Issues and Concerns from Long Island Non-profits : Social Media Day of Giving

On October 19, 2010 a group of 22 agency representatives from nonprofits on Long Island came to Touro Law Center in search of support to better understand social media and how the digital age has changed the way the nonprofits service their organizations.

A few days later we’ve taken a few minutes to review just a few of the questions, concerns, and issues that the representatives from the nonprofit organizations brought with them to the “Social Media Day of Giving”

Are agencies risking bad comments when they create exposure on facebook and twitter?

The general consensus is that nonprofits just like businesses and individuals lost the ability to control their message without interruption a decade ago. While some have viewed social media platforms like Facebook and twitter as a potential risk, others have capitalized on the opportunity that it represents. While the legal position might caution the nonprofits from engaging in social media, business professionals, community leaders, and social media professionals urge nonprofits to engage in the opportunity that social media provides.

One of the concerns seems to rest with the ability of others to say things or post comments that the organization or nonprofit may not endorse or support. The concern goes as far as, to fear liability from participation or posting by others. While every professional can relate to the concern of what others may say, the new world of social media is about how you capitalize on those opportunities, and is what will make the difference in organizations for years to come. Participation provides the opportunity for viral exposure, which even when led by negative or unsupported posts, comments, ideas or issues, it still represents an opportunity for the nonprofit to display how they support and respond.

Are we liable for what others say?

Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question. Like anything else, the ultimate interpretation is left in the hands of skilled lawyers and the courts.

Social media professionals would argue that we create an opportunity to open a dialogue and share ideas and emotions and events, what others do with that information we cannot be responsible for, nor can we control. Social media platforms like Facebook, twitter, and even service listings like Merchant Circle and Yelp are platforms that offer us opportunities to engage the general public as well as our members. When someone else takes it upon themselves to provide information they do so candidly without endorsement or support from those that have created the social media platform for which to discuss or topic was engaged.

Now it would just seem good practice that if you create this platform you would be responsible to manage it and monitor it to seize opportunities created by those that would produce information content which your organization does not endorse or support.

How Do we monitor what is said about us?

Ultimately within social media itself and monitoring of your brand and organization is done through everyday participation in social media. This means as you participate in platforms like Facebook and twitter your staff or organizers should be participating in such a rate that monitoring what is said and how it is said is a natural part of the social media interaction.

The hardest part of monitoring your organizational or brand comes from the fact that there is an infinite number of places, platforms and possibilities for others to post a comment or distribute information that may be in support or in contradiction of your organization’s mission or goals. There are lots of resources available to monitor your brand, organization, staff, or keywords throughout the Internet. Two such platforms that offer this opportunity are Google, using Google Alerts (free) you can set up e-mail alerts that will notify you when keywords you have selected have been used anywhere throughout the internet, when Google has crawled it. The second and far more robust option is Giga alerts and Copyscape. Giga Alerts offers a wide variety of monitoring tools for keywords, subject matter and content throughout the entire Internet and while it requires a monthly fee, it provides a priceless service to alert you to any activity taking place on the web in regards to any subject or content you wish to monitor. The other platform copyscape can provide support to organizations in regards to any original press releases blogs or other information in an effort to deter others from reproducing your content.

Online Donations, are they working?

Nonprofits and other organizations often point to their websites as a failure or disappointment in fundraising results. I have found this to be most true during political campaigns and large-scale social movements. While it may be possible that your website is not converting the online donations as you intend it to, it is also possible that your website is raising far more than you give it credit for.

Websites have been a constant evolution from their first introduction and will continue to evolve in purpose, function and monetization as time goes on. The initial purpose of the website was to be a professional extension of an individual that would represent any business organization or another candidate. As such the presence of a website alone may be contributing to fundraising indirectly. An example I often use is a political candidate’s website may offer the opportunity for you to donate to their cause, however the average donor for personal and political reasons would much rather contribute in person than over the Internet. While the website may not have captured the donation through digital means, it is reasonable to assume the existence of the website provided individuals the opportunity to learn an associate with the candidates cause and platform. This extension of the candidate through a website provided the opportunity to capture donations and raise funds that might not have been possible had the website not existed.

While there is no one way to prove that a website or social media campaign has produced fundraising results there are ways to draw plausible conclusions. In the case of a website using Google analytics, a free tool, an organization can monitor the amount of traffic that their website receives daily, weekly, monthly and compare their fund raising success with traffic generated by the website. Google analytics will also provide data that will allow you to track what sources created the traffic for your website. A simple example is direct traffic was likely done via word-of-mouth, whereas references from Facebook would clearly be an indication that something on this social media platform interested people enough to visit the website. While it is hard to prove the success of the website or social media in fundraising, it is a reasonable assumption that if fundraising efforts were more successful during a specific time, when traffic was increased to the website, that there is a correlation between the existence of social media and the website and the fundraising success.

What is the best platform for helping increase fundraising efforts?

There are many social media platforms that offer different opportunities that tailored to different groups of people, as such there is no magic bullet, no one way or platform that will provide fundraising success. Social media platforms are tools that can only be successful when you have chosen a successful message or niche which can be used to capture interest from people that utilize social media.

We cover a lot of information and services how do we cover it all on social media?

The purpose of the website is to be your broad information source. While others will argue that websites should be concise and target your specific mission, others believe the website is meant to be a source of information for everything and anything related to what you do. Social media on the other hand is most successful when you take specific issues and develop a campaign around that specific issue or cause allowing you to create a higher conversion rate from less of an effort.

When do you commit a full time person to Social Media?

It would seem to be the general consensus of social media professionals that successful social media campaigns never come from just one individual. There are many reasons why organizations want to embrace social media on many levels. The earlier concerns regarding monitoring what’s said and how it is said is one of the biggest reasons why no one person should be responsible for social media content. Much like call centers and phone banks, social media requires many individuals to participate and support one another in order to be successful.

What did I take away from this event?

Jeff Namnum explained that Social Media Professionals each bring something different to the table, “one of the great things about Social Media is we can disagree” in a way that is productive.

Special Thanks to my fellow volunteers at this event, as with every interaction I am confident that their input and support at the event helped influence how this blog article was developed.

Dafna Adler, Jaci Clement, Alan Z. Fromm, Farida Harianawala, David Neuman, Ilene Schuss, Sueanne Shirzay, Andrzej Sienko, George Torres, Marilyn Zayfert,Mo Krochmal and Jeff Namnum.
Touro Law Center provided the support, facilities and overall hospitality for the event. Thank You.



  1. Basil, Thanks for the detailed blog post. This is a good guideline for all non-profits looking to use social media. I would like to add my favorite tip: When using social media, focus on improving engagement, versus just the numbers (number of likes, followers etc.) In the end, social media are just tools. The basics remain the same – it’s all about building relationships!

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