Social Media for Nonprofits Conference: Tips on Filling the V-Shaped Hole

Social Media for NonprofitsAll in all, the Social Media for Nonprofits Conference Series, hosted by Darian Rodriguez Heyman and Ritu Sharma, is off to a great start. In San Francisco on Wednesday, June 29th, we heard from some leading experts about dozens of practical tools and strategies for making social media a part of nonprofit management.

But to me, at least, there was a glaring omission – volunteering. There was practically no mention of how social media can be used to benefit volunteer recruitment and management, and this stands as my one big disappointment from the day.

Guy Kawasaki, Charles Porch, Susan Tenby, JD Lasica, Susan Gordon and Jonah Sachs all gave fascinating talks and shared some excellent insights and resources for being successful online, and I urge you to check out Beth Kanter’s recap for a more detailed account.

When it came time to talk about applying these strategies, Susan Gordon told us how to use Causes to engage donors, we learned from Jonah Sachs how to make a story go viral, Guy Kawasaki provided resources for linking to articles and educating an audience… and no one talked about engaging and managing volunteers.

Beth Kanter’s closing “Un-Keynote” came pretty close, asking us all how we engage with special people she’s labeled “free agents” – individuals committed to working for a cause, but not necessarily tied to one organization. This discussion focused on having clear communication before, during, and especially after a project to make sure free agents are appreciated and come back again.

It’s More Than Just a Word

This was great, but I wondered, why not just use the word “volunteer?” Clear communication and thank-you’s are certainly important when managing volunteers of any commitment level, and social media tools can be a big help with that. But the word “volunteer” did not pop up once during the Un-Keynote.

In fact, I can see the entire conference as a metaphor for the way the nonprofit sector views volunteer management in general. Even though volunteers form the backbone of support for almost every nonprofit from the Red Cross to a local group with two staffmembers, volunteer programs at organizations are often overlooked, understaffed, and treated as a “nice to have” afterthought when it comes to budget considerations.

Social media is a tool with the potential to change all this. Because even if you don’t have a big budget for volunteer management, you can run a successful social media campaign, you can get your video to go viral. Check out our most popular tweet from the day:

Social Media is an Equalizer

That’s why I was so disappointed by the lack of anything “volunteer” at the conference. There are so many ways in which social media can help with a nonprofit’s volunteer program, and any of them would have made a big difference to the local nonprofits in attendance. For example:

  • You can use social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with potential corporate partners, build relationships, and perhaps arrange pro bono projects. Just ask Microsoft, a national sponsor of the conference series and an avid tweeter on Wednesday.
  • Spread the word on social media about volunteer needs and opportunities for your supporters to get involved, using tools like the #VolunTweet hashtag and Facebook Pages.
  • You can take advantage of the authentic and honest nature of social media to thank your volunteers in special ways and recognize the impact they’re having on your nonprofit and your cause.

So I challenge the experts at the remaining Social Media for Nonprofits conferences in Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and Atlanta to address in their talks how social media can be used to support volunteer recruitment and management activities. Because the bottom line is, the more effectively nonprofits use volunteers, the better able they are to achieve their missions. And social media can play a big part in that success.

If you’re a nonprofit volunteer manager in one of the cities mentioned above, you should definitely attend the conference. Ask questions about volunteer management and social media and engage the other attendees in discussions of their use of social media in their volunteer programs. We’d love to hear about your experience, so be sure to report back!