Social Media Stewardship is Essential to Your Development Program

ADRP Social Media Stewardship 6.18

Social media has become an accepted way to recognize donors, but in my experience, it has taken a few years to be taken seriously by some nonprofit organizations. While some contributors prefer to remain anonymous (always be sure to ask), others enjoy being thanked publicly on social media. Smart nonprofit organizations should review their donor lists, ask sponsors if they would like to be recognized on social media, and develop consistent online recognition plans. In fact, social media has become an integral component of nonprofit stewardship today, and nonprofits can no longer ignore its importance to building and maintaining successful donor relationships.

Dictionary.com notes stewardship is defined as: “the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving.” If you are the primary steward of donor relationships for your nonprofit, your job is of paramount importance.

While donor “kudos” should not overshadow your nonprofit’s social media postings about mission, activities, success stories and the like, they should be included in your nonprofit’s communication mix. The courtesy of a social mention can go a long way toward ensuring sponsors come back to support your nonprofit again in the future.

I have noticed social savvy corporate donors are starting to request a certain number of “tweets,” “retweets” and other kinds of platform posts as part of their grant contracts. I suspect the trend of dedicated postings will increase as companies clamor for the attention of nonprofit and “social good” audiences. And while nonprofits sometimes balk, I have found the task is far from odious. But this does require thoughtful planning, calendaring and ongoing curation. When it comes to grant follow-up reports, be sure to capture your social mentions and include those to underscore your appreciation.

There are some excellent lessons to be learned about online responsiveness and stewardship from Elizabeth Chung of Classy, “3 Social Media Strategies to Improve Donor Stewardship.” For instance, “People want speedy responses, period. According to one study, 83 percent of Twitter users and 71 percent of Facebook users expect a brand to respond to posting on the same day. Twitter users, especially, want immediate replies. More than 50 percent of Twitter users expect a brand to respond within two hours.” Don’t let your nonprofit be viewed as not paying attention or not caring, by not responding to social media postings in a timely fashion.

If you have any doubt companies are eager to link arms with nonprofit and social good causes, you might enjoy reading a study by Richard D. Waters, Ph.D. and Holly K. Ott, M.S. in the Public Relations Journal, “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Nonprofit Sector.”

“In recent decades, the concept of corporate social responsibility has gained a significant amount of attention from companies and organizations across the globe. By engaging in corporate social responsibility activities and behaviors, companies can generate favorable attitudes among publics, which can enhance reputation, credibility, and support from stakeholders. In many ways, corporate social responsibility has become an expectation among organizational leaders and stakeholders. That is, current times do not allow for companies and organizations to be in business for the sole purpose of making a profit anymore, as the amount of public good a company or organization is doing is often correlated with consumer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and the company’s overall image.”

Nicole Fallon wrote for Business News Daily, “What is Corporate Social Responsibility?” (December, 2014). The following discussion indicates how important corporate support for nonprofit causes is to acquiring talented employees:

“The next generation of employees is seeking out employers that are focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet and revenue,” Cooney told Business News Daily. “Coming out of the recession, corporate revenue has been getting stronger. Companies are encouraged to put that increased profit into programs that give back.”

Nonprofits should be alert to these considerations and think smarter about the growing importance of their work to the business world. There are many creative and genuinely helpful partnerships yet to be formed! When you prepare your grant proposal to potential corporate sponsors, for instance, outline the ways in which your organization can recognize your future partnership(s) through social media. I have found it helpful to invite them to share their own ideas about ways their support can be recognized online. Keep the door open. And keep in mind, profits from companies are sometimes funneled to private grantmaking foundations. Hence, recognizing companies on social media makes sense, as they may also be linked to other potential sources of funding. The same stewardship principles hold true for partner nonprofits and government agencies you wish to thank and cultivate.

For my colleagues who still believe social media is a waste of time (yes, you know who you are), I will share a story about how important being actively engaged online can help you with research and attracting new prospects.

I participated in a sustainability Twitter “chat” a few months ago featuring representatives of a leading American corporation. During the discussion, there was mention of the need for more STEM-savvy employees. Those participating discussed corporate efforts to support K-12 science, technology, engineering and math education, aimed at helping young people develop 21st century workplace skills.

Having raised funding for several K-12 environmental education efforts over the years, I shared a “tweet” about a particularly innovative STEM-focused nonprofit organization I thought the company might like to meet, along with the nonprofit’s Twitter handle. And I was able to connect the two online that very day! I have done the same during other online conversations, and I would urge nonprofits to seek out, participate in and host more Twitter chats and Facebook live sessions, both for the sake of sharing information about their many worthwhile missions and for “prospecting,” to attract new sponsors and partners.

Twitter and other social media platforms are marvelous research tools. Watching and reading the social media postings of prospective and current supporters is not a waste of time. In fact, be vigilant! I have learned new ways to “pitch” a nonprofit project to a potential sponsor by reading their postings. I have also supported companies during tough times, to show them my nonprofit is paying attention and continues to appreciate them. Funding interests also change, and social media will help keep you informed.

Social media stewardship is good for business and it is good for your nonprofit organization.

Need help learning how to use social media? I recommend NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. Here is a link to some resources you might find helpful.


I share below a few Twitter conversations from @CAROLYNAPPLETON with partners and prior donors to my nonprofit projects. These come from my professional profiles, and hence are focused on my work as a nonprofit fundraiser and communicator. I have also tackled the social media profiles of nonprofit organizations (managing them and in some cases, creating them from scratch), and I know first hand that donor and partner stewardship online is critically important today, thoughtfully blended with postings containing other organizational information, of course.

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Social Media Stewardship is Essential to Your Development Program was published by ADRP in the June, 2018 issue of, The Hub.

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