LinkedIn: An Essential Tool for Nonprofits

The prevalence of social media requires that businesses, including not-for-profits (NFP) understand how to use it to fulfill their mission, vision and business objectives. But where can an NFP start? What works best? And how can an NFP be effective with limited resources?

CMA's Not-for-Profit Council spoke to Nicole German, LinkedIn's Head of Marketing for Canada and Latin America to gain some insights on the subject.

What do you believe is the primary role(s) of LinkedIn for a NFP?

I think, like all organizations, NFP are on the learning curve of how to leverage social media for the biggest impact and we have an immense interest in helping NFP organizations maximize their LinkedIn presence. LinkedIn's mission is to help professionals be more productive and successful and this is directly related to many NFP organizations' objectives. These objectives could range from sourcing and recruiting top talent (using LinkedIn's advanced search features and networks), finding volunteers and board members, increasing brand awareness to amplify social influence for their cause, or directly targeting the highly affluent audiences on LinkedIn for fund development.

LinkedIn also turns every employee and volunteer into a brand ambassador that can help promote your brand and connect others to it. From their personal profiles and a corporate profile page, NFPs can develop a basis for their online brand that can easily be amplified by past donors, alumni, or even gala event attendees. Some businesses find social media overwhelming. With that in mind, we advise companies to focus first on their objectives and be clear on who their audience is, so they can choose a network that's the best fit. If you have a strong youth audience, Facebook is a natural platform for your brand to begin with. We suggest organizations start small and test and learn - one platform, one objective and one initiative at a time. Each month or quarter you can add something new and once you have developed a base of followers, you can expand to add other relevant platforms.

LinkedIn recently added a Volunteer Experience & Causes section to members' personal profiles. What has been the impact of this change?

Many companies today have identified recruiting and retaining top talent as a strategic priority for their business. Hiring managers are looking beyond the traditional resume of education and work experience - they look at individuals holistically and that often includes interests and charitable activities prospective employees are involved in. Companies are also looking at corporate social responsibility and how they can give back to their communities directly; they may be looking for current employees who are passionate about a particular cause to lead a community initiative or champion a project internally. LinkedIn, through our advanced search features or recruitment tools, enables NFPs to match volunteer opportunities to specific expertise.

For example, organizers of a small community event may be looking for a person interested in the environment that could do some web design volunteer work. They can now easily find them on LinkedIn. Our LinkedIn members have a pay it forward culture. So helping someone who is starting out, or by referring someone, connecting colleagues with common interest or even supporting causes that help make the world a better place is all part of our platform's DNA.

How much opportunity do you believe exists among Canadian donors in particular, to engage via LinkedIn with causes they support?

LinkedIn allows donors that are passionate to recommend their cause and share an organization's thought leadership, news, educational information and personal experiences with their first-degree connections. These connections can then recommend and share news with their network. Donors may not have opportunities to sit down in-person to talk with ten of their colleagues about why they support a particular cause, why they feel they are making a difference in their community or share information about an upcoming event that their colleagues could become involved with. LinkedIn allows donors to communicate what causes are important to them and NFPs can enhance these natural connections by providing donors with information in formats that make it easy for them to share. NFPs can also create public or private groups to enable donors and volunteers to amplify their messages. You could invite major gift donors or alumni to a private group that would deliver highly targeted information. For corporate partners, they are often looking for philanthropic projects that can provide meaningful volunteer opportunities for their employees. So in addition to using LinkedIn tools to match talent and opportunities, NFPs can use private groups to create customized communications for these partner organizations as well - posting volunteer openings, updates on partnered projects of interest and allowing employees to share information and expertise.

Does the profile of a typical LinkedIn member i lean more to corporate and major gift fundraising – do you think this presents unique opportunities for Canadian NFPs?

I wouldn't say that our member profiles strictly lean towards corporate and major gift fund raising – we have more than 5 million members on LinkedIn in Canada and over 150 million members around the world and every day people are looking ways to get involved and get engage on helping make social impact. Our LinkedIn for Good Foundation (of which I am a Board member) that was launched in January, 2012, helps us connect our employees' skills and talent with opportunities – so members can not only consider a financial donation, but leverage talent to make an impact.

Do you know of any examples of NFPs using LinkedIn effectively to connect with stakeholders / donors?

I think marketers would find some of these links interesting as they showcase how you can effectively used corporate pages or groups to engage stakeholders.

American Red Cross
The Nature Conservancy
Chronicle of Philanthropy
Social Media for Non-profits

Do you have any examples of how LinkedIn can be used to reach new donor prospect groups?

The ability to search and find professionals with specific interests and causes can help organizations gain insights into a pool of talent that may be interested in your cause either as a participant, employee, donor or influencer. You can create an advanced search based upon your organization's typical donor profile, and see how your organization and stakeholders are connected to individuals or companies. LinkedIn enables you to participate in targeted groups to provide engaging, thought provoking information on your cause. We know through our own research that:

  • Sending a LinkedIn email to someone generally results in a 20% response rate
  • If you have a warm introduction, the response rate increases to approx. 26%
  • But if you specifically name the person you are connecting and provide context, the response rate increases to over 40%. Best networking practices offline apply here as well.

LinkedIn has also recently launched targeted status updates - so if you develop a company page you can now target your status updates to specific groups of followers instead of sending out a mass update.

How do you see LinkedIn integrating with other social channels / online mediums that NFPs may use?

LinkedIn is easily integrated with other social media channels. You can directly connect Twitter accounts and LinkedIn status updates as well as share job board or volunteer postings in LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. With the use of our API and "in" widgets you can fully integrate your corporate sites and digital campaigns with your organization's presence on LinkedIn, which helps facilitate dialogue and build a supportive community. It's important to focus on your audience to ensure that the information you share is relevant. What engages stakeholders on Facebook may differ from the network of professionals you engage on LinkedIn - and Twitter requires more frequent snippets of thought provoking content. Companies will need to consider a content development strategy when they are determining the resources required to support a social media initiative. Leveraging existing corporate assets may be easier on LinkedIn - such as maximizing a corporate press release by posting it to LinkedIn.

What level of engagement would you recommend be facilitated directly by an organization, versus organically among the donor/stakeholder audience?

There isn't a steadfast rule. The organization does have to create the foundational infrastructure to allow the audience to engage and share to amplify the impact. Depending on the audience, your stakeholders may not be influencers and advocates on social media so providing content that is easily sharable makes it easier for your busy donors to engage. The more an organization is engaged the easier it is for a donor or stakeholder audience to participate and share. Driving and developing relevant and educational content combined with communications that leverage the recommendations of your existing donor audience is hugely impactful.

How can NFPs truly measure the impact of their social media activity?What tracking or benchmarking tools exist via LinkedIn that may assist with this?

We would recommend going back to the initial objectives that were set and setting benchmarks at the outset to see the impact any particular social media effort has made. Social media campaigns can provide consistent results in a very cost effective manner. So if your objective was fundraising, how have you improved measures on outreach, prospect identification, or email response rates to donation requests? If your objective was volunteer recruitment, how many new volunteers signed up? If it was brand engagement there are advertising response rates and analytics around groups or company pages - engagement measures such as how many people joined or were referred to your group. If you are using LinkedIn as part of your recruitment strategy, look at the impact on your time to recruit qualified candidates, the reach of your job postings and the number of highly qualified candidates hired. Like other social media platforms you can collect a variety of insights from your followers – where they live, causes they care about, or even the seniority of their current professional role.

What level of financial investment do you believe is required to adequately use social spaces? And what level of non-financial commitment do you feel is required to adequately support the opportunities that exist today?

There is not really a one size fits all - you can start up a small NFP organization with little to no marketing dollars and social media can make a huge impact. Or you can be running a national organization with marketing dollars to put against social that can transform the way you market today in a cost effective way. It really depends on your objectives and goals but certainly the more resources you invest, the more you can get out of it. We see that younger employees can easily adapt to online marketing as a regular part of their role and they can be savvy advocates of social media within the organization. We often see that dedicated resources are required to ensure a company has maximized their use of social media and is using measurement tools, advertising strategies, recruiting solutions and ensuring the organization's website is set up properly to support an effective social media strategy. Ideally the NFP has a resource that is partially or fully committed and passionate about social media.

Regardless of size, any NFP can set up a LinkedIn company page, test status updates and have employees share interesting content. Can a team of volunteers spend ten minutes each week sharing information with their LinkedIn networks from their mobile devices? Has your fundraising team reviewed the materials they are using to ensure they have integrated your social media platforms? Does your case for support have a SlideShare summary on their profile that LinkedIn volunteers can view and learn more? Don't try to conquer it all in the first day, start small and grow from there. Test and learn, build and grow and soon you will be engaging with a community of supporters.

The general profile of our Canadian LinkedIn audience is a highly affluent and well-educated professional audience (see the infographic on LinkedIn's website for more details).
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