December 19, 2013

Social Media as a Tool for Research and Monitoring

Social media has flourished into an accepted practice among nonprofit organizations within the last five years. This progression has not gone unnoticed. There are many guides on how nonprofits can use social media. The National Council of Nonprofits has even dedicated a page to Social Media Resources, linking viewers to articles and reports including many that go beyond the basic use of social media outlets by presenting details regarding social media “best practices” or on how to develop a social media policy for individual organizations. The Grant Plant has previously addressed how social media can be used strategically by nonprofits in: Social Networking for Social Change: How to create an effective social media campaign to further your cause.

Given the rapid rise of social media as a key part of nonprofit communications and fundraising efforts, the odds are pretty good that your organization is aware of the recent social media boom. In addition to a website, it is common for an organization to promote its cause through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and more like YouTube, Pinterest, and Instagram. Most of you have probably tinkered around with many of these and have found which ones work for you.

But are you getting everything you can out of these tools? You may have settled into a comfortable social media routine that does not tap into its full potential. Let’s take a moment to think about it from a research perspective.

Social media is not just a way to promote your organization through outgoing posts on your social media pages; it is also acts as an open window of accessible information, giving a glimpse of funder’s most current interests and achievements, providing a unique opportunity to find and connect with funders, and it is slowly becoming a bulletin board of grant opportunities. As such, social media can be used to help identify and assess funders and to monitor new requests for proposals releases. Some helpful tips on how to do this are provided below:

Twitter is great for monitoring potential funders, nonprofit support organizations, and individuals. Twitter generates short informational snippets that include foundation interests, new funding opportunities, and also can reveal the latest statistics and reports that can help give weight to needs and best practice use statements in the development of proposals. Through Twitter, it is easiest to monitor this type of information by “following” the organization or individual of interest and then simply monitoring your returning message strings. If you notice an individual who frequently posts new grant opportunities that may be applicable to your organization, then they may also be good to follow. The downside is that you must weed through a lot of irrelevant information within your Twitter message strings and you must find time to build a good base that you continue to follow. A few organizations that post rfp alerts or useful reports are Philanthropy News Digest, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Grantstation. And of course you should definitely be following The Grant Plant’s Twitter page, which feeds opportunities from the grants calendar on our website.

Twitter is also a decent tool to search for new grant postings or requests for proposals (rfps). Twitter users can search for posts on any topic, including rfps and new grant postings, using the hash tag symbol (#). For example, if seeking funding for a garden project, you could type “#grants #gardens” to see if you get any hits. External social media management organizations, such as HootSuite or TweetDeck, can be used to heighten Twitter searches by organizing or filtering tweets with certain defined hashtags. HootSuite costs about $10 a month, and is designed to streamline your social media profiles and measure social media campaign performance for your organization (another topic all its own!). I have found the general hash tag search process to currently be less than efficient at generating funding opportunity hits, but this search is a very fast and sometimes it will yield an interesting prospect. It will be interesting to see how this feature evolves over the next couple years.

Facebook is another good place to monitor funders and provides a way to potentially connect with hard-to-reach foundations, such as ones that do not accept unsolicited proposals. Facebook can be used to monitor funders that your organization already has relationships with and ones with which you hope to develop relationships. “Like” funders on Facebook to indicate support and to receive their Facebook postings. Through Facebook, you can get a better idea about where their current funding interests lie, show support for their recent activities, and even communicate directly (note you can also directly communicate on Twitter). Funders also use Facebook to reach out and connect to their Facebook followers. For example, recently Annie E. Casey Foundation recently wished its grantees a happy thanksgiving, and in return, many organizations acknowledge this through a “like” or a comment. When you acknowledge a foundation, your organization’s name (and sometimes a link to your Facebook page) will display. This can encourage the foundation to look into who you are, or if you are already a grantee, it shows that you appreciate your support and reinforces your relationship with them. The Grant Plant’s Facebook page also feeds opportunities from our online grants calendar.

I encourage you to use social media in a proactive manner. Go beyond using your own social media sites to connect with organizations and people! Investigate potential funders, track their developments, subscribe to their RSS feeds, and connect with them through their social media sites. To help assess giving patterns in a more predictive and less historical manner, get to know funders through their social media posts; some may only use Facebook, while others prefer to post their updates on Twitter. Do a quick search and look for new opportunities and resources posted through Twitter and monitor who you follow on Twitter and Facebook to stay abreast of current funding opportunities. Finally, just recognize that social media is ever-evolving and new opportunities may continuously arise through its use. The best way to keep on top of it all is to continue to use it in new ways and to evolve with it!

Contact: Wendy McCoy, Resource Development Officer,

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