[<em>This article first appeared in the October issue of the N-TEN newsletter.</em>]
Only 10 years ago, social networks were built quite differently. We might pump a few hands at conferences, place a few phone calls or meet people for lunch. A labor-intensive way of expanding the little black book, to be sure, but that's the way everybody did it. Networks lived in brainspace and on slips of paper.
But a decade is a long time. Person-to-person meetings are still a great way to make connections, but networks have increasingly less to do with seeing people and more to do with outlets such as LinkedIn.
It's a critical difference for nonprofits. LinkedIn and its brethren such as Facebook let organizations have access to millions of potential donors, supporters and volunteers - LinkedIn gains one million new members every month, and that rate is increasing.
<strong>Fundraising and partnership</strong>
Fundraising and partnerships go hand-in-hand with networking. Everyone knows you start by asking the people you know for support, then ask the people they know, then the people they know, and so on. This is what LinkedIn does. It also presents a new way to find like-minded organizations for possible partnerships.
Consider that as of today, I have 30 connections. But of those, six have 100 or more additional connections each. That's more than 600 people I can know directly by asking six close friends for an introduction.
So start building your network now. Kay Luo, director of corporate communications for LinkedIn, suggests building up a network of at least 20-30 people so you can start gaining more visibility in the system.
LinkedIn is a likely place to kick-start a donation drive with your own network and also beyond. It's demographic is a wealthier one, with executives from of the Fortune 500 as members and more than 1,500 C-level business leaders. Its users have an average annual household income of nearly $140,000.
LinkedIn for Good is an initiative that started in May 2007. It lets people place "digital bumper stickers" of their favorite nonprofits on their profile pages, which are effectively Donate Now buttons.
<strong>Start a group</strong>
Any college knows the key to support is through its alumni. Start your own alumni association through LinkedIn Groups. Most nonprofits don't have anything formalized unless they're gigantic, so a free DIY approach liked LinkedIn can let your past and future supporters keep in touch. It's also a useful way to start a group fundraising initiative.
<strong>Questions and answers</strong>
Government and Nonprofit Answers makes it easy to ask for help. This feature lets you posit a question to not only to your own network, but also to the entire 15 million-strong LinkedIn community.
One individual posted a plea for participation in a charity dedicated to helping Ukrainian children with cancer. He was not only looking for money for diagnostic equipment, but also for general involvement. You can also solicit general feedback on questions such as one person who asks "Where should I begin looking for funding?" or the person looking for volunteer opportunities in Peru or the one seeking details on obtaining 501(c)(3) status.
If your nonprofit depends on involvement from younger age groups, you're more likely to reach them through a networking site than through traditional media. College students don't read traditional media now as much as they used to. They don't flip through the calendar listings for event ideas.
Michelle LeBlanc, education director for Boston's Old South Meeting House, says her organization will be looking to Facebook and LinkedIn to find participants for their annual Boston Tea Party re-enactment because of its younger demographic.
LinkedIn certainly isn't the only stop on your route to promoting your nonprofit, but since it's free and relatively easy to establish a profile, it should be one of your first. And, as LeBlanc says, "It's another way to create a buzz."
<em>Monique Cuvelier is CEO of Talance, Inc. a communications and technology company that eases nonprofits into using online courses, project management spaces and content management systems. She has also been writing professionally for 17 years and has contributed to publications such as Wired News, among many others. </em>