Are Nonprofit Online Communities Different?

By Lissy Lantz  @gladtobelantz

I will confess upfront that my interest has always been in the nonprofit world. (Please don’t tell any of my MBA cohorts.)

So with the class discussion this week about online communities, I started thinking about whether nonprofit and for profit organizations have different types of community.  Four key roles for community managers are facilitator, content creator, evangelist, and change agent. This seems to be the case for both types of organizations. So can the community outcome be different?

I asked another MBA student, Alexandra Velasco, who was a social media manager for a nonprofit animal shelter in Ecuador.  Her immediate response was YES!!  She quickly followed by saying that the community members she worked with were passionate, both in a positive and negative way.  They often had posts saying, “Thank you for doing the work that you do. Keep going. I don’t have the resources on my own but you do.”  But posts would also include “Why are you not doing more?”   Alexandra said they expected more and demanded more from the community manager.

She also said size made a difference for online communities.  After reaching around 40,000 followers, she had to hire more staff to keep the community interaction on a personal level.

In November 2011, The Humane Society hit the 1 million Facebook friends mark and they have maintained an active community on both Facebook and Twitter.  One of the interesting things they have done is empowered their followers to get involved in preventing animal cruelty campaigns.  I think this empowerment piece is another clear difference between nonprofits and for profits.

As for why there might be differences between the two communities I can only speculate. I agree that the passion individuals feel about certain nonprofit causes makes them connect emotionally with the organization. My other thought is that individuals feel more strongly connected to the organizations that they have supported with their precious time and money.  Looking at the Susan G. Komen controversy, we can see the depth and potency of the feelings being posted on their Twitter and Facebook pages. (By the way, Kivi Miller’s blog is one that I like to follow for nonprofit marketing.)

(And I was only kidding about the MBA cohort – there are a surprising number of other individuals that are interested in nonprofit work.)

Do you think there are differences between the two communities and why?

4 thoughts on “Are Nonprofit Online Communities Different?

  1. Twitter: @MikeLilly1
    I do think the online communities are different between non-profits and for-profits. When I think of a non-profit like the one that you mentioned, the Human Society, I think of a person who is very passionate for animals. So, for me, the key here is passion. Where as we may have a “community” with for-profit businesses because they symbolize success and maybe an interest that someone likes, a non-profit seems to have more passion because the organizations that an individual is associating with emulate their values, without making money off of them. This makes non-profit communities very strong and very targeted to a specific type of individual. I’m not saying you can’t have a very strong community in a for-profit business, (we’ve all seen what Nike has done to our school), but that type of for-profit community is difficult to achieve. Non-profits aren’t selling you anything, but they are appealing to your own values, and with that comes a much stronger community on its own.

  2. Well, I think the non profits are catching up with the profits…though they still have a long way to get there…It is relatively a new concept for the non profits and Lissy, you could take the no profits to great levels with your new skills :-)

  3. I agree that they definitely are different; however, the benefits of using social media whether for profit or not are just as plentiful. I think we will see a rise in effectiveness as non-profits use social media to create a greater awareness of all the good that they are doing.

  4. I think there are differences in communities between companies, but not necessarily between non profits and for profit companies. For the fans and followers, it all comes down to the mission of the company.

    An example that always comes to mind is Toms shoes. Its mission is providing shoes for children in need and people are going to get invested in a mission that is all about helping. Toms is a for profit company and they have emotionally invested fans just like a non profit has.

    What both non profit and for profits can both do is use social media to their advantage by getting their fans emotionally invested through transparent communication.

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