Religious Organizations Can and Do Benefit from Social Media

For every nonprofit feature of the week so far, I’ve discussed how each local nonprofit uses traditional, well-known social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Google+ to create awareness and further their mission. However, not every local nonprofit relies on traditional methods.

Crossroads Church is a church plant part of the Acts 29 Network. It started as a group of people in a picnic shelter and has grown to house more than 160 people per week in a small building in Westover. According to Pastor Chris Priestly, Crossroads Church exists to, “spread a passion for Jesus Christ for the joy of all people within the city and extending to all nations.” The church wants to see people meet Jesus, join others who love Jesus, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, and get involved in Jesus’ mission for God’s glory and the good of our city and world.

So how do they attempt to accomplish this mission? Crossroads does this in several ways.

Facebook. The organization uses a traditional Facebook page. It appears they update the page frequently and always with new information or reminders to help keep the interest. In addition to information about the organization, the pastor in addition to the person running the Facebook page posts quite a bit of supplemental material concerning the mission of the church. This also helps engage readers. The page currently has 378 likes.

Twitter. The church is primarily made up of younger people between the ages of 18 and 27. Therefore, they use Twitter to help “market” to that demographic. The Twitter page seems to be updated less frequently than Facebook. For example, the church last tweeted on November 2nd. It would probably be beneficial to the organization to tweet more often. I also think it would help to apply some of the concepts they use on Facebook. They should provide links and suggestions to supplemental material as well as regular updates on the happenings in the organization.

The City. The thing that makes Crossroads Church unique is the fact they use their own social media site to communicate with one another and meet needs of the church and of each other. The City is a web-based software used to help connect people into the community, build deeper relationships, mobilize service and mission, and proclaim the Gospel. Originally created by Mars Hill, the social media service is slowly catching on through Acts 29 network church plants everywhere. The City recently also launched an app for smartphones making it even easier for members to communicate. I recently sat down with Crossroads Pastor Chris Priestly to talk about what The City means to Crossroads Church.

Religious Organizations & Non-profits Share Overlapping Social Media Practices

My name is Samantha Cart, and I am privileged to guest post on Whitney’s blog this week. Whitney and I are both in the Masters of Journalism program at West Virginia University, as well as an Interactive Media & Blogging class. 

Religious organizations and non-profits often times work closely together and sometimes they are even one in the same.  For example, a church building might be used to host traditional services on Sunday but be home to a local non-profit food bank or clothing pantry throughout the rest of the week.

While researching the social media habits of religious organizations and comparing my results to Whitney’s, we found that because of their close ties and symbiotic relationship, religious organizations and non-profits have incredibly similar social media practices, problems and approaches.

As I have discussed repeatedly on my personal blog, religious organizations are steeped in tradition and rich in history, and sometimes tradition can get in the way of innovation and change.  And because religious organizations are often financial backers or a source of volunteers and employees for non-profits, these customs can potentially effect the non-profits’ social media effectiveness as well.

As part of my original research project, I surveyed 40 religious organizations in the Morgantown area to determine their overall social media usage, as well as how often and ultimately why they use social media.

Of the 35 organizations that responded to my survey, 85 percent use social media, which is consistent with national trends.

Facebook is the most common social media network for religious organizations, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that several organizations are using multiple platforms.

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Just like with Whitney’s non-profit survey, Facebook had the overwhelming majority.  On this question you could choose more than one, so some organizations are actually using multiple platforms.

The responses suggested that Facebook is the most popular medium because it was the site with which the most congregation members were familiar.  While I suspect there is a correlation between this and the average age of the congregation— that is only speculation.

Many responders also said that Facebook best served their needs in creating event pages and gaging attendance.

An interesting commonality that Whitney and I found between our research was that while religious organizations and non-profits alike have designated people to update and manage their social media accounts, this is not its own unique position nor is it a paid endeavor.  This responsibility is usually given to the person within the congregation or office with the most social media savvy.

In the interest of time and resources, I was not able to look into this trend further, but future research could certainly explore the creation of a social media position, which is becoming an increasingly popular development in the business world.

On a personal level and as someone of faith who is interested in new ideas for outreach, the most important aspect of this research was to survey the organizations on their primary reason for using social media.

I am looking at the results of the survey I conducted through the theoretical lens of the social media marketing theory.  In other words, I believe that a church can function as a business in terms of marketing.

This theory says that for years marketing consisted of talking at your audience with mediums such as brochures, commercials and advertisements.  However, social media allows businesses to talk with their customers, and that conversation is valuable in creating products and attracting and engaging new audiences.

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Because the survey suggested that Facebook is the most used site due to its widespread audience, I was not surprised to find that the main reason churches use social media is to keep the congregation connected and updated on church activities.  However, it is the outreach bar that I am most concerned with, because I truly feel that if the social media marketing theory were applied to religious organizations, they could flourish in terms of membership (and in turn, financially).

I think this concept has been demonstrated by non-profits to some degree.  Over the past four months, Whitney has blogged about how social media helps non-profits recruit volunteers, raise money, advertise special events and encourage donations (whether they be physical or monetary).

With the similarities driving non-profits and religious organizations, social media has found a place in their day to day operations.  With the creation of specific social media positions, as well as an openness to expanding its use and embracing multiple platforms— non-profits and churches have the potential to use social media to drive engagement.

Perhaps the most uplifting parts of this research were the responses to the question, “Have any positive outcomes resulted from you organizations’ use of social media?”

Answers ranged from “new contacts and improved communication” to “many of the younger members of our congregation stay more in tune with what is happening at our church” to “greater donations from visitors to the site from outside the immediate constituency.”

In contrast, I also asked how the organizations thought they could improve their social media use.

The few responses (and the lack thereof) prove that this will be the biggest road block to these institutions reaching their full social media potential.

Finding Volunteers

Volunteers are crucial to any nonprofit organization, and while nearly 65 million Americans volunteer annually, many organizations are always looking for volunteers. So how can your organization recruit more volunteers?

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When I served as a baton twirling ambassador in Trujillo, Peru in 2007, they utilized our group of eight twirlers to help feed the homeless. This was one of a few service projects we got to experience while we were there. Even though we were not local people, they used the event we went there for, the coming of spring festival, to gain more volunteers and provide more services to their community. They capitalized on the opportunity to gain more volunteers.

Use the resources already available to your organization.  Email the volunteers you already have. Encourage them to give more time when they can, and also encourage them to recruit their friends and family to help with certain events. The United Way says the best way to engage people via email is to create an interesting subject line.

Special Events. Special events are a great way to share your mission with other people. Sometimes simply making the community aware of your organization, and educating them on what services your organization provides can inspire them to become a volunteer or a donor. Special events are a great way to raise special funds and promote your cause.

Local Businesses. Volunteering isn’t always about money. A lot of businesses have services and products they can donate to local nonprofit organizations. Something as simple as styrofoam cups or plates can be useful to an organization for a service they provide. Many businesses and nonprofits alike don’t think about this, but something so simple can have a huge impact and save the organization from spending precious operational funds on basic needs to complete their services. In turn, the business gets recognized as donor which puts the business name out in the community as an organization that seeks to give back to the community in which it thrives.

Use Local People. Depending on where your nonprofit is located depends on the demographic of your volunteers. In a college town like Morgantown, there are over 30,000 college students with the capability to volunteer. Your organization should market to everyone and anyone who can make a difference regardless of age. If you really sell and promote your organization, people with a passion for the cause will step up to the plate.

Use Technology. Many organizations use volunteers within the community, and it’s important not to overlook volunteers within the community, however, your volunteers don’t always have to be physically present. Virtual volunteers are a growing trend, especially with the expansion of technology. When managed properly, virtual volunteers can be very effective. Many virtual volunteers help run social media platforms, answer emails, and write grants. Virtual volunteering allows those people with time constraints who want to volunteer to still be a part of the organization when it’s convenient for them. They can still work volunteering into their day even if it’s midnight or five in the morning.

If you’re looking for volunteers, it’s important to remember that volunteers aren’t always the same. There are a variety of ways people can volunteer, and no one volunteer is more important than the other.

3 Reasons Your Small Business Should Give Back

Many people think of volunteering as an individual act, but many businesses can make a difference in the nonprofit world as well. The majority of businesses in the United States are small businesses; these businesses employ over 50 percent of the nation’s workers. Smaller businesses may not be able to donate large sums of money, but they can make a substantial impact over time.

So why should your small business give back to the community?

Good Publicity. In the world of social media that we currently live, a story on a small company or business giving back and making a difference can go viral. Even if it doesn’t go viral, it will be seen and shed a positive light on the organization. Aside from the company’s website and social media platforms, many news organizations will find the story news worthy and run it on the local news, in the paper, or on their website and own social media platforms. This exposure will only enhance your company’s reputation.

Building Relationships. Volunteering can be key to building relationships that may benefit you later on. Whether it’s continuing to partner with a nonprofit for frequent exposure and publicity, or meeting someone at the organization who will bring your small business more business, every interaction can be important.

Giving Back Provides Your Company with More Experience. Even if you just donate time or a service that your company performs every day, volunteering provides your business with a new experience that will help later on. The opportunity to work with new people and organizations can teach you new skills and expand your knowledge in some way that your company could find useful later on. Additionally, this can influence and develops your employees’ skills.

Your business may not lose anything but not volunteering, but the business and your employees can gain a lot by taking the extra step to volunteer. Experts say volunteering increases employees’ skills by four percent, and boosts morality. Additionally, companies that engaged in corporate social responsibility show a 10 year return on equity that was ten percent higher than their competitors.

3 Things Volunteer Administrators Should Keep In Mind

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The heart and soul of almost every nonprofit organization is the volunteers. Knowing how to manage your volunteers effectively can determine the success of your organization.

Whether a big market or a small market, every volunteer manager can feel overwhelmed at times. There may be too many volunteers or a lack of volunteers. There may be too much responsibility for one person, or too many jobs for one person and not enough time to finish the jobs. Whatever the issue, volunteer administrators are motivated by their various missions to provide services and to help others.

Volunteer management is all about the most effective and efficient use of resources in order to achieve the organization’s goals and mission.There are some ways volunteer administrators can decrease the feeling of being overwhelmed, and increase productivity and efficiency.

One of the most important things administrators should keep in mind is time management. That seems like common sense, but many managers overlook it when things get overwhelming. Simple tasks like checking email, project status updates, and organization social media can wait. People often waste the most time from switching from task to task. Thus “mini-tasking” opposed to “multi-tasking” may be the better option. Research suggests it’s more time efficient to stick with one task until it’s completed then move onto the next.

Volunteers aren’t a Burden. Volunteers are actually a means of getting things accomplished. Each volunteer brings something new to the table with wide varieties of knowledge and experience. Volunteers can actually help the organization achieve more in a shorter amount of time if they are allowed. Volunteers allow the organization to do extra things, but only if the organization and administration is willing to see them as an asset at all times, rather than as a hindrance in overwhelming times.

Success starts with the administrator. Volunteer administrators are a key role for nonprofits. If they are burnt out or unmotivated, the volunteers will be too. Many nonprofit experts suggest administrators take frequent breaks and share their responsibility with volunteers. If there’s a job a volunteer can do, filter the responsibility down to help accomplish everything that needs to be done. The administrators must have the right attitude, if the volunteers are expected to have the right attitude.

These three simple, common sense steps can help nonprofit organizations improve morale and efficiency. Taking a short break, sharing responsibility, and a good attitude can increase the overall performance of your organization.

Why Is Volunteerism Among College Students Declining?

Monday I posted about a college student volunteer-based nonprofit organization. This is one several that exist here at West Virginia University. This would make you think that college student volunteerism is on the rise. However, that’s not the case. The most recent volunteering information released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that volunteering slightly declined from 2011 to 2012. The rate declined by 0.3 percent. This number may seem small, but is this the start of a trend?

Nearly 64.5 million Americans volunteered for some organization at least once last year, but that number is slowly going down. Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that people may only volunteer just once a year, which many would argue is not enough to make an impact.

Surprisingly, the least likely people to volunteer are between the ages of 16 and 29 years of age. College students are always talking about how volunteering can boost there resume, so why aren’t they taking advantage? There are less service-oriented major requirements in colleges today which results in a decline in the number of college students who volunteer reflecting an overall decline in volunteerism nationally. In 2010, only about 26 percent of  U.S. college students volunteered.

So what’s the reason for this decline? Is it a generation thing? Is it that we’re too caught up in our own busy lives to care about others?

  • Not Enough Money to Donate. Many people, especially young people are afraid to volunteer for a nonprofit because they can’t afford to donate a lot of money. They fail to realize that often times organizations need much more than money. They need time, effort, and services that many people have to offer, but don’t think is useful. The task could be something as simple as stuffing envelopes or answering phones, but it makes a difference for an organization and requires no money. Volunteering doesn’t necessarily mean donating.
  • Lack of Time. With a rise in tuition, many students are forced to spend their extra time getting jobs to pay for college and daily life expenses. This is time they could spend volunteering otherwise. Older adults also worry about time constraints because of their families. Many people, especially those with small children, feel as though they cannot devote an adequate amount of time to an organization.
  • There’s no incentive. There shouldn’t have to be an incentive to want to help others, but it certainly helps. Make sure your volunteer is passionate about your organization. Offer something for your volunteer, even if it’s just a good recommendation letter. Allow them to gain experience by including them in decision making and giving them more to do than merely stuffing envelopes or taking out the trash.

Locally, we have over 400 nonprofits right here in Morgantown. West Virginia University provides ample opportunity for all college students to get involved. WVU has an entire program based on volunteering. The website showcases a variety of diverse opportunities available to help students get involved with local nonprofit organizations as well as national ones. Volunteering once may not seem like enough to matter, but every minute of time and effort helps a small organization.

Nonprofit Feature of the Week: E4p Morgantown

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E4p aids not only locally but internationally in parts of Africa. The organization seeks to make sustainable communities.

E4p Inc. is a unique nonprofit organization that seeks to provide organizations and individuals with the opportunity to invest resources into sustainable local and global initiatives focused on educational resources, economic value, environmental sustainability, and energy independence for the purpose of aiding widows and vulnerable children to eliminate poverty by building sustainable communities.

E4p has a few project partners, and E4p Morgantown is one of them. E4p and its project partners create long-term strategies and collaborate to eradicate poverty. Each E4p chapter has a local and an international project partner. Morgantown’s international project partner is the People Development Fund Africa with projects in Blantyre, Malawi. Their local partner is the Bartlett House which is committed to providing shelter that meets a persons’ basic needs in an atmosphere where people are treated with dignity and respect.

E4p Morgantown president, Michelle Corder, recently sat down with me to discuss what E4p Morgantown is doing to spread the mission of sustainability and make a difference.

E4p Morgantown recognizes the importance of social media to their mission. The organization has a wordpress site complete with a blog, a Twitter page, and the parent organization has a Facebook page, they update these pages regularly with new content. This helps keeps the audience engaged and interested in the organization.

Next the organization will be passing out pamphlets on Worlds Aids Day on December 1st, 2013. Any volunteers who want to assist are welcome to come. After Thanksgiving Break, the organization plans to go to the Wow Factory and each person will decorate a bowl to donate to the Empty Bowls Monongalia organization. Anyone is welcome to join in on these projects.

Are Special Events Worth It?

On Friday, I talked about the Morgantown Magical Night of Giving held at the Morgantown Mall. This is an example of a special fundraising event. But, are special events a good idea when it comes to fundraising for nonprofit organizations?

Many people, other than those who work in fundraising, fail to realize that big fundraiser events are not primarily where an organization’s money comes from. Many nonprofit organizations rely on fundraising very little compared to how much they rely on annual giving by faithful donors for operational costs.

Many large, well-known nonprofit organizations do really well with special events, but for smaller, local nonprofits, special events can sometimes be a struggle. So if these fundraising events don’t help the organization significantly overall why do organizations continue to host them?

  • Fundraising events in the community really help connect the members of the community with Nonprofit organizations, the mission of those organizations, and often the people the organizations help.
  • Special events can also be used to generate funds for one specific project your organization is undertaking. Many organizations need all the operational funds they receive from donors. Special events are a great way to add something more or specific to your organization. However, to get a good fundraising event, you must have the funds to invest in the event to make the event good.

Why should we as a community participate?

The community should participate in special events that they’re passionate about. You don’t need to participate in every special event fundraiser, but you should make it a point to participate in those that interest you. Participating in special events helps those in need know that the community wants to help them and considers them part of the community. It also helps our local nonprofit organizations provide more specialized services to those in need. Morgantown has a variety of special event fundraiser opportunities for community members to participate in. Each event is diverse and helps target every demographic of the population. Some annual special event fundraisers include the Morgantown Mall Magical Night of Giving, the Betty Puskar Breast Cancer Fashion Show, and the Ronald McDonald Murder Mystery Dinner. Several other special event fundraisers are held throughout the year and are locally advertised.

Remember, nonprofit organizations aren’t just trying to get your money. They turn your money into a service that meets a community need. Fundraising is more than giving money. Donating is giving back to the community. With that in mind, individuals aren’t the only ones who can give of their time, money, and effort. Many businesses often fail to realize they can donate effectively as a business. It’s something worth considering.

‘Tis the Season: Holiday Fundraisers

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The holiday tree in New York City is one of the most recognizable symbols of the holiday season. Statistics show that nonprofits get the majority of donations and funding during the holidays.

Well that magical time of the year is upon us. Trick-or-treat is over, and shopping malls and retail stores are bypassing Halloween and heading straight for Christmas.  This time of year is also statistically when people give the most. In fact,  donors give 52 percent more in the month of December than any other month, and 33 percent of all donations are made in the month of December. And many nonprofits rely on special events during the holiday season to raise funds.

Let’s take an in-depth look at one Morgantown holiday fundraiser, and how they make it a successful experience for everyone in the community.

Keep it Seasonal.

Every year, the Morgantown Mall hosts the “Magical Night of Giving,” which is a holiday fund-raising event involving several nonprofit organizations from the Morgantown community. This year, over 30 nonprofit organizations are participating. The event encourages shoppers to start their Christmas shopping by providing a discount to those who participate. Participants can purchase a five-dollar ticket from the nonprofit organization of their choice.  The donor then receives a stamp signifying them as a Magical Night VIP entitling them to exclusive savings offered by mall merchants and enters them for prize giveaways.

Remember, it’s not all about the money.

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Special event fundraisers such as the Morgantown Mall’s Magical Night of Giving help build awareness and connection with the local community.

More donations and more supporters are just a plus to holiday fundraising. Promotion, awareness, and education about your organization and the mission it supports happens during these special events. Creating awareness can lead to more potential donors and volunteers. Morgantown Mall Marketing Director Sarah Shaffer says the event not only benefits nonprofit organizations, but the community as a whole.

“Morgantown Mall has been a part of this community for over two decades,” explained Shaffer. “We are a part of this community and hope to be for a long time. The event brings the local community together to support the area’s nonprofit organizations, and it gives those organizations a platform to spread the word about their cause.”

Connect your event to your local community—People want to know they’re helping a real person.

One unique thing about the Morgantown Mall Magical Night of giving is that 100 percent of the profit raised through ticket sales goes to local nonprofit and charitable groups. Many holiday campaigns are national campaigns such as the salvation army red kettle fundraiser and the operation Christmas child shoebox project. This Magical Night of Giving event benefits our community locally.

“Nonprofit organizations are essential to the community,” said Shaffer. They offer specific programs, services, and information that wouldn’t be readily available if they didn’t exist. The volunteer work and services they provide for the community are appreciated and respected by many, including us.”

This year, the Magical Night of Giving is Sunday, November 10, 2013 at the Morgantown Mall. The event lasts from 6:00pm to 9:00pm. Tickets can be purchased from participating nonprofits and at the mall office.

Nonprofit Feature of the Week: Autism Speaks U WVU

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Autism Speaks U WVU was founded two years ago by former WVU Student Kasia Bryant.

Autism Speaks U is a program from the nonprofit organization Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks founded in 2005 seeks to change the future for all of those who struggle with the autism spectrum disorders. Launched in 2008, the college version of the program, Autism Speaks U, is a program designed to support college students in their awareness, advocacy, and fundraising efforts for Autism Speaks.

The organization is the first of its type in Morgantown. Current Autism Speaks U WVU president Nel-Sylvia Guzman shared her perspective on what the organization brings to Morgantown.

West Virginia University recently got a chapter in 2011. Former WVU student and WVU Autism Speaks U president, Kasia Bryant founded the chapter here at WVU because she said it’s important to the community.

“There was really nothing in Morgantown that promoted autism awareness,” explained Bryant. “My hope is that this chapter is bringing an awareness for autism and if people have questions that we can be an outlet for them to ask those questions and get answer.”

As a university organization, Autism Speaks U WVU understands that social media is an important tool to get college students involved.

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Autism U Speaks WVU uses social media such as Facebook and Twitter to promote special fundraising events.

“We use social media as a way to promote events and anything happening in the world related to Autism such as facts or newsworthy information,” said Bryant. “The organization also uses social media as a way to communicate with other chapters and headquarters in New York. I do think that this chapter could do more by promoting events earlier via social media and get more people involved through social media.”

The organization is small right now, but they’re hoping to use social media and the university to grow and create more awareness for autism.