Nonprofits, Social Media, and ROI

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Philanthropy411, is currently covering the Council on Foundations conference with the help of a blog team.  This is a guest post by Beth Kanter, author of The Networked Nonprofit and co-founder and partner of Zoetica.

by Beth Kanter

I participated on a panel called Face, Tweet, Link – Social Media, Grantmaking & A True Social ROI. Laura Elfurd, Vice President and Chief Community Investment Officer at ZeroDivide moderated a panel that included Stephen Downs, Assistant VP, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Alexandra Mitchell and Jeff Pryor from Pathfinder Solutions, and Kathy Reich, Program Officer, Organizational Effectiveness & Philanthropy, The David & Lucile Packard Foundation.

I started with an overview of the state of social media measurement and ROI in the nonprofit field, outlining some of the challenges and the needs:

* Social media measurement goes hand in hand with good practice

* Slightly more mature practice for measuring business results vs. social impact

* Social media measurement is a discipline, not a task, and it needs to be part of the organization’s culture

* There’s a big need for more training/capacity for measurement discipline and improvement of practice and sharing the stories

[View Beth’s Slideshow here:  Council on Foundations ROI Panel]

Jeff Pryor and Alexandra Mitchell from Pathfinder Solutions shared some specific case studies about how 30 nonprofits in Colorado are measuring the ROI of Social Media, specifically what they are learning from some preliminary research results. This will be very valuable information to the field.

Next, colleague Kathy Reich of the Packard Foundation, talked about their how the foundation has embraced social media as a true experiment. This started in 2008, and as Kathy notes, “We didn’t know what we would learn, or how it would change our own work and our work with grantees. The initial dollar investment was modest, as was staff time. And we are committed to trying many different approaches to help our grantees, and our own staff, understand social media and what it could do for all of us.”

Kathy shared one of those experiments, The Organizational Effective Program wiki.

They started the project using the concept of a “see-through filing cabinet, an experiment in transparency.”  They put information about their program, things they have learned and resources they like out on the wiki.   The idea was that why keep this goldmine of learning locked up?

Now they are starting to use it to engage with other grantmakers and professionals working on the organizational and network effectiveness.  They’ve started their first evaluation of the Organizational Effectiveness grantmaking program in more than a decade.  They’ve posted their research questions and research plan on the wiki.  As they start to generate findings, they will share what they learn and invite feedback and comments.  They are especially interested in knowing what how people interpret and getting actionable suggestions.  They’ll keep you posted on how it is going, so stay tuned.

As for ROI—well, they are starting to think more about it, but feel that learning and shared learning is the most valuable return on investment.   At the Packard Foundation they are very rigorous about measuring their return on investment on grantmaking strategies.   But as Kathy pointed, “The thing is, social media is not a grantmaking strategy. It’s culture change—a new way of working. So when we think about using social media, for individual grants, strategies, or our own work, we try to stay very open to trying new things.” Their key measures of success with these experiments: 1) Did anything bad happen? 2) Was it worth the time and effort we put into it?

Stephen Downs shared how Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is using social media as part of a larger strategy for becoming a “Web 2.0” philanthropy. He gave an overview of how the challenges of measuring social impact versus business results and what they have learned so far.

How are you measuring the return on investment of social media for your nonprofit or foundation?

View more presentations from Beth Kanter.

If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2010.

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