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Training Non Profits in Use of Social Media

Lately, I’ve been asked to help several non-profits on a pro-bono basis.  I’m a big believer in the notion that if an organization can empower their constituents they could have a powerful army at their hands.  There’s no reason why these ideas can’t be applied to businesses as well – it’s just that the thinking here was inspired by the work I’ve been doing with non-profits.

Social networks contain the potential for enormous virality and growth. There is the phenomenon of six-degrees, fueled by the law of exponential growth.

The old story of the rice and chessboard illustrates the notion well. There are several versions of the story, but the fundamental gist is that someone asks a king for a very simple reward: that the king place a grain of rice on the first square of a chess board, then double it with each following square.  By square 21, the amount is over a million.  By square 64 – well, you won’t get that far, as there simply isn’t enough rice in the world.

Social Media Non Profit

We also know that the average person has a couple of hundred friends on Facebook. It’s one thing for anyone to ask something of those 200 friends, another to ask them to carry the message further. That is where the magic happens.  Of course, there will be fall-off, as some people fail to continue – and that’s OK, we only need enough.

Are the volunteers already using social media?

The first thing to evaluate is how the potential members of the social media army are already using social media.  If necessary, you could have some mini-workshops to get them going.  Let them go back home and play in the space for a while before pulling them in to socially evangelize on behalf of the organization.

To what extent are the potential volunteers already using social?  It’s necessary to evaluate this if you’re going to go into the workshop with a good understanding of what’s going on. If possible, have the volunteers connect with you on the various social platforms.  Provide them with your social contacts – and invite them to connect with you. In this way, you can quickly assess their level of use.

Discuss the big desired outcomes of the organization.  After all, this can never be repeated enough!  This could come from a stakeholder of the organization.  Then, talk about the desired outcomes that could be anticipated from the group’s participation in the organization’s social media.


If the organization has not created a brand voice document, do this before bringing in the social army.  There is a whole chapter on brand voice in my book Social Marketology.  Also, Marty Weintraub and Lauren Litwinka’s book The Complete Social Media Community Manager’s Guide has some excellent information.


Your volunteers can be effective in two roles:

  1. As individuals re-sharing your content with their networks, inviting people to your events, or inviting people to engage with the organization’s person on social media.
  2. As community managers – that is, where they have admin rights to the account and can post on behalf of the organization.

You might have some volunteers focused on the former, and others on the latter.  If so, this is pretty much going to dictate how you provide training.

How posting content is great – but endeavor to to ASK others to reshare content.  Get others involved.  Ask others to “like,” “follow,” “circle,” or otherwise connect with the organization’s social media profiles.


If your volunteers are going to actually play a role in the posting of content, you’ll need to develop some real ideas about what content is appropriate or not.  Luckily, when we started this process, we clarified the organization’s desired outcomes – thus when you’re thinking about content, you can consider what is going to help you achieve your outcomes.

Your volunteers could accept responsibility for certain times of the day, particular days of the week, or cycle through week-long stints.  In any event, you could work with them as a group to develop a content calendar that lays out various ideas.  For instance, we could seek out an inspiration video to share on day one, while on day to we could post photos from our latest party.

Smart Phones

Most people have smart phones now. Be sure to instruct your team on the use of smart phone apps to post content.

GREAT BIG CAVEAT: encourage if not require your team to use different apps for the organization’s social media than their own.  The use of apps for both has been the cause of some of the biggest social media gaffes we know.

Just a Beginning

This training non profits in use of social media workshop would only be the beginning.  There is so much more to do if you’re going to create an Arab Spring effect for your own non-profit.  As I provide more training sessions, I’ll share my ideas and findings.  And if you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.


Join the Conversation

unifieddialog 5pts

I really like the idea of volunteers providing content. We offer a tool for Social Media Marketing which is used by some NPO's, i.e. www.nph.org. With our tool, volunteers or employees in the field can send content to the Social Media team w/t fearing to offend Corporate Wording guidelines. 

If interested, NPO's might find it worth to try Unified Dialog, too: http://www.unified-dialog.com


It is always challenging to get volunteers to be responsible regarding "rules" "guidelines" or similar. "If I am not paid, I don't have to...."

I am very interested in what you are doing Ric, as I am currently working with our own #SOBcon Betsy Kent on getting the Start Up #Nonprofit I co-founded Bank-On-Rain, to the next level of visible. We plan to stay small & nimble so other than myself I might have max two others posting content. I trained my summer intern a couple of years ago to post on twitter, attend two twitter chats a week, and blog. She did very well but it took a lot of time on my part and I can just imagine if I had a dozen volunteers or more. What you are doing is extremely valuable.

KrishnaDe 5pts

Ric thanks for sharing your experience of working with non profits to support them with social media education.

I wonder if you also found (as I have over the years)  that a challenge for the organisation is sometimes to provide a frame work for the volunteers to operate within? I have sometimes found that if the organisation is late in using social media as part of their communications plans, multiple social profiles may already have been developed for their organisation by volunteers who are already using social technologies. Just last week I was talking with a non profit and a quick search in Facebook revealed several non-approved Facebook Pages using their logo and representing their organisation across the country that they had no idea existed.

I was the Chair of a non profit some years ago and one of the challenges I also found was that as people are volunteering their time, they have usually become involved with the non profit for personal reasons and that requires careful managing if you are now looking for them to follow certain governance in relation to what they share through social platforms.

Don't get me wrong - encouraging and enabling your volunteers to use their social networks online to help build awareness and word of mouth is very powerful - just as hopefully they have been doing in the real world for many years. I just think it brings with it some different challenges than if you were using social media in your business or organisation where your people are on your 'payroll'.

I would be interested in your thoughts.


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