Nonprofit use of Social Media and its Impact: Engagement & Empowerment

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Social software has infiltrated many aspects of our daily lives.  This technology’s ubiquitous acceptance by society can be seen in mass media and even heard on the radio.  Network television content will regularly ask for feedback or be holding a contest that involves their Facebook page or their Twitter account and how their viewers can follow them or interact with the personalities viewers see when they turn to that station.

Using social software in this way creates another avenue for individuals to interact and communicate.  This technology has a built-in, inherent inclusiveness to it, which lends itself well to promoting ideas, ideals, and even mass media content to large groups of online users.  In this way it allows groups of individuals to create communities based on their loose affiliations, which promotes the growth of these communities.

This technology promotes and utilizes many of the same aspects and qualities nonprofit organizations attribute a great deal of value to as well.  Nonprofit organizations highly value community building around their ideals and interests, creating organizational synergies with other groups when their interests overlap, engaging and enticing new members or supporters on shared values, and increasing the size of their network.  Nonprofit organizations take part in all of these activities every day and use social software as an administrative tool to make furthering their cause easier and more powerful.

This is the first of four posts on this topic, Engagement and Empowerment.  The other posts are Increasing Presence and Transparency, Funding, and Social Media Study.

Engagement & Empowerment

One use of social software technology by nonprofit organizations is to build support, empowering supporters and stakeholders.  Nonprofit organizations are using social software to create community areas and forums within their Web sites for this purpose with great success.

Many nonprofit organizations have decided to incorporate social software for this reason.  The Sierra Club incorporated social software into its Web site by allowing its members to collaborate and exchange information and stories, creating what they call “Climate Crossroads,” according to an article written Cramer (2009).  Members and supporters can join a multitude of different groups that can be based on the varying aspects of a topic, for example on environmental causes or a specific aspect of a topic they feel is important.  This enables their supporters to contribute their ideas and experiences to the organization’s Web site, thereby adding more dynamic content.  Having this content means supporters and member are more likely to return and continue to contribute.

Another example of supporter or member engagement is the use of third party API’s (application programming interfaces).  This technology allows different application platforms to communicate over the Web and non-profit organizations are taking full advantage of it.  One organization in particular that has had great success with this technology is The Nature Conservancy.

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It has used a game named (Lil) Green Patch on the Facebook social networking platform to raise between $6,000 and $10,000 per month since January 2008 according the article Social Capital: Doing Well by Doing Good, by Conner-Smith (2008).  This application allows participants to plant plants and manage a garden, which creates revenue via the organizations sponsors and the organization retains a portion of the funding.  Per Conner-Smith, as of 2008, this was one of the top 10 most popular applications on Facebook.

Besides raising greater awareness of the issues important to each organization, social software also allows non-profit organizations to communicate their goals, upcoming events, and the impact of the collective groups’ efforts by individuals and collaborations with other non-profits.  For instance, individuals are creating and growing groups around their own charitable interests, outside of the control of non-profit organizations.  One example of this is the Facebook Causes birthday application, where “an individual who is a member of a cause [can] use their birthday as an excuse to raise money for a non-profit organization,” according to Kanter (2009).

The impact of member and supporter engagement by non-profit organizations is powerful and has important implications for their future.  By engaging their supporters, non-profit organizations allow for greater visibility on the issues that are important to them and their constituency.  Also, it creates more awareness for their cause and translates into a greater depth of content to their Web site.  This is empowering to supporters, because it allows them to actively participate and collaborate with others to have a greater perceived impact on the issues that are important to them.  Additionally, it allows the organization another way to gather information on what is important to their supporters and use it to stay relevant to their community.

Libraries could use social software in a similar way to engage their stakeholders.  Done correctly and with prior planning, this could be one of the easiest ways a library could engage their constituents, supporters, and similar supporting and collaborative organizations.  All of these groups are important for libraries to engage and libraries should embrace the social media tools they merely dabble in for familiarity for their true value and use them to their advantage.

The grand library experiment continues …

This is the first of four posts.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment.


Conner-Smith, S. (2008). Social Capital: Doing Well by Doing Good. Searcher, 16(10), 22. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Cramer, B. (2009). Increase Donations in a Down Economy? With Social Media, Yes, You Can! NONPROFIT WORLD, 27(3), 8-9.

Kanter, B. (2009, May 22). Four Ways Social Media is Changing the Non-Profit World. Retrieved from


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