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Social Media: Useful Tool, but Credible Source?

A new survey has found a sharp distinction between the degree to which donors trust social media for credible guidance about nonprofits, and the extent to which they use social media to share their advocacy for causes with their peers.  According to the 2010 Fenton Forecast: Leadership and Effectiveness Among Nonprofits:

When asked which sources of information they deem the most credible, respondents ranked traditional news outlets the highest.  Social media sites like Facebook ranked near the bottom for credibility.  This held true with both younger and older audiences.  Yet when asked how they themselves choose to share their opinions on the causes they care about, respondents ranked Facebook as their number one method

Commenting on the challenges these findings suggest for nonprofits, Fenton Communications’ chief strategy officer Lisa Witter explained that effective organizations understand how social media must be integrated within the overall communications and development framework:

“A growing number of nonprofits have begun to catch on that social media is not an ‘add-on’ but  a necessary evolution to attract the next generation of donors and activists — not to mention a dynamic tool for promoting their causes and sharing their brand.”

The survey report contained a strong reality check for nonprofit fundraisers. The trend of lower donations from the past two years is forecast to continue, as some two-thirds of respondents indicated they will cut back on giving or stay at the same level. More than half those respondents say the cut will be 25% or more. One statistic that should give nonprofits pause is that Americans age 50 or older, who are traditionally seen as a reliable base of contributors, plan to cut their donations most.

An encouraging finding, in these times of public distrust of many establishments, is an 80% approval rating for most of the nonprofit sector. The survey participants, 1,000 adults, aged 18 and older who had donated $20 or more to a non-profit organization in the past year, reported the top criterion for their approval was the way a nonprofit managed its funds. The extent to which an organization could demonstrate it fulfilled its mission, and provide factual information about its cause, factored into a rating of most effective nonprofits. Among the 10 organizations receiving highest ratings from a list of 50 presented to survey participants were the American Diabetes Association, Special Olympics, Susan G. Komen Foundation and ASPCA. Further information on the survey and its recommendations is contained in the report.

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