Monday, November 7, 2011

Using Social Media for Social Good: Q&A with author Heather Mansfield pt. 1

In Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits, author Heather Mansfield draws on over a decade of social media and nonprofit experience for clients like The National Peace Corps Association, Safe Kids, and The National Wildlife Federation. Currently, Heather is on a national book and training tour. Training participants will also help other organizations, like the American Indian Center for Excellence, and, who will receive a portion of their paid workshop fees. We recently caught up with Heather for a Q&A about her new book, and how growing non-profits can best reach the public and spur positive change.


Congratulations on the release of Social Media for Social Good!

Thank you!

Q: In your book, you draw on over a decade of social media and nonprofit experience, tell us what prompted you to embark on this comprehensive guide and what key tools you hope to pass on to readers?

Most nonprofits these days are very low on staff and resources and they just don’t have the time to experiment with tools or get the training they need when it comes to social and mobile media. That’s what I do 10 hours a day, six days a week. I experiment, test, and through a process of trial and error learn what works and what doesn’t. I wrote this book to share that knowledge with nonprofits so they can better communicate and ultimately execute their mission and programs. The brutal truth is that most nonprofits do not understand the Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc. tool sets and are making obvious mistakes. Even if they aren’t aware it, most nonprofits need a little help fine tuning their social and mobile media campaigns.

Q: In a striking contrast with social media as we know it today, you tell of your first online fundraising campaign: emailing friends and family on Yahoo! to raise funds at the Guatemalan school where you volunteered. That was in 1997. Please give us your impressions of how social media has changed non-profit efforts and why those daunted by technology should embrace social media tools?

The most obvious difference from today’s Internet to that of 1997 is that there’s no one Internet fits all anymore. In 1997 the only Web-based tools available to nonprofits were websites and email and that’s how nonprofits primarily reached their online supporters and donors. It was simple. Then in 2003 that began to change with the launch of blogs. Today, there are thousands of Web-based tools and communities that nonprofits can tap into, but more importantly, who uses what tools and communities is usually directly related to age, location, class, and race. So, if nonprofits want to reach all potential supporters and donors, then they need to use and integrate a wide variety of Web-based tools and communities into their communications and fundraising plans.

Some nonprofits – primarily executive staff – still tend to think of social media as a fad (much to the chagrin of younger staff). They aren’t seeing the bigger picture which is that the Web is now constantly evolving and social media with each passing day is becoming more deeply integrated into the structure of the Internet as a whole. In the next decade as we migrate over to the Mobile Web, social media will be the foundation of the next chapter of communications and fundraising, and those nonprofits that have yet to embrace and integrate social media into their communications and fundraising plans are going to be a severe disadvantage.

Q: What You Can Do provides individuals with simple action steps they can take to help solve social problems from poverty, to hunger, to domestic violence. For those involved in social activism, public engagement can be difficult at first. As an expert and leader in non-profit fundraising and community organizing, can you tell about one of your most difficult undertakings and how you were able to garner support, or make the best of the situation?

I think the biggest problem facing all nonprofits today is that information overload is resulting in an increasing numbed down, collective response to our calls to action online. These days people are bombarded all day and night with bad news and negativity. Many people just can’t take it anymore and are starting to tune out. Even I struggle with it… social media burnout. So, I take time away from social media and my communities to disconnect and reconnect in person with friends and family. Nonprofits need to do this as well to recharge, and resist the urge to spin and perpetuate the bad-news-is-always-breaking news cycle. Share more success stories, be kind and generous, and for the sake of your own well-being and that of your communities, ban, block, delete, and report the Internet trolls. They have gotten out of hand over the last few years and are creating an Internet meme of gloom and doom that’s affecting our mental health, our collective sense of hope, and our economy i.e., unconfident consumers do not make donations to nonprofits.

Q: Most important advice to social entrepreneurs and nonprofit start-ups in devising comprehensive communication and fundraising campaigns?

One of the downsides of social media is that nonprofits have now become too accustomed to expecting Web-based tools to always be offered for free. Even if a premium version of a tool only costs $25 a year, many nonprofits just won’t pay it. That is a huge mistake! You have to spend at least a little money to make a little and hopefully a lot of money. If you need to hire a designer to create a new banner for your blog, do it. If you have to pay $50 a month for a premium “Donate Now” vendor, please do so. If you need a custom-designed avatar, then by all means necessary, find the funds in your budget somewhere. The era of winging on the Social Web is over. Donors and supporters expect polish and professionalism in the execution of social media campaigns. It’s tragic really, how many nonprofits are spending hours upon hours blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking while making mistakes that severely hamper their ROI (Return on Investment) simply because they haven’t been willing or empowered to spend a little money or taken necessary training.

Check back later this week for Part 2!

Bio: Heather Mansfield is the owner of DIOSA Communications, principal blogger at Nonprofit Tech 2.0, and author of Social Media for Social Good: A How-To Guide for Nonprofits. She also created and maintains the “Nonprofit Organizations” profiles on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Foursquare, which cumulatively have more than 500,000 Friends, Followers, and Fans. A pioneer in utilizing social media for the nonprofit sector, Heather has fifteen years of experience utilizing the Internet for fundraising, community-building, and advocacy. To date, she’s presented more than 100 social media and mobile technology trainings throughout the United States and over 500 webinars to audiences worldwide.

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