In this month’s Social Velocity blog interview, I’m talking with Wendy Harman. Wendy is the Director of Social Strategy at the American Red Cross. Her goal is for the Red Cross to be a social organization ready for 21st century humanitarian work. She is responsible for their national social media presence, including the listening program, social content and community engagement.
You can read past interviews in our Social Innovation Interview Series here.
Nell: The Red Cross has fully embraced social media. How specifically has it helped you get closer to achieving your mission?
Wendy: Our social engagement philosophy centers around using social tools to execute our mission. That is, moving beyond using social engagement for communications and marketing purposes and onto using these tools and our increased ability to network horizontally with huge communities for service delivery. The Red Cross has five main service areas: disaster services; international services; serviced to the Armed Forces; preparedness health and safety; and biomedical services (blood). We have probably made the most headway in operationalizing during disasters. For example, we’ve created the Digital Operations Center (funded by Dell) in order to holistically see and synthesize social conversations from disaster-affected areas. So far, we’ve found three main purposes for the center:
- We use the center to provide real-time and anticipatory situational awareness. This means we can provide all decision makers in the Red Cross disaster services, as well as many of our partners outside the organization, with real-time trends from the affected areas. We can identify gaps in service, the biggest needs, the most talked-about subjects as they relate to the disaster, and more. This helps us know what’s happening on the ground in the moment and also can help our experts anticipate service delivery that will be needed in the coming days or weeks.
- We use it to route needs. When we see an individual tweet that says, “I need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I haven’t eaten in days because of this hurricane,” we can route this information to our teams on the ground who are organizing our mobile feeding efforts.
- We provide individualized information. We have built a digital volunteer role and now have trained volunteers who can “deploy” in place and help to get information, resources, shelter locations, mobile feeding locations, real time tips, and a bit of confidence and support to people who need it. For example, during tornado warnings we often see a big increase in tweets from people hunkered down in their basements or bathtubs—and they are scared. The Red Cross has a lot of expertise on exactly what to do when you find yourself in this situation, and we’re able to provide those tips in the exact moment people need them. In addition, a big part of our mission is to provide hope and comfort in people’s worst moments, so we’re also encouraging the digital volunteers to offer that hope and comfort via digital “hugs,” or words of support.
Nell: How do you manage the ever-changing and ever-expanding social media environment? How do you determine where to spend your time and when to change your approach?
Wendy: The age of the social web has affected the role of the nonprofit sector in general and the role of the Red Cross, particularly during disasters. We are expanding from an organization that executes discrete relief activities with trained experts and volunteers, to an organization that acts as a platform to connect and mobilize people affected by disasters. We are tool agnostic; the foundation of our social engagement program centers around listening to, engaging with and acting on social conversations. This way we stay nimble in our content, and we can adapt quickly with the public.
Nell: The Red Cross is a huge nonprofit and has more resources to put behind social media. How do you suggest small nonprofits logistically work social media into their marketing mix?
Wendy: Huge doesn’t necessarily translate to big budgets for social engagement. We are lucky to have three staff members dedicated to social engagement, but we’re really trying to work our way out of our jobs. In other words, rather than having the three of us triaging thousands of conversations per day, we’d like to see social engagement become part of every Red Crossers’ workday. My more concrete advice is to do what you can do well—you don’t have to be everywhere, you just have to really be in the places where you say you will be.
Nell: In some ways your role at the Red Cross is to help an aging institution embrace change and the new realities of the world we live in. Why do you think the Red Cross has been open to change when other large and seasoned nonprofits have not?
Wendy: I think innovation and adaptation has always been baked into the DNA of the Red Cross. One of my favorite Clara Barton quotes is, “I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.” No doubt we have built up institutional walls over the years, but at the same time, we have broad recognition of the value of partnerships and collaboration, and we’re working to be sure we make openings in those walls so everyone can participate in the Red Cross network and our humanitarian mission. We’re also getting quicker at adopting new technologies, but I think the openness in our organizational culture to strive to be better is more of a key indicator about our relevancy than our adoption to a particular technology.
Nell: Some nonprofits will embrace social media if they think there is a fundraising payoff, but the Red Cross has obviously found a huge mission payoff as well. How do you explain to nonprofits that are hesitant to spend time building communities what the payoff could be and how to be patient in finding it?
Wendy: This is the million-dollar question. I think my favorite quote about this is from Socialnomics author Erik Qualmann who says, “The ROI of social media is that your business will still exist in 5 years.”
There’s a key practice in business marketing, creating buyer personas, that I think nonprofit fundraisers would be wise to adopt. It is a great fallacy of nonprofit fundraisers to think that anyone with money is a potential donor to their organization. Nothing could be further from the truth.
If you want to really succeed in bringing new donors in the door, you need to get smart and strategic about reaching the right target markets for your specific nonprofit, which is the topic of today’s post in the ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series.
Smart marketing is about reaching a specific target of people whose values intersect with your nonprofit’s unique ability to address a community need, like this:
This means that you don’t want to send your message out to everyone and anyone. Rather you want always to target a specific communication to those unique people for whom it would resonate.
In the business world, this is called creating “Buyer Personas.” And I think nonprofit fundraisers should develop “Donor Personas.”
Creating Donor Personas means organizing your donor base into groups of people based on demographics, interests, lifestyle choices, etc. Then you want to find out as much as you can about those groups in order to clone them.
So, for example, an animal shelter might have the following beginning list of Donor Personas:
- Animal Activist
These donors are 16-30 years old, highly motivated, interested in advocacy and changing laws and systems to make the world a safer place for animals.
- Pet Lover
These donors are 25-65 years old and have adopted a pet from the shelter in the past few years. They aren’t politically active, but rather are very grateful for the newest member of their family.
- Dog Devotee
These donors may have may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are fierce dog lovers. They don’t understand cats and are not interested in them.
- Cat Fanatic
Again these donors may or may not have adopted a pet from the shelter, but they are obsessed with cats and their welfare.
So how do you go about developing your Donor Personas? Start with these four steps:
- Group Current Donors
Take a look at your current donor base. Can you place people into profile groups like I did with the animal shelter above? What do some of your donors have in common? Do patterns and groupings start to emerge around a combination of demographics, lifestyle choices and/or worldviews?
- Ask Questions
Select a handful of current donors in each donor persona group and give them a call or send them an email. Tell them that you simply want to understand their motivations for giving so that you can find more like-minded people. Ask them a handful of questions like “Why do you give to us?” “Where did you hear about us?” “What do you do in your free time?” “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” Anything that will help you understand better what motivates them to give, how they make decisions, where they hang out, etc.
- Create Profiles
Armed with a deeper understanding of what makes these different groups tick, flesh out your donor personas. Give each group a descriptive name, like “Pet Lovers” above, list their various characteristics (demographics, interests, anything you know about them). Then circulate these donor persona descriptions to your staff and board. You might even want to attach a fictional picture to each persona to make it more visually captivating.
- Market to the Personas
Now that you understand your donor groups better, create different content and opportunities that resonate with these different groups. For example, you might want to engage your “Animal Activists” via social media when the city council is threatening to pull some of your shelter funding, but you might ask “Pet Lovers” to virtually adopt shelter animals with a monthly contribution. Now that you know your Donor Personas better make sure you target all of your marketing and fundraising activities accordingly.
Stop telling your story to anyone and everyone. Start figuring out what motivates those who already love you and use that information to build an army of additional supporters.
If you want to learn more about finding individual donors, download the Creating a Major Donor Campaign step-by-step guide. And if you want to move your nonprofit from fundraising to financing, check out the e-books, guides and webinars that can get you started on the Financing Not Fundraising page.
Photo Credit: Camera John
September was an amazing month in the world of social innovation. There were so many great articles and conversations that I really had a hard time narrowing down to 10 great reads. My original list was 50+.
I know we are all busy and keeping up with the chatter grows increasingly difficult, but this month provided some really thoughtful, long-form pieces that are well worth the read. I think change happens in fits and starts and this month was perhaps about taking a step back and contemplating where we’ve been and where we’re going. And I love it when writers force that kind of reflection.
Below are my top 10 picks for what was worth reading in September in the world of social innovation. But please add what I missed to the comments. And if you want to see an expanded list, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Pinterest.
You can see the 10 Great Reads lists from past months here.
Here is my pick of September’s 10 Great Reads in Social Innovation:
- In a beautiful New York Times op-ed titled When Capitalists Cared, Hedrick Smith describes a time in the first half of the last century when the American economy was a “virtuous circle of growth, [where] well-paid workers generated consumer demand that in turn promoted business expansion and hiring.” How did we move away from that?
- The Echoing Green blog showcases the many social innovations remaking Detroit, once a city on life support. This is an amazing transformation story where social innovation becomes an urban development savior. So exciting!
- I’m a huge proponent of the connection between strategy and outcomes, so I loved Arshad Merchant’s description of how Boston-based nonprofit Bottom Line dramatically improved student outcomes by taking a more strategic approach to their work.
- The Nonprofit Tech 2.0 Blog gives a great roundup of recent studies and reports about nonprofits, philanthropy and technology.
- Mashable highlights a very innovative campaign by UNICEF on social media network Pinterest. It really makes you think about social media, and nonprofit marketing in general, in a new way.
- Writing on the PhilanTopic blog, Derrick Feldman describes 8 trends and how they will affect fundraising. From crowdfunding, to one-click technologies, to Yelp and beyond he blows traditional fundraising out of the water.
- Social Innovation Fund Director Paul Carttar left his post in September, but social innovation is still very much a focus at the White House, given the White House Forum on Philanthropy Innovation.
- There was a bit of controversy in September about whether board members should be forced to raise money for their nonprofits. Kate Barr of Minnesota’s Nonprofits Assistance Fund argued that not all board members should fundraise. But a new study from the Nonprofit Research Collaborative found that nonprofits with active fundraising boards are more likely to meet their goals.
- And for those of you who struggle to recruit great board members, LinkedIn launched Board Connect, which looks amazing. Geri Stengel describes how to make it work.
- In a very thoughtful post on the Forbes blog, Tom Watson compares and connects two important September events in the world of social innovation: the Clinton Global Initiative and the Giving Pledge reaching 90+ members.
Photo Credit: x1klima
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