Real ROI: The value of online community for not-for-profit organisations

What's the real value for growing your NFP online community? Julie Delaforce, Senior Community Manager & Strategist at Quiip, explains what it's all about for not-for-profit organisations.

Community is built around a shared experience or interest, this is true for both online and offline communities. Not-for-profit (NFP) and charitable organisations have strong offline communities, so it is natural that this translates to building successful online communities. But what is the REAL value of social media and online community for not-for-profit organisations? Let’s first look at the strategic objectives that have been proven to have an impact on any organisation’s bottom line, for NFPs these are:

  • Reduced marketing costs – digital marketing can be cost effective, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s free or you won’t see any rewards
  • Gathering market research and feedback – connecting directly with your clients and customers or using monitoring tools to survey existing conversations online
  • Improving customer service and reduce customer service costscost to help a client on the phone: $6-$75 vs cost to help a client online: $0.10
  • Increasing donations - increasing both the value of donations and number of givers. Online givers donate almost six times more than their offline counterparts – Australian $180 vs $31.
  • Community engagement – for those NFPs whose mission is to provide support and information, online community can be key. Success stories include ReachOut, Breast Cancer Awareness of Australia and The Cancer Council’s Cancer Connections.

The following are measures you can use that will show if your online community activity is succeeding:

  • Year-on-year spending on marketing activity, including staff and associated overheads. Effective use of digital marketing, including online community should show a decrease in these costs
  • Cost of market research or gathering of customer feedback year-on-year and impact on the organisation of ideas implemented from online community intelligence.
  • Cost to fundraise or support clients and customers – monitor for decrease in total spend year-on-year
  • Donations received– track year-on-year and measure any increase driven from online community. Look at both donations and number of donators.
  • Memberships from social networks and online community – signups to your email newsletters or other marketing communications
  • To measure community engagement online look at measures of online community health including number of active members and online activity.

So if these objectives work and have proven impact on your organisation’s bottom line, why does Wirth Consulting’s 2013 The State of Social Media Use in Australian Non Profit Organisations report that while 97% have a website, only 31% have a Facebook account and just  22% have adopted Twitter? I have two responses:

1) Social media is not online community. There has been a blurring of these terms. Community (and therefore online community) is defined as:

“A specific group of people who have developed relationships around a strong common interest.” Online community is also a long-term investment, you need to invest time and money to see the rewards. The objectives stated above are applicable for online communities and may not prove true for social media, however

2) Social media can be used effectively with these same objectives in mind. Unfortunately too many organisations often fail to invest enough to succeed. It is important to set clear objectives at the outset, invest in staff and tools and create reporting to track and measure the success of your online community and social media activity – just as you would any other marketing or organisational endeavours.

Where offline community exists, online community can be more than just complementary; it can help you to support your clients and raise much-needed funds to continue to offer support to your community. Quiip can help to build and grow an online community to support your organisation.

About Julie Delaforce

Guest author, Julie Delaforce is the Senior Community Manager & Strategist at Quiip - Australia's leading online community specialists.

Quiip is the sponsor for the Digital Media Stream at the Connecting Up Conference 2014 (#14CU). To find out more about the Digital Media Stream, visit the #14CU conference program page.