Local Nonprofits & Social Media Usage

My name is Whitney Godwin, and I am privileged to guest post on Samantha’s blog this week. Samantha and I are both in the Masters of Journalism program at West Virginia University, as well as an Interactive Media & Blogging class. 

Reaching out to each other for communication began with oral stories and has escalated with technology . When social media burst on the scene about eight years ago, it forever changed the way that PR professionals, nonprofit organizations and businesses would communicate to the rest of the world. Social media platforms allow organizations to reach out and engage their audience in conversation, but also provides a way to strengthen media relations and meet new audience members and volunteers. The advent of social media not only allows for more interpersonal communication, but organizational communication as well.

There are over 400 local nonprofit organizations in the Morgantown area; this number includes the many churches and religious organizations. Many are small organizations that are specific to the state or Morgantown. When conducting some research on religious organizations’ social media usage and that of nonprofits in the area, Samantha and I found a large overlap and many similarities.

I conducted some original research about the social media usage among nonprofit organizations here in Morgantown including religious organizations. I sent a 10 question, online survey to 40 local nonprofits. While only 11 of the 40 nonprofits contacted actually took the survey, five responded to the e-mail stating that they do not use social media because they didn’t feel they needed to in order to reach their audience. I had a much lower response rate than Samantha did. I did include a few religious organizations in my sample, but most were primarily nonprofit organizations.

Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 9.54.12 PMBased on preliminary research, I expected that local social media usage would reflect the statistics of the average social media usage among nonprofits nationwide. For example, nationally, nearly 90 percent of nonprofit organizations use social media regularly. Similarly, 90 percent of local nonprofit respondents report using social media regularly.

I expected Facebook to be the most widely used social media platform, and my survey results indicated that it was. Ninety percent of respondents indicated they use Facebook. Some organizations indicated using multiple social media platforms. Sixty-three percent indicated they use Twitter, 36 percent used LinkedIn, 18 percent used Instagram,18 percent had a blog and 18 percent used Youtube, while just nine percent used Foursquare and Google+. Eighteen percent of respondents indicated that they used other social media platforms in addition to those listed. Samantha’s results also concluded that Facebook is the most widely used form of social media among nonprofit religious organizations here in Morgantown.Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 9.55.25 PM

More research must be done before we are better able to understand nonprofit social media usage and trends. Studies need to be conducted and repeated. Few studies have been done on the topic of nonprofit social media usage, and those that have been done never replicate the ones before. So it’s hard determine whether or not the foundational research is accurate. In turn, it’s hard to build on research that may or may not be accurate. Additionally, it would be interesting to survey the local nonprofits to see how many of them use social media for fundraising specifically, and how successful they are at it. It’s apparent that much more research needs to be done before we can begin to tweak and further accelerate social media usage among nonprofits.

The power of social media in fundraising

Last week while discussing my original research project, we happened upon a topic that makes some people shudder but brings out creativity and excitement in others: fundraising.

Religious organizations typically operate on a donation system.  Because religious organizations are essentially non-profits, they rely on the tithes and offerings of their members to pay the bills.

However, when an organization decides to take on a new project, expand their building or property or participate in community outreach and service, many times fundraising is necessary.

As we approach the holiday season, fundraising reaches a whole new level.

According to Charity Navigator and the National Center for Charitable Statistics, around one third of all giving in the United States occurs in December and approximately 50 percent of all charitable giving goes to religion, education and arts organizations.

It seems like being a religious organization and hosting a fundraiser in the month of December would allow you to fund almost any project.  However, social media could be the third element in this fundraising trifecta!

Using social media as well as strong, aesthetically pleasing websites is a near-guaranteed way to raise money.

Sites such as Facebook and Twitter can be used as great advertising tools for fundraising and fundraising events.

According to the LiveStrong Foundation, which is not religion based but is a stellar example of a charitable fundraising giant, social media fundraising is great because you can drive visitors to your online donation page and “engage your most passionate and influential supporters to promote your efforts.”

The foundation suggests looking at your donors as investors (which ties in nicely with the social media marketing theory we talked about last week!).  A great way to encourage charitable giving is to be honest.  Make it very clear what the money will be used for and even share your financial impact statements to illustrate progress.

Because of its vast popularity alone, social media is the perfect venue for a successful campaign.

Mark Pitman, the self-proclaimed “fundraising coach,” addresses Twitter in a very archaic way, but still gets the gist of how powerful it can be in terms of fundraising.

In an article about fundraising, Pitman uses the examples of Tweetsgiving and Twestival, two charitable campaigns that started on Twitter and have morphed into their own organizations.

The original Tweetsgiving took place in 2008 and became the #1 trending topic on Twitter with grateful tweets across the world and donations pouring in.  After five years, Tweetsgiving has become Epic Thanks, an organization that has raised over $100,000 and helps build schools, libraries and temporary homes in Tanzania, Nepal and the United States.  You can still follow @epicthanks on Twitter as well as use their hashtag.

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In September 2008, the first-ever Harvest Twestival took place in London, where 250 people who had realized a common passion via Twitter met up in Trafalgar Square, raised  £1000 and collected 14 boxes of canned goods to support a nearby homeless shelter.  The following year Twestival was hosted in 202 cities.  Since 2009, it has raised over $1.84 million in support of 310 charities.

One great point that Pitman makes is that it is not social media itself that makes such large-scale, powerful fundraising possible, but rather the relationships forged via social media.

“From a fundraising perspective, Twitter is an amazing way to engage donors and potential donors. One of the hardest things to do as a fundraiser is to maintain relationships. We so often get stuck to our desk rather than getting out to where our supporters are,” he writes.

Because of this capacity, Twitter and Facebook can be used to facilitate global fundraising opportunities or grassroots campaigns at your local church.

I have participated in just about every church fundraiser you can think of:  bazaars, craft shows, car washes, sales of every kind, a charity talent show, sweetheart dinners, silent auctions, occasional begging and even a rock-a-thon (yes, people literally sponsored us to rock in rocking chairs for 24 hours).

It is as simple as engaging people in something they care about— or simply by connecting them with people they care about— and giving them an easy, familiar way to donate.

Original Research Part I

Religious organizations are steeped in tradition and rich in history.

However, sometimes tradition can get in the way of innovation and change.  Churches are notorious late adopters of technology, but it seems that many are quickly realizing that social media is a platform they can’t afford to ignore.

If you’ve been following my blog, you know it is a project for my interactive media class.  One of my assignments as a graduate student was to pursue some type of original research, conduct a study and report on the results (which will eventually turn themselves into an 8-10 page paper, but as it stands right now are a fabulous PowerPoint presentation and a synopsizing blog post).

For my research, I chose to expound on this blog’s primary topic and sought to explore and understand the social media habits of religious organizations.  I find this topic fascinating as someone of faith who is interested new ways of reaching out to others.

For my inevitable paper, I will look at the results of the survey I conducted through the theoretical lens of the social media marketing theory.  In other words, I believe that a church can function as a business in terms of marketing.

This theory says that for years marketing consisted of talking at your audience with mediums such as brochures, commercials and advertisements.  However, social media allows businesses to talk with their customers, and that conversation is valuable in creating products and attracting and engaging new audiences.

I used SurveyMonkey to send out a 10 questions survey to churches, mosques, temples, etc. of every denomination and religious inclination in Morgantown.  I sent the survey to 40 organizations in all and was graced with 35 responses (which was a great turnout, I thought).

The results of the survey yielded some information that I expected, while still managing to surprise me in other areas!

This map shows every religious organization to which I sent my survey.  Morgantown is home to a host of denominations and religious organizations.  

Map key:

Blue – Protestant

Yellow – Catholic

Light blue – Mormon

Green – Jewish

Red – Muslim

Purple – Hindu & Religious Organizations

Pink – Baha’I faith 

I think this topic is worthwhile because there has been little to no research done on how churches are utilizing social networking, and most of the information and statistics are collected by religions organizations themselves.  While this is a clear lack of objectivity and may not be considered quality data for academic research, at least for now, they stand alone.  According to a poll of 1,003 Protestant congregations conducted by Fellowship Technologies in 2011, 47 percent of churches use Facebook, and the numbers are continually increasing (a statement that was confirmed by my survey).

According to LifeWay Research Director Scott McConnell, congregations are the ideal place for interaction, which is why churches are rapidly adopting social networking.  Churches are using this technology to keep up with current members, as well as interact with people outside the church.  The poll also found that of 1,000 Protestant pastors surveyed, 46 percent use Facebook, 16 percent personal blogs and 6 percent Twitter to personally interact with their congregations both outside of worship services and during times of worship.

In my preliminary research, I found that by 2001, 83 percent of Fortune 500 companies were using social networking sites to interact with both consumers and potential consumers.  This shows that not only are these companies greatly benefiting from social media outreach but also that the consumers are becoming more and more reliant on this medium to decide which companies they will frequent.  This information can be directly applied to other institutions who want to “brand” themselves and target members and non-members of their organizations.

So I hope you’ll bear with me for now, as I attempt to present my findings in a way that is both light and enlightening.  I present my results today in class, so stay tuned for more information!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too much of a good thing: 30 Days of Thanks

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While not strictly religious, the annual “30 Days of Thanks” has started on both Facebook and Twitter (although pages dedicated to this trend can also be found on Tumblr and Pinterest). 

It first popped up in 2009 when three women, who had already been encouraging people to show gratitude through their blog, posed the challenge to their readers.  Social media users use the hashtag #30DaysofThanks to express one thing they are thankful for every day in November.

The posts are wildly popular with some, giving them an outlet and a large audience with which to share their thankfulness, and yet many social media users find the posts annoying.

“I do not participate in the 30 Days of Thanks because I do not feel the need to share all of my inner thoughts of gratitude on social media,” said Ravi Parker, a young professional and avid social media user.

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Parker hates the posts because they clutter up his news feed, and he believes most people only participate to be part of the trend.

“I believe that everyone should be thankful for the things they post about throughout the entire year,” Parker said.  “To express them all now, daily, for everyone to witness reminds me of someone who only prays on Sundays at church, but not throughout their normal routine.”

Parker said the posts he sees regularly include a lot about family and friends, as well as the occasional materialistic item.

“Blessings are meant to be shared. They make the dull drums and hardships of life easier to get through,” he said.  “However, a fad on Facebook just does not seem to do them justice when everyone is doing it at once.”

To sum up his feelings—too much of a good thing isn’t always good.

Still, the popularity of this social media trend suggests that despite some people’s aversion to it, it’s not going anywhere.

People enjoy the voice social media gives them, and in some instances, I think it would do people good to reflect on the things with which they’ve been blessed.

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We’re all aware that people love social media challenges (thank about the 30 Day Photo Challenge), regular posting opportunities with recognizable hashtags (#mcm, #wcw, #tbt) and lists.  At least this one is an outpouring of gratitude and thankfulness!

‘Tis the season after all.

Halloween in Islam

Yesterday, we looked at the blog-o-sphere’s opinions on whether or not Christians should celebrate Halloween.

As with most things, there were mixed opinions.   Some find the popular secular holiday harmless and enjoyable while others maintain that Halloween is a day grounded in evil that should be avoided by faithful Christians.

How do Muslims approach Halloween?  Is theirs a similar trend to Christians?

One Islamic blogger wrote that celebrating Halloween goes against the ideals of Iman (faith) and tauheed (existence of Allah).  He used a quote from the Prophet Muhammad to warn Muslims to refrain from imitating society in this regard.

“Whoever imitates a nation is one of them.”

The blogger considers Halloween to be an evil celebration because of its pagan origins and history and writes that “even if one decides to go along with the outward practices of Halloween without acknowledging the deeper significance or historical background of this custom, he or she is still guilty of indulging in this pagan festival.”

Hesham Hassaballa, a former contributor for belief.net, wrote a post in 2002 denouncing Muslims who choose to celebrate or allow their children to celebrate Halloween.

He stressed that Islam accepts cultural traditions as long as they do not conflict with Islamic values.  For example, Muslims celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Day because their traditional values highly emphasize honoring one’s parents.

However, because Halloween is loosely based on honoring Celtic and Roman gods, he argued that the holiday conflicts with monotheistic Islam.

In 2011, Hassaballa, who is now a contributor for the blog Patheos, wrote another article, admitting that he had changed his stance on whether or not Muslims should acknowledge Halloween and let their children go trick-or-treating.

He explains that he is still a devout Muslim and dedicated to the principles of Islam.  However, he began to allow his children to trick-or-treat and started passing out candy to kids in the community when he realized that not answering his door was not very neighborly and that “it is very important to be neighborly if I am to be godly.”

Hassaballa also wrote that while Halloween had once been a religious holiday, it is now simply a cultural tradition.

Can Christians celebrate Halloween?

Well, tomorrow is the big day.

Halloween.

I live in a college town, so Halloween is a big deal.  I also work in a residence hall, where student behavior would lead you to believe that Halloween is actually the greatest week-long celebration of the year and that anyone who chooses not to participate hates fun and has no social skills.

According to a Campus Media Group survey in 2010, 69.4 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds planned on dressing up for Halloween and 55.4 percent were either throwing or attending a Halloween party—numbers that I’m sure have either held steady or risen.

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WVU Students Miranda Smalley and Eric Reynolds
at their Halloween party Saturday, October 26.

While social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been buzzing with costume picture posts, Halloween recipes and status updates about parties, pumpkin carvings and can-you-believe-that-girl-wore-the-same-costume-as-me rants, religious blogs have been rehashing the ever popular debate on whether or not religious people should celebrate Halloween or allow their children to go trick-or-treating.

Halloween traces its roots back to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (pronounced sow-in), a New Year celebration that marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of winter.  Because this time of year was often associated with death due to the cold, the Celts believed that the lines between the realms of the living and the dead were blurred on this night and ghosts returned to earth.   While it has taken many forms throughout history and in different cultures, the meaning of Halloween has always been highly debated by religious officials.

Religious blogger Peter Guirguis shared a post by South Bay Calvary Chapel on Twitter today suggesting that Halloween creates evil in the world.

“Darkness is darkness and evil is evil, no matter how fun and innocent it appears,” the blog post says.

The blog implies that children are innocent and that parents are charged with the duty of protecting them from darkness and “forces bent on their destruction.”

While the post acknowledges that the American version of Halloween is spawned from the Catholic holiday of All Hallows Eve (the night before all Saints Day), which celebrates the lives of recently departed souls, the blogger advises that since this practice cannot be found in the Bible it should not be commemorated.

Religious Blogger Travis Allen, the directing manager of the blog Grace to You, took a different perspective.  While he noted that he respects Christians who choose not to acknowledge the holiday, he also said that Halloween is not an evil day that must be avoided.

Allen said that Christians should not respond to Halloween superstitiously because they are enlightened by the Word of God and know that evil spirits are “no more active and sinister on Halloween than they are on any other day of the year.”  He suggested that Christians celebrate Halloween at whatever level the feel convicted to do so and that it is a great opportunity to show the world that you can be a Christian and still have fun without getting caught up in the “evil” part of the holiday.

For what it’s worth (and I know it’s not much), in my opinion, Halloween is what you make it.  It can be a fun time to get together with friends, dress up in silly costumes, carve pumpkins and drink apple cider.  It can be mistreated by teenagers who want to cause trouble and knock over a couple mailboxes.  And if you go looking for evil, you will no doubt find it somewhere.

Come back tomorrow for a look at how practitioners of Islam address Halloween.

#oneworldreligion

Lech Walesa is a Polish politician and human-rights activist who is shaking up the current conversation on religion.

Walesa won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and served as the President of Poland from 1990 to 1995.  He earned his Nobel Peace Prize for leading Poland’s famous Solidarity trade union, which was responsible for the peaceful negotiation to the end of Communism in Poland in 1989.

A proclaimed devout Roman Catholic, Walesa attended the 13th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates on Monday in Warsaw, Poland where he called for a new “secular Ten Commandments.”  He suggested that the world would benefit from an outline of universal values.

“We need to agree on common values for all religions as soon as possible, a kind of secular Ten Commandments on which we will build the world of tomorrow,” he said in his opening speech at the Summit.

He did not give any examples as to what those principles might be.

Due to the nature of the Summit, Walesa’s comments are being talked about all over the world, with similar reports surfacing in the United States, France and Russia.  The story has run in both traditional media as well as via social media. 

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Many religious people are outraged by Walesa’s suggestion, referring to it as a sign of the end of times.  Despite what you may think about the excess of end-of-the-world rhetoric, research shows that more people than ever believe that the world will end during their lifetime.

According to a poll by the global research company Ipsos, one in seven people (14 percent) across the globe agreed that the world would end during their lifetime.  One in ten people believed that end was marked by the Mayan calendar.

Many people are relating Walesa’s proposal to comments made by Pope Francis after he was first elected.  The first pope in 1,300 years to meet with leaders of non-Catholic Christian religions, Pope Francis urged members of all religions as well as non-religious people to unite “to defend justice, peace and the environment and not allow the value of a person to be reduced to what he produces and what he consumes.”

The Pope’s proclamation was intended to encourage Catholics to reach out to people of every religion and creed and to remember that there is no “one-dimensional version of a human person.”

While Pope Francis is often praised for his progressive ideals, some people find his unprecedented acceptance of alternative lifestyles another sign that the end is near.

A combination of ideas from these two world leaders can be seen throughout the blog-o-sphere as well as social media.  The hashtag #oneworldreligion has seen a lot of use since Monday.

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I will be curious to see how the public continues to respond to Walesa’s suggestion, but even more curious to see if world leaders publicly comment or agree to his call for global principles.