While social networking holds a great deal of value for any organization, it’s essential for nonprofits. When working with the often limited resources of a nonprofit organization, sometimes creative solutions are needed to tackle everyday business challenges — and social offers a great way to reach huge audiences without much of a marketing budget.

“Social media has enabled many smaller organizations to achieve more visibility and support than otherwise, simply because they can more easily reach a wider audience,” explains Shari Ilsen, Director of Engagement with VolunteerMatch. “The fact that social media can instantly and authentically connect people from across the world has changed the nature of nonprofit and volunteer engagement. It’s no longer necessary to stick close to home to find supporters.”

Making Volunteering Social

VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit dedicated to matching up the right volunteers with the right charities, is all about making connections between good people and good causes — and this community-minded philosophy makes it a great fit for social media success. “Social media helps us connect with new people who might not know about us and strengthen our relationships with those who already do,” says Ilsen. “We have a lot going on, a lot of ways for people to get involved with what we do and with each other around volunteering.”

VolunteerMatch isn’t just a tool for making social connections work: it goes beyond simple matchmaking to provide resources for volunteers, socially responsible businesses, and nonprofits. This kind of added value makes VolunteerMatch shine on social channels, where it highlights both its own content as well as information from around the web that’s relevant to its users. “Everything is part of our over-arching strategy of ‘Provide Value,'” explains Ilsen. “We only post if it’s useful for someone in our audience. We keep it light, engaging, approachable, and focused on the key themes of our work.”

By providing value to anyone who visits its social presences, VolunteerMatch can bring potential volunteers, businesses, and nonprofits all back to VolunteerMatch.org to use its volunteering tools and join in the volunteer community.

Reaching a Broad Audience

Because VolunteerMatch is trying to reach a massive number of people — both individuals and organizations, businesses and nonprofits — targeting specific groups is a real challenge. The organization gets around this by producing a lot of content that’s relevant to the varied groups it wants to reach.

VolunteerMatch maintains separate blogs that speak to nonprofits and businesses, a learning center packed with webinars, and success stories from both volunteers and nonprofit organizations — and having strong original content is a huge help when an organization is trying to grab an audience’s limited social attention. Though targeting this large audience by demographics is tricky,  VolunteerMatch uses hashtags when sharing to help its content reach interested audiences.

Reaching out to this many people also means using a lot of social networks: VolunteerMatch is active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, and is looking at doing more on Google+. However, not all networks get the same amount of use. “We use Twitter the most by far, multiple times a day,” says Ilsen. Facebook and LinkedIn both get a post or two a week, YouTube gets a few posts a month, and Pinterest and Instagram are both used more sporadically.

Engaging users on any network is key. “We try to include pictures and calls to action,” says Ilsen. “Questions and text over photos — quotes, etc — both do really well.” When it comes to honing their message, VolunteerMatch tracks standard social metrics, including sharing, engagement, and growth to determine what’s working on their social channels. Social success for VolunteerMatch is measured in much the same way as any other kind of success: by the number of website visits, number of volunteer listings, and number of businesses working to set up employee volunteer programs.

Managing Social with a Nonprofit-Sized Staff

Most nonprofits aim to put as many of their resources as possible into their cause, which can mean limited staff and resources for managing social media. VolunteerMatch has only two employees responsible for managing social media communications for the entire organization, though using social tools like Sprout Social helps them get more done.

“We’re both wearing a lot of hats,” Ilsen says. Limited staff with limited time can put a damper social efforts — which is part of why VolunteerMatch focuses on larger networks like Facebook and Twitter. “Honestly, in order to add more platforms I’d need some more help,” explains Ilsen.

Yet the organization makes the most of limited resources by getting everyone involved in social interaction. “I’ve encouraged our sales and client relations folks to become more active on Twitter, and have been sending them pre-written Tweets to send out sharing our content and messages,” says Ilsen. “My goal is to make it easy and natural for our people to use social media tools as part of their everyday roles, and to gain value from that. LinkedIn will be next.”

Encouraging everyone to spend time on social can be a challenge — especially with a small staff that has plenty to keep them busy — but Ilsen has had support from management and seen some pick-up on the program. “I haven’t been doing quite enough proactive engagement yet to show any significant results, but I expect to have something by Q3.”

[Image credit: Martin Fisch]