The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

The Permanent Disruption of Social Media

This is the title of a new article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, written by Network for Good partners Julie Dixon and Denise Keyes from the Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication. I featured their work before here on the blog, and this article – based on a nationwide research project – is also worth highlighting.

As they explain, social media has permanently disrupted our profession:

“Until recently the models that nonprofits used to find, engage, and cultivate donors, volunteers, and other supporters were reasonably straightforward. The first step was to use direct mail, phone calls, or other techniques to bring in large numbers of potential supporters at a low level of engagement. These supporters were sorted into neat groups, and the most promising people were continually moved up the pyramid or ladder and cultivated for larger and larger donations. It was an orderly and linear process. Today, the Internet and social media have permanently disrupted the traditional donor-engagement process. Online competitions, viral video campaigns, mobile giving—with each new way for organizations and donors to interact come increasingly complex entry points into the traditional models of donor engagement, greater variation in movement along the pathway to deeper engagement, and more opportunities for a person to be influenced by forces outside an organization’s control.”

Denise Keyes and Julie Dixon delve into the dilemma this creates. We can’t use social media primarily as a way to appeal for money, yet that is where many of our audiences reside. And nothing about this new world is linear!


o People tend to use social media to promote a cause they already support.
o People supplement, not replace, donating and volunteering with promoting a cause on social media. Just because someone is a so-called slacktivist, don’t take them as such. They may be doing a lot offline to support the cause.
o So the smart organizations combine online and offline engagement of donors.
o They also embrace their fans as messengers.

Enter the vortex! (Source: SSIR article)

We need a new model that is more vortex than pyramid. We need to understand donors are engaged in many different ways with us, and we need to put them at the center of our engagement rather than attempting command and control marketing and messaging. We also need to embrace the many ways that donors want to support our organization. It’s not just dollars – it’s volunteering, spreading the word and championing the cause.

For more on the research – and recommendations – check out the full article here.

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About This Blog

Connie Poulos
Senior Associate, Copywriter

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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