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.

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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.