First, there were donor databases, which we later learned to call CRM. Then came websites. Then came social media. It’s only because they arrived at different times that we have separate activities, budgets and systems for them. Those days are coming to an end — and the convergence of Web, CRM and social are now under way.
When the popular social-media sites became established — and we're still only a few years into it — most nonprofits got started by creating a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and possibly a YouTube channel. And they started posting — news, links to campaigns, etc. — often more in hope than anticipation that someone was listening and something would come of it. That’s where many people still are. It soon became apparent that despite the excitement around it all, the social-media websites would not in themselves open up the floodgates to a new stream of income, and it was a channel like any other, albeit with huge potential for reaching a far wider audience.
But since then, as the online social tools themselves have improved and some of the initial excitement has dissipated, the role of social media in nonprofits is becoming clearer. While outbound posts and tweets remain important, there are new opportunities in the social world for a deeper engagement with your supporters.
When all you had was a donor database, the only way you could communicate was by sending out mailings — one-way communication. And the donor-services team dealt with the inbound — donations, complaints and the like. What social-media sites make possible nowadays is for there to be conversations. Not just conversations between the nonprofit and the donor, but conversations between donors, and from the donor to his or her circle of friends about your nonprofit.
With a socially enabled website and CRM solution, you can initiate, respond to and listen in on those conversations. And your donors can gossip their love for your cause to their friends and followers. That is partly made possible by the deep integration capabilities offered by the recently released Facebook Open Graph. This allows the latest website-CRM solutions such as iMIS to associate donors’ Facebook profiles — with their permission — to their constituent records in your database. That means they have granted you access to their social networks.
Furthermore, the Open Graph — which is a kind of gateway to Facebook for websites — also allows you to create apps that let the donors share what they are doing for your cause. For example, if you allow volunteers to sign up on your website, they can automatically share their volunteering activities on their Facebook pages — which of course spreads the news to their friends. If they reach a certain level of support they can post “gold supporter” status to their pages — or whatever you want.
So, to leverage the power of the social Web and get beyond a few hopeful tweets, you need to consider Web, CRM and social as one. As blogger Seth Godin says: “How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts in our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable.”