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Five Simple Ways Nonprofits Can Measure Social Media ROI (Return on Investment)

November 15, 2009

[tweetmeme] Recent studies have revealed that the vast majority of nonprofits do not know how to measure ROI (Return on Investment) from utilizing social media. Below are 5 simple, low-cost ways nonprofits can measure ROI with a minimal time investment of only a couple of hours a month.

1. Monitor your website traffic.

During the Era of Web 1.0, nonprofits were very keen on increasing website traffic. They spent relatively large amounts of cash on SEO and invested many hours is getting listed on portals. E-mail marketing took off and promotional materials were loaded with plugs to “Visit our website!”. Website traffic was the number one indicator to measure ROI.

Today, I think most nonprofits that are not monitoring traffic would be surprised by how little traffic their website is actually getting. Of those that are monitoring their traffic, many are not aware that “Unique Visitors” is the number to watch and that “Hits” are meaningless. Those that are not monitoring traffic are just completely in the dark about the effectiveness of their web campaigns.

Every website out there has stats to monitor. How many unique visitors by day, month, year? Exactly what pages are visitors viewing? How long are they on your website? What websites were your visitors on right before they visited your site [Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace]? Every nonprofit should be monitoring this data.

Furthermore, if your traffic has not increased significantly from social media, then you are doing something wrong. Are you correctly using the “Links” and “Static FBML” Apps on Facebook? Are you putting a “http://” in front of all website links in Facebook Updates? Are you building community on Twitter or just pushing out press releases and blog posts [that in time people start to ignore]? Do you have an account on to make sure that the links you are posting are actually interesting to your Twitter community? If not, you may be surprised what people click and what they don’t. Having an account on is a must to Tweet successfully!

On average, my website gets about 5,000 unique visitors a month. Nonprofit Tech 2.0 averages about 15,000 (WOW). And it’s not “empty traffic”. It’s traffic that leads to new clients and new Webinars attendees. If it wasn’t for social media, I’d be getting less than 1,000 and entirely dependent on my e-newsletter, referrals, and search engine results. So, I think this poll is very telling:

POLL: Is your nonprofit monitoring your Website stats to see how much traffic is coming from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn Groups, etc.?

Most nonprofits are not even monitoring stats. Those that are monitoring stats are split on whether social media has increased website traffic. If you are not getting traffic, then your mission and programs just might not be sexy enough for social media (for lack of a better word), and it may be time to re-evaluate.

Or, and in my experience, those that are not getting much traffic from social media need some training. A bit harsh, but true. Overconfidence in one’s social media skills can be a problem when it comes to social media ROI. Even the most self-proclaimed social media maven, expert, guru, miracle worker, etc. could use training from time to time. Me included. Good social media training is essential.

On a final note, many nonprofits will be launching mobile websites in 2010, and much of the traffic on those sites will be going to or from social networking sites. Social media has gone mobile and that will be an entirely new set of data to monitor and track.

2. Poll your donors.

Another very telling poll:

POLL: Does your nonprofit poll your online donors about what communication tool inspired them most to donate on your Website?

81% answered no. 81%! You can’t judge your social media fundraising success from how much has been donated to your Facebook Cause or a fundraising widget. It’s pretty clear that online donors do not yet trust these new tools, and why would they when more than half of fundraising Causes and widgets have a great big $0 on them? [Donate to your own Cause and widgets to get the ball rolling!]

My guess is that we will be pleasantly surprised that many online donors that are following you on Twitter or Facebook will indeed go to make a donation on your website during the year-end fundraising season. I know my giving has changed dramatically. I now give to smaller nonprofits I never heard of 2 years ago. I watch them on social media sites, and then when I have the cash to give, I go to their website or donate to them on Not only do 40% of folks fan brands on Facebook, but 34% of those folks then go visit their website before purcahsing or donating. And yet, as many as 81% of nonprofits are not tracking this behavior!

So, how about after someone makes a donation on your website, you ask them on the next page to answer a poll about what message prompted them to donate and where did they read it? End-of-Year print appeal, e-newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Linkedn, YouTube?

3. Ask people to subscribe to your email newsletter and mobile lists.

Just having an e-mail newsletter and mobile list sign up box on your Facebook Page or MySpace does not work. You have to ask people to subscribe. Post a Tweet or a Status Update:

Text NONPROFITORGS to 41411 to receive text alerts (2-3 monthly) from Nonprofit Tech 2.0!

Sending out my Web 2.0 Best Practices e-Newsletter on Wednesday. To receive a copy, please subscribe:

Over the years I have been consistently surprised by how many people will subscribe once asked on a social media site, but not until I asked. I have tabled a number of events over the years asking people to sign up for e-mail newsletters. The number of subscribers I get from social media trumps tabling any day of the week.

4. Ask people to become volunteers.

The study listed above argues that social media is worthless to small and medium sized nonprofits because they aren’t getting any donations or new volunteers from social media campaigns. The flaw in fundraising ROI I have already discussed. Personally, I have a hard time believing that nonprofits are not getting volunteers from social media campaigning. I get asked at least once a week by random strangers if they can volunteer for me. So, I know potential volunteers are out there.

Are you asking that they volunteer for your organization correctly? Make sure you are using social media to ask, to call out for volunteers. Don’t just assume they are going to click on a “Volunteer!” link on your Facebook Page and then ask to be signed up. You have to ask them. Do you have volunteer testimonials on your website? Are you mentioning that your organization would be good a good reference? Are you pitching the social aspect of volunteering with your organization (meet new friends online and offline)? Are you giving them good reason to want to volunteer with your organization on your website, and then using social media sites correctly to drive them to that page?

Now that I think of it, in four years of using social media 40-60 hours a week… I never seen one nonprofit message me on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace asking me to become a volunteer. Something to ponder.

5. Plot fans, followers, friends, subscribers.

I think 1-4 are much more important than this, but plotting your fans, followers and friends on an Excel spreadsheet will at least give you a sense of how quickly or slowly your social media communities are growing. Create a spreadsheet. On the far left column list the social media sites you are using, and then create 12 columns on the right… one for each month of the year. Then on the first day of every month post the number of current friends, followers, fans, and subscribers. Combine this with monitoring your website and e-mail/mobile sign up stats, how your online donors and volunteers found you, then you are well on your way to successfully measuring your social media ROI.

One final note. I give social media webinars that focus on detailed, How To… not just big picture “Social media is great!” webinars. My primary audience is small to medium sized nonprofits, and my goal is to make sure they know how to use social media beyond the obvious [90% of nonprofit social media campaigns that I see are not operating beyond the obvious].  The New Organizing Institute and NTEN also give webinars on social media. I have never taken one from them, but they both have a good reputation.

That said, I have taken a number of social media webinars and the vast majority are really big picture, based on case studies of large national and international nonprofits with massive resources [even worse, the Obama Campaign!]. Completely not relevant to small and medium sized nonprofits. When it comes to training, just because you take one webinar and you don’t get much from it, don’t think that they are all the same. They are not. Seriously. I haven’t really said this much before because I didn’t want to appear as self-serving, but good social media training is essential, particularly for small to medium sized nonprofits on a budget. Without it, many nonprofits will be disappointed by lackluster results.

POLL: Have you ever taken a webinar about how to use social media?

23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2009 4:36 pm

    I work in higher education and see good sense in #1 and #5. I welcome your recommendations on how I can translate #2, #3, and #4 into higher education.

    • Ashley permalink
      February 4, 2010 6:25 pm

      @feliciagriffin, in higher education you could look at how many alumni give and how much they are giving on average (target group). In higher education, some of the biggest donors are those with a stake in the school, such as former students. You should check your school’s network on facebook. Those networks are filled with alumni. Also, you could look at the support of the student’s parents, or parent involvement at the school. Just a thought…hope it helps.

  2. Simon Duncan permalink
    November 16, 2009 2:28 am

    There are huge challenges for the smaller voluntary organisation using social media. Capacity, knowledge, time etc. Too often the focus is on the technology and not the organisation and what they are trying to achieve.
    To this end I (Regional ICT Champion, Yorkshire and Humber) am running a social media and the voluntary sector experiment called #socialmediavco. Check it out on my blog at Category #socialmediavco

  3. November 16, 2009 6:01 am

    Most social media webinars seems to be at the elementary level – setting up accounts, etiquette, initial ideas. I’d like to see something slightly more advanced – building communities, encouraging participation, FB applications, etc.

  4. November 16, 2009 7:14 am

    As a non-profit I find that tracking is the most useful element.

    An extra hint to help measure traffic- use a URL shorting service that breaks down information in to data that is useful for your organization. Yes, long links will automatically be made in to short links, but then you don’t get to track them yourself. Make sure you set up an account. We use because they track more data about the users that click your links. Different URL shortening services share different data with you and display it in different ways. tracks how many clicks on your post, plus how many clicks on that link posted by others. It tracks where in the world those clicks came from. It also tracks how many conversations on twitter, facebook, etc (not your’s in particular) include that link. tracks how many clicks your link generated, whether those clicks were made by people or bots, where in the world those clicks come from, which referring website they click on your link from (facebook/twitter/a cell phone app collector/ feed service spider) in case you put it in multiple places), what browser and platform (windows/mac/etc) the clickers are using, and how long ago they clicked the link. Best of all you can use an optional customizable URL (

  5. November 16, 2009 8:11 am

    Just setup Tweetdeck so I can view # of clicks on shortened url. I’m getting results showing “Metrics: 10 instances”. What is an “instance” in terms of metrics – apparently it’s not a click? Tried googling, and haven’t found answer yet.

  6. February 5, 2010 7:17 am

    There are lots of tools available for tracking – Hootsuite helps track and schedule. Using Google Analytics and Feedburner as well. More importantly ALL social media needs to be a part of a larger communications and marketing plan. I think some nonprofits, large and small, don’t have a plan and have cut and pasted actions together ad hoc – so now we add social media to a plan that may not be working anyway. Sort of like hosting a fundraising event cause we aren’t raising enough money – not a good strategy.

    The Risk of Ignoring social media is too high. However, it is a constantly changing landscape – no one has all the answers. We all try different actions – some work some don’t work as well – but we have to keep trying. If you get into Google Analytics, you can launch campaigns and measure what is and is not effective – AND learn to adjust. But you have to keep trying as effectively and efficiently as you can with the human and financial resources you have. Too many variables are too hard to measure. Focus on 1-2 actions – measure, change, start again. We all know trying to everything at one time doesn’t work – with social media there are many many options – f0cus efforts depending on your audiences. In old and new media it is ALWAYS about the donor or volunteer interests not our needs.

  7. April 26, 2010 5:36 pm

    I agree with what everyone is saying here: A plan is very important. But what really surprises me is that EDs don’t seem to see that this is just the same game: Engagement and cultivation. FB, Twitter, Flickr, Blogs, etc., are just extensions of tools we’ve been using for many decades.

    I also get a lot of “But..but…there are no case studies!” I have to take issue with this. My experience has been that if you only ask – and if you only look around on the Web at what others are doing – you will find plenty of evidence that social media are in fact effective parts of our arsenal. There ARE in fact many case studies on the effectiveness of branding/marketing with social media. And these are the tasks that we must engage in all the time to raise money.

    The problem here is that many orgs weren’t doing this effectively in the first place, so of course they now will be completely lost when faced with Web-based tools.


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