October 22, 2019
Nonprofit Social Media Marketing: Measuring Return on Investment

How can a nonprofit find ways to stand out from the rest and communicate in an effective and meaningful way, all the while operating on a shoestring budget?

Social media could be one answer. After all, it’s an inexpensive way to reach key demographics. But nonprofits need to be careful when investing precious resources in social media and not think of it as a “magic bullet.”

Despite their attractiveness, social media campaigns still require time, monitoring, and evaluation. As with any campaign, if the ROI (return on investment) is consistently low, a new direction should be considered. One issue is that ROI can be tough to pin down. Here are some quick, simple ways nonprofits can measure their social media ROI, while keeping an eye on their target audience and mission.

Monitor Website Traffic Stats

It used to be that website traffic was the favorite way to measure ROI, but today most nonprofits are surprised by how little traffic their websites are actually getting once they start monitoring it. Additionally, many people don’t realize that the number of “hits” a website gets is but one metric (and a fairly meaningless one at that): The number of “unique visitors” is a much better stat to look at. Luckily, every web server has a way to monitor stats, so nonprofits can see how many unique visitors they’re getting per day or month or year. The more uniques, the better!

It’s also important to know what pages of the website people are visiting and where they came from before that—the referrer. Did the visitors come from Twitter? Facebook? Where? If they came from a search engine, what was the search term used that resulted in a hit?

If the stats show that traffic hasn’t increased from using social media (it doesn’t appear that visitors are responding to things posted on Twitter by visiting the website, for example), it’s time to re-evaluate. Have efforts been made to build a community on Twitter, or has it just been used to self-promote? People will eventually ignore tweets about press releases and the like if there’s no effort made to enhance the relationship with them.

People who use sites like Facebook and Twitter want to engage in a community and look for information. Blasting them with post after post of propaganda will not only result in a poor ROI: it may actually damage the organization’s reputation and credibility by being considered “spamming.”

If social media doesn’t help to increase website traffic, then perhaps it isn’t an appropriate marketing strategy for that particular nonprofit...or they’re just doing it wrong.

Either way, a reassessment is in order.


Polling supporters is a great way to help judge social media success! For example, a poll can be created to find out what inspired them to donate on the organization’s website. Perhaps the poll can pop up after a donation has been made. People love to share their opinions and experiences, and this is a great way to collect information on what’s working and what’s not. Always keep in mind that polls need to be short and relevant for people to take the time to give useful information; resist the urge to make an overly detailed list of questions.

Communicate Needs Clearly to Get Results

Simply having a newsletter sign up button or a “donate” button on a website is not a way to get people to take action. They need to be enticed into doing things, so, if that’s a goal, then a wise investment of time would be to research where the organization’s key demographic “hangs out” and then going there to start interacting with people. In fact, active sites within the key demographic should get the heaviest time investment.

It’s important to note that the tone should be conversational, personal, and relaxed in order to provide the enticement the reader needs to hear to become a supporter. It’s pretty easy to measure success here because donations will rise, newsletter sign-ups will increase, and volunteers will step forward—or not.

Keep Track of Time

If organizations can find a way to isolate employees’ time spent performing various social media related tasks, it would be easier to approximate time and funds spent on them. For example, if one employee wrote a blog post on the organization’s website, invited Facebook followers to come read it, and then checked website stats to see how many Facebook followers came over to read the post, it’s possible to track that on a spreadsheet to see if the time invested in writing the blog post was worth it.

There’s an online calculator specifically designed to help nonprofits decide if their social media efforts are worth their time. It’s called Frogloop, and it was created with a mind toward the typical metrics that nonprofits use to measure online success:

  • How many employees are working on the campaign?
  • How many hours do they spend on it?
  • How many “followers” or “friends” or “likes” they recruit?
  • How many of those followers/friends/likes donate money, sign up for newsletters, or volunteer?
Though social media is a popular way to promote businesses right now —especially because so many portals are technically “free”—standard business practices of measuring and balancing cost vs. reward are nonetheless relevant and must be applied. Nonprofits must take care not to waste precious resources pursuing avenues that may be distracting them from doing something that may yield a higher ROI.

This article is adapted from an article published in Advice from the Pros, a newsletter produced by Braver in Needham. For more, click here.
February 2012

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