your message based on the data learned. Similarly, use sites like Twitalyzer to track your impact on Twitter. And there are plenty of other free online tools that can provide assistance with social media analytics.

2. Mobilizing your Community

One of the most heard buzzwords at the conference was engaging your audience – understanding who’s listening to you by analyzing statistics and, more importantly, by asking and listening to what ‘they’ want to know more about and hear from you.

  • Step 1: Define your community. Both online and offline, your community has needs; whether it’s more information, increased services or advocacy on their behalf. To understand who’s needing you, and for what, open the communication lines, invite their suggestions and feedback, hold open meetings (again, online or offline are both possible).
  • Step 2: Organizing for movement. The strategy development stage is among the most critical in launching any effective community-building campaign. Before jumping headfirst into the mosh pit, and expecting to surf atop the crowd successfully, you need to have a plan; including identifying or empowering key community leaders to help you get there. Determine who are the decision makers in your community? Who’s most influencing your community? And who are key allies or partners your organization can team up with to maximize your impact? Once these key players are identified, careful thought must be dedicated to cultivating leadership among these few and formative players. After all, your plan – including the campaign’s goals and objectives, and timeline for action – are dependent on their ‘pushing your organization forward’ in a sense.
  • Step 3: Check your listtwice. The reality facing many non-profits is a constant uphill battle against limited budgets, extended bureaucracy, over zealous board members, meddling local politics, and more. It’s important to be realistic and, after setting out campaign strategy, predicting pitfalls along the way. Are there scheduled community events or expected political shifts that may sway your growing audience. Are there technological limits to what you’re setting out to accomplish? Are you empowering the right people to advance your campaign? Are you aligning with the right organizations in terms of manpower, politics or missions? Are you expecting reasonable or measurable outcomes? And are you, and those among you in your organization, willing to give up some control in this whole process (ie. by passing the torch to your community)?
  • Step 4: Say thanks. Whether your campaign succeeded in meeting all your goals and objectives or fell somewhat short, it’s still important to maintain positive relations with your community and contributors. Your appreciation for their efforts to help, at whatever level, will ensure their future involvement with your organization and hopefully, clinch more – and continued- successful community campaigns to come.

(*Special shout out to Debra Askanase for hosting this incredibly informative and inspiring session. You can read more from Debra on community mobilizing at her blog, CommunityOrganizer 2.0)

3. GeoTagging and Mapping Tools

As part of an overall communications plan, nonprofits must develop a case for giving. A couple of visuals and a lot of text don’t do the trick any more. People have shorter attention spans and need to be engaged with visually-rich interactive content. It’s easier than ever to do that with user-friendly mapping tools provided by Google. Everyone turns to Google Maps for directions, but the “My Maps” option can help an organization to create custom maps that provide a more intense sensory experience about its work and mission. An organization’s YouTube videos and photos can be linked to a location with program description to maximize the storytelling experience. For example, create a custom map pinpointing the location of a soup kitchen site. The end user clicks to find a video of a beneficiary talking about the value of the service. These maps can also be embedded on your own website. “My Maps” can also be utilized as an online engagement tool, allowing Google account users to contribute their own photos to your custom map, which increases the User Generated Content and community involvement on your site. The possibilities are endless and it’s not even the only tool out there!

4. Mobile

There was universal agreement that mobile is not the future, it’s here now. And organizations need to ensure that they are able to communicate to their audience using the medium in two major ways:

  • Creating a mobile-ready site
  • Having text-to-pledge capabilities

While the potential of text-to-pledge capabilities is still unclear (remember the maximum gift for donations to Haiti is only $10!), keep in mind that the average online gift is significantly higher. Therefore, if you need to choose between the two, a mobile site is the priority since more and more users are accessing the web via mobile devices. That’s where you have to push your message.

5. Policy

It is critical for nonprofit organizations to develop internet usage, marketing and especially social media policies with assistance from human resource and legal professionals. This ensures that professionals and lay leaders understand the ways that activities and organizational branding should be presented on social media. This topic even emerged on the JFNA listserv for marketing director. A great resource is the policy database on SocialMediaGovernance.com. While this is an issue that has been in the mainstream for some time, it is equally as vital for organizations to realize that they also must set guidelines for moderating their own online communities – from blogs to Facebook. One easy fix is to use Facebook Markup Language (FBML) to create a tab with all the policies about spam, profanity, and more.

Like any policy, it will only work if there is buy in. The best way to ensure that policies are followed is if the process is democratic. Think about Facebook and its own policies – users are able to comment and contribute about how the policy should evolve. Similarly, your organization’s stakeholders (professionals, lay leaders, and clients) should be engaged in the process.

Florence Broder manages social media and Ziva Haller Rubenstein is the Internet Team Leader for the Jewish Agency for Israel.