Social media has transformed the way that we communicate with each other. Many donors have also realized that, if used strategically, social media can also help them become significantly more effective in pursuit of their philanthropic goals. But for those philanthropists who remain daunted by the prospect of using YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to engage with the wider world, here are four reasons you should consider making social media a key part of your strategies.
The Loudspeaker Effect
Donors who contribute actively to social media sites not only position themselves as leaders on certain issues, but also they can also promote the work of their grantees. As William Perrin of the Indigo Trust has observed, “If you see an inspirational beneficiary of one of your grants on a field visit, with their permission, talk about the experience with your supporters on social networks straight away—don’t wait until the annual report.”
Foundations can greatly amplify their impact by making their data publicly available through social media. Beth Kanter, an expert in nonprofit technology, has noted that “Foundations are repositories of a great deal of knowledge…they hold vast amounts of information on social problems in particular areas, as well as data from grant evaluations, applications, and impact.” Making that data available can be invaluable for grant-makers working in the same area; they can then make decisions based on a firmer factual footing. Social media platforms such as wiki sites can be effective tools to achieve this dissemination.
Philanthropists can use social media to invite stakeholders to input into processes that are normally internal and opaque; which, in some cases, can help them to achieve their goals. In 2006, the Case Foundation took the innovative step of designing a grant program that “…would be almost entirely shaped by people outside its doors—from determining the grant guidelines and judging criteria to reviewing applications and voting on the winners.” In opening up the grant-giving process, the foundation funded better-targeted community projects and encouraged direct civic participation—one of the key aims of the Case Foundation.
Promotion of Transparency and Accountability
As donors become more engaged with media platforms, their activities inevitably become more transparent to outsiders. This is a positive development: Greater clarity about a grant-making organisation’s internal processes helps strengthen bonds of trust between funders and grantees. What is more, those who view conversations from the outside could turn out to be potential supporters who spread the message to others, offer suggestions on how to improve programs, or even help deliver services. The David and Lucile Packard Foundation’s OE Wiki is an example of an initiative that has been successful in opening up internal information to a wider audience, making learning, thinking, and processes public.
These, then, are just four reasons—but forceful reasons—why those few philanthropists who are still tentative take the leap should join their peers in exploring the exciting opportunities for leadership, learning and collaboration that are available to them through social media. We believe that this step will be beneficial for them, their grantees, and the wider public.