Carefully Crafted on January 26

5 Metrics for Nonprofit Communication

A collaborative effort, this post was co-written by Chuck Hemann and myself.

Two key components of a nonprofit organization’s communication strategy — traditional media relations and social media marketing — fall into the “hard to measure” category. By now, hopefully you believe in the importance of securing placements in key media outlets and developing a strong, engaging online presence. But how do you know if your efforts are working or if it’s time to go back to the drawing board?

Nonprofit organizations — as well as for-profit companies operating on strict budgets — don’t have the luxury of treating social media as an experiment. Nor should you devote hours upon hours to media outreach if the resulting clips don’t impact the bottom line. Limited communication budgets mean clear, measurable objectives are critical. What are you trying to accomplish, and how well are you progressing toward that goal?

Measuring media relations and social media doesn’t simply mean plugging numbers into a formula to caluculate ROI. Many nonprofits simply count the number of clips generated, or their PR agencies will provide an advertising equivalency report. The problem is that those metrics measure outputs. Nonprofits should refocus measurement on outcomes. Some generally accepted metrics — such as “eyeballs,” sentiment, topic analysis, coverage of key messages, number of high-prominence stories, number of stories containing quotes, etc. — are applicable. But, there’s a more defined set of metrics to help nonprofits gauge the success of their communication efforts.

5 Valuable Metrics for Nonprofits

  1. Recruit new donors, volunteers and/or members — Whether your organization is fueled by members or donors, creating and cultivating strong relationships is key. For example, an aggressive, proactive media relations campaign can help an organization reach new donors/members, while social media can facilitate ongoing interactions and “touch points.” Are your efforts driving member registrations or increasing the number of donors?
  2. Increase cash/in-kind donations and/or volunteer hours — An increase in donations and volunteer hours is one way to determine if you’re effectively communicating your message and calls to action. Keep in mind, this can’t be measured after a month of implementation. It takes a little bit of time, but after a few months, you should start to see an uptick in donations/volunteer hours. No change? Might be time to reassess your strategy.
  3. Improve brand reputation/sentiment — If your target markets hold a negative perception of your organization, odds are people will be less likely to lend their support. But participating in conversations, answering questions, presenting facts and educating new groups of people can cause a shift in sentiment. Track the tone, number of negative vs positive interactions and comments to monitor how online engagement moves the needle.
  4. Raising Issue Awareness/Education — When corporations measure traditional and social media activities, they often track how core messages resonate with key audiences. Non-profits have issues of importance to the organization. How those issues resonate is just as important to them as it is to corporations.
  5. Save time — While raising money through traditional and social channels is important for non-profits, so is finding a way to build in efficiencies that help reduce costs. Using social channels to reach target audiences instead of producing printed pieces is one way non-profits can save on resources. From an internal perspective, fostering, and improving collaboration through social tools like wikis, Google Wave and Yammer can help lower the non-profits cost of doing business.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach to measuring the effectiveness of media relations and social media participation. Each organization needs to assess its specific goals, develop corresponding objectives, and then create and implement a plan to bring the vision to fruition.

What additional metrics can nonprofits use to measure the effectiveness of media relations and/or social media engagement?

Chuck Hemann, a 2010 Society for New Communications Research Fellow, is currently the manager of research & online reputation for Dix & Eaton, a communications consultancy with specialized expertise in social media strategies and tools. In February, Chuck will begin a new role as social media associate for WCG, a global media services company focused on the corporate and product marketing and communications needs of leading healthcare companies.

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