My last full-time, Monday-through-Friday job was as an outreach director for a small international development organization in San Francisco. Working within the confines of an almost non-existent online communications budget, my primary responsibilities were to maintain our website and publish a twice-monthly e-newsletter, quarterly print newsletter, and numerous print fundraising appeals through out the year. It was also my duty to organize four fundraising events each year and manage an average of six volunteers in any given week. Adding social media to that already packed job description just would not have been possible. I would have tried, but eventually it all would have become too overwhelming and stressful and my primary job responsibilities would have suffered.

All that said, I know there are many nonprofit staff out there in the exact same position and it’s becoming increasingly clear that adding social media to a long list of job responsibilities is just not humanly possible. An exceptionally dedicated person could maintain a similar job description with social media for a year or two, but at some point it becomes obvious that that this workload is just not sustainable. Whether you call she or he a social media manager, a new media manager, or a digital media manager, there’s no doubt that if your nonprofit wants to be successful on the Social Web, then nonprofit executive staff and board need to begin to seriously consider allocating funds to a social media manager position. Here are five reasons why:

1. The successful use of social media requires a significant time investment.

To be successful on the Social Web, nonprofits need to have a presence on mutliple social networks and should be consistently creating content that can be shared on the Social Web, such as blog posts, photos, and videos.  If your expectations of social media are minimal, then only having a Facebook Page is enough. But if your nonprofit wants to build a recognizable brand on the Social Web and notice a significant increase in your website traffic and e-newsletter subscribers – thus also an increase in online donors, volunteers, and event attendees – then at the very least you need to hire a part-time social media manager. There’s a powerful synergy that begins to occur when your nonprofit has a presence on multiple on social networks and unfortunately most nonprofits never get to experience it due to capacity issues.

2. A good social media manager has experience with online communications and fundraising.

Bless the volunteers and interns, but unless they have experience or training in writing web content, publishing e-newsletters, and launching and maintaining online fundraising campaigns, then they are not going to understand the bigger picture of the strategy behind utilizing social media. Having a discussion on your Facebook Page is not a social media strategy, nor is is engaging supporters on Twitter. A good social media manager has an advanced communications and online fundraising skill set.

The truth is that your nonprofit’s success on the Social Web is directly related to the person who is managing your social media campaigns. The popular misconception that the tools themselves i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, blogging, etc. can produce significant ROI is a myth. It’s not the tools. It’s the human using the tools successfully (or not) that will make (or break) your nonprofit’s success on the Social Web. If she or he writes or posts boring content, lacks necessary tech skills such as HTML and photo editing, or doesn’t have an intuitive sense and passion for their online communities, then your social media ROI will be minimal at best.

3. Social media is not free!

This is one of the most destructive concepts floating around out there about social media. To manage multiple social networks, create visually compelling photo and video campaigns, and blog regularly is a minimal 20-hour a week investment into a skilled communications professional. On top of that nonprofit’s need to invest in good graphic design. Blogger, LinkedIn and Myspace launched in 2003, and yet nine years into the Social Web the vast majority of nonprofits have not invested any financial resources at all into graphic design for their social media campaigns. You need a good avatar. You need Twitter and YouTube backgrounds that make a strong first impression. You need a very well designed blog or no one is going to take it seriously. Website and e-newsletter design has also significantly changed in recent years and most nonprofits are in dire need of an upgrade. A good social media manager will have have basic graphic design and editing knowledge and know HTML, and thus will be able to do much of this work for you, but if not, they have the budget to hire someone who can.

Finally, if they need to spend $50 for a premium Tumbler design or $25 a year for Flickr Pro, they have the green light to do so. Ten years ago these tools would have costs thousands of dollars and yet today nonprofits often struggle with getting approval for $10 premium tool.

4. An overburdened job description inevitably leads to social media burnout.

And that’s not good and it’s happening more and more. In recent years enthusiastic and dedicated communications, development, and program staff took on social media for the good of the organization – on top of all their other work and likely without a raise. Now years later there is a growing frustration that executive staff are not understanding or appreciating the value of what these staff have done. It’s the number one, first-voiced complaint in every webinar and social media training that I give. Seriously. The level of frustration ranges from simply voicing that they can not longer keep up with all their job duties to the fact they are eagerly looking for another job. Add on top of that how mentally draining it can be to manage mulitple social networks and to everyday be immersed in the good, the bad, and the ugly of the 24-7 new cycle, and your de facto unpaid social media manager is likely not getting the support they need. Social media is a skill set and those that are very good at it should be compensated for it, or at the very least, an effort should be made to rearrange their job descriptions so they can continue to be good at it.

5. The fittest will survive. Those that choose to wing it… won’t.

I know budgets are tight and I understand that many nonprofits are struggling to pay for the staff they already have, but I am firm believer that the future of nonprofit communications and fundraising is digital – social and mobile.  Those nonprofits that transition to the Social and Mobile Web quickly will have time on their side. Building powerful communities on social networks takes years and their brand becomes more recognizable with every status update, post, tweet and pin posted over those years. Also, those that invest now will be the best positioned when social and mobile giving begins to rise. We aren’t there yet, but we are close… and these new ways of giving will transform philanthropy and nonprofit budgets (think mobile wallets).

Add to that the fact that nonprofits are going to have a lot of competition in the coming years as both baby boomers retire and millenials come of age and launch new nonprofits – 400,000 more by 2015, I am firm believer that the most tech savvy nonprofits will perform the best and survive the massive in flux of new nonprofits soon to be competing for the same number of donation dollars. The era of winging it is over. People now expect professional online communications and fundraising campaigns and if you don’t project that image, the online and mobile donors and supporters of the future will not take your nonprofit seriously. It may sound a bit harsh, but I think it’s a message that many nonprofits need to seriously consider. I think the future of their organization depends upon it.

Related Links:
11 Qualities of an Effective Social Media Manager
Social Media for Social Good: A 268-Page How-To Guide
Social Media and Mobile Technology Webinars for Nonprofits