2011 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report

NTEN, Common Knowledge, and Blackbaud just recently released their third annual 2011 Nonprofit Social Networking Benchmark Report. Their report provides insights for nonprofits, foundations, media and nonprofit- focused businesses about the most important behavior and trends surrounding social networking as part of nonprofits’ marketing, communications, fundraising, program and IT services.

Who Participated
Respondents included 11,196 nonprofit professionals representing small, medium, and large organizations and all nonprofit segments including: Arts & Culture, Education (Higher and K-12), Environment & Animal Welfare, Health & Healthcare, Human Services, Internal, Professional Associations, Public Benefit, and others. Between January 24, 2011 and February 10, 2011, these nonprofit professionals responded to a survey about their organizations’ use of online social networks.

Two groups of questions were posed to survey participants:
1. Tells us about your use of commercial social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and others.
2. Tell us about your work building and using social networks on your own websites, called house social networks.

Top 10 Survey Results

From the commercial social networking world (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube)

1. Facebook is King and Extending Its Lead – Slowly
Facebook, the consumer-focused social networking platform, is the most popular commercial social network for nonprofits and continues to grow, albeit slowly. Nine out of 10 nonprofits (89%) report having a presence on Facebook in 2011. In the last three years Facebook usage has grown from 74% to 89%, with the largest chunk of this adoption occurring between 2009 and 2010 – a 16% jump from 2009 to 2010, and just 3% from 2010 to 2011.By comparison, Twitter, the professional micro-blogging community, looks to have leveled off among nonprofits with usage levels reported at 57% in 2011, down slightly from 2010 (60%).LinkedIn, the online professional social networking community is used by 1 in 3 nonprofits (30%) in 2011, representing a steady-state – no real change from the 33% usage levels reported in both 2010 and 2009.MySpace, variably claimed as the future of social music distribution and consumer-based social networking more generally, is dying on the vine with an all-time low in 2011 of just 7% of nonprofits indicating they maintain a presence here, a -50% drop from 2010 (14% of nonprofits were on MySpace) and a veritable plunge from 2009 when 6% reported a presence on MySpace.

2. Commercial Social Networks Keep Getting Bigger
Apparently nonprofit efforts to attract more supporters on social networks are working. The Facebook average member community size is up 161% in 2011 to 6,376 members compared to 2,440 and 5,391 respectively in 2010 and 2009. The average Twitter follower base is up just 2% in 2011 to 1,822 followers (from 2010’s 1,792 followers) and up a massive 535% from 2009 levels (287 followers). LinkedIn, while not as large overall compared to Facebook managed to quietly creep up to near Twitter levels with an average of 1,196 members in 2011 compared to past years – just 450 in 2010 and 291 members in 2009.

3. Low-Level Fundraising on Facebook Increased
Fundraising on Facebook is growing but it’s still a minority effort. The number of groups successfully generating a small fundraising revenue stream ($1 to $10K annually) has risen each year from 38% in 2009 to 46% in 2011. The number of organizations raising $100,000 or more per year on social networks doubled this year from 0.2% to 0.4%, but obviously this still represents a critically thin slice of the sector.

4. Nonprofits Still Agree – CSNs are Valuable
Nonprofit industry sentiment toward social networks remains very positive with 4 out of 5 (82%) nonprofits indicating that they find their commercial social networking (CSN) efforts valuable (i.e. the combination of respondents who answered with “very valuable” or “somewhat valuable” when asked about the value of their CSNs). The same question in 2009 and 2010 saw 79% and 81% of nonprofits respectively found their CSNs valuable. It looks like nonprofits got hooked early and are still enamored with the idea of doing business on commercial social networks.

5. A Few Newcomers Hit the Scene
The newbie, place-based social networking platform FourSquare appeared in our survey results in a substantive way for the first time in 2011 with 4% of nonprofits saying they have a presence here.Newcomer Jumo (founded in February 2010 by Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook) claims a thin slice of less than 1% of charities, along with other narrowly adopted (and not so new) outlets such as Vimeo (video sharing), Yelp (local search and review), Picassa (photo sharing), Ning ( build your own community) and Delicious (social bookmarking) all of which individually accounted for less than 1% of responses each.First-time mentions this year also include the donor-empowered peer-to-peer giving sites CrowdRise, FirstGiving, Razoo and Causes. All were reported as being used by nonprofits but by less 1% of respondents each.Facebook made efforts to supplant all of these companies with the release of new product features in 2010 and 2011. It will be interesting to see if these smaller players are able to carve out a firm hold in the market despite Facebook’s best efforts.

6. Surprise Result: Master Social Fundraisers Come in all Sizes
It turns out that nonprofits of all sizes are able to scale their fundraising efforts on commercial social networks. We identified a subset (27 organizations) of “Master Social Fundraisers” from amongst the survey respondents. Master Social Fundraisers are nonprofits that raised more than $100,000 on Facebook over the last year. Fascinatingly, the first characteristic that jumped out reversed many of our conclusions regarding organization size: 30% of the Master Fundraisers were Small organizations ($1 to $5MM annual budget) and 8% were Medium-sized ($6MM to $50MM).

Table 1.1:  Master Fundraisers – the size of organizations raising more than $100K on Facebook

The average Facebook following of a Master Social Fundraiser is nearly 100,000 (99,911) members—more than fifteen times the general average. This number demonstrates that a prerequisite for raising big dollars via social networks is a big community. Viral or word-of-mouth-marketing within online social networks may reduce the cost of building a community, but nonprofits still need a large base of supporters to bring in substantial fundraising revenue. Staffing is important as well – 30% of Master Fundraisers dedicate 2+ staff to managing and fundraising on their social networking presence, compared to just 2% for the industry. The conclusion is that resourcing matters a lot to get the job done if you want to fundraise successfully on social networks like Facebook, and it doesn’t matter how large or small your nonprofit. If you manage to dedicate the budget and staff to the task even a small charity can raise $100,000 or more on Facebook.

7. Environmental/Animal Welfare and International Services Groups Outperform the Sector
We sliced the survey results along nonprofit verticals and identified the top performers. Environmental/Animal Welfare groups recorded the highest average community size on Facebook with 8,490 members compared to the overall industry average of 6,376 members. International Service organizations reported the highest use of Facebook with 97% of these groups reporting a presence here, and nearly double the number of Twitter base with 7,360 followers compared to second place Environmental/Animal Welfare group average of 4,182 followers and an industry average of 1,822 followers. Public and Societal Benefit charities report the highest average LinkedIn base with 5,544 members, more than three times greater than the nearest peer sector – Higher Education with 1,591 LinkedIn members.

Moving on to the house social networking world, we round out our Top Ten results from the 2011 nonprofit social networking survey.

8. Average Community Size is Up (Again) for HSN’s
Just like commercial social networks, the community size of nonprofit house social networks (HSNs) is on the rise with an average of 5,967 members in 2011 compared to 3,520 in 2010, a 70% increase year-over-year. Organization size looks to have a direct bearing on community size for house networks with Small ($0 to $5MM annual budget) organizations claiming an average base of 4,473 members, while Large ($51MM to $250MM) and Very Large ($250MM+) report average community sizes of 15,717 and 18,528 members respectively.

9. Program & Service Delivery Creeps into #1 Spot
Over half (55%) of nonprofits who have a house social network report that the role of their community is for Program and Service delivery, eclipsing Marketing (49%) for the first time as the primary purpose for charity house networks. This mirrors our anecdotal experience over the last year as we talked with increasing numbers of nonprofits looking to use their house networks for delivery of health (e.g. stop smoking), education (e.g. electronic delivery of business education curricula), advocacy (e.g. stop climate change) or best practice innovation (e.g. animal welfare shelter improvements). Layering on or weaving mission into socially-enabled online communities helps to differentiate them from Facebook; finally answering the question, “Why would my supporters register and use my house network if they are already on Facebook?

10. Business-focused Departments Still Running the Social Networking Show
Unlike many of the recent technology waves (e.g. web sites, email, mobile) social networking projects (and communities) are typically managed by the business-oriented departments instead of IT. Even the more technologically intensive house social networks are owned by Communications (17%), Marketing (13%), Fundraising (13%), Programs (12%), Executive Management (10%) and cross-departmental (owned by multiple departments equally) (11%). IT owns house social networking projects for 9% of organizations. It seems that the department that most directly benefits from the social networking program owns the effort, and IT mostly assists.


Click the link to download the entire 2011 NPO Social Networking Benchmark Report


About NTEN, Common Knowledge and Blackbaud
NTEN is the membership organization of nonprofit professionals who put technology to use for their causes.

Common Knowledge, an Internet consulting agency, founded in 2002, provides online fundraising and marketing services to nonprofits and higher education.

Blackbaud is the leading global provider of software and services designed specifically for nonprofit organizations, enabling them to improve operational efficiency, build strong relationships, and raise more money to support their missions.


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