Social Media for Nonprofits: A Workshop that Needed to Happen

by francine Hardaway on October 10, 2007

As part of a contract with SLHI, I decided to try offering a workshop for nonprofits this morning. Jon Ford, with whom I work most closely at the Foundation, has been engaged in an effort to build community through web tools. This was one of the ideas we came up with to preach the gospel.

We were not preaching to the choir. Most nonprofits are too small to have IT departments, and have few technology resources. So when we sent the invitation out to SLHI’s mailing list, we filled up a 30-person room in a day. If we knew how to set up a waiting list on Eventbrite, we would have done so. I think there’s at least another room full of people who would want to come to learn about all the free tools now available.

I started off simply defining social media, because most of them hadn’t heard the term before. I told them it was a means to carry on a conversation that built a community. I was going to use a bunch of examples I had gathered from the web, but then I decided to start by talking about how social media impacted my own life: how I got my first inkling when I found Widownet, which has been online serving the bereaved since 1995. My husband died, leaving me grieving and sleepless, in 1997, and I weathered many nights because of Widownet.

Then I told them about my Yahoo Group, which I started in 1997 to help my friends deal with their technology problems, because I was working at Intel at the time. It now has become a broader group to which I send one email a week just to keep in touch. It has grown to almost 2000 subscribers, most of whom do not yet read blogs.

So I send the same content that I post to the blog, only I post to the blog more than once a week, so they get a taste, but not the entire thing.

From that introduction to show how the tools could be used in business, I guided them through free social networks public and private (Facebook and Ning), showing how those were used by nonprofits. Then we went through‘s platform for nonprofits, which I think is going to launch something new next week that Heather probably doesn’t want me to talk about :-)

Then we spent the rest of the time helping each other figure out which tools were right for which agencies. In the process John showed them Zoho, the online suite of tools that can replace Microsoft for people who have better things to pay for than software licenses.

Everyone loved it! They wanted more.

And there’s definitely more to do: we didn’t get to wikis, widgets, RSS, YouTube, podcasts…

But I think the big takeaway from the morning was that you can be free of licenses, support, and that web designer who built your site and went out of business — if you are willing to learn some free, new tools.

When I first saw social media, I knew it would be great for nonprofits. Now I hope some of them know it, too.

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