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That’s what (Facebook) friends are for

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Katherine Mosley, with 2-year-old daughter London in tow, helped fill the shortfall of volunteers on Aug. 24. Manna and other nonprofits are increasingly using Facebook and other social media platforms to engage supporters and promulgate their message.

By Luke Groskopf Herald staff writer

On Aug. 24, staff members at Manna Soup Kitchen found themselves lacking enough volunteers to prepare and serve the midday meal. Normally church, business and civic groups show up for pre-arranged shifts on regular days each week or month. But, sometimes, sudden cancellations or commitments elsewhere leave a gap in the schedule.

Undeterred, kitchen manager Warren Smith took to the Internet.

“No group in the kitchen today, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to put out one heck of a meal!” Smith wrote on Manna’s Facebook page, contacting all 2,462 “friends” in one stroke on a keyboard. “Please, if this is a day you would like to come to Manna and help out, that would be awesome!”

Spreading the word

It isn’t just Manna. Increasingly, charities and nonprofits of all stripes are using social media technology to rally interest and support.

La Plata County organizations interviewed cited a number of reasons: networking with like-minded groups, recruiting new volunteers, soliciting donations, image branding, advertising upcoming events and keeping followers informed of the latest news.

With its vast membership base – 1 billion worldwide users – and relative ease of use, Facebook remains the most popular platform. It often serves as a “gateway” site for nonprofits to learn the social media ropes; many are now beginning to diversify online presence to include Twitter, YouTube, Google Plus, Tumblr, WordPress and the newest in-vogue site, Pinterest.

Some local groups also are supplementing or replacing traditional paper newsletters with emailed versions made with template programs like MailChimp or Constant Contact.

Manna’s decision to open a Facebook account in January 2010 was a matter of “broadening the base,” director Sara Wakefield said.

“It was a conscious decision about wanting to attract new demographics and a more diverse pool of volunteers,” she said. “Lots of organized (volunteer) groups tend to skew older. Social media has enabled us to attract individuals and families in the 20- to 35-year-old range.”

Keeping it fresh

Multiple organizations reported a similar timetable: They took tentative steps into social media two or three years ago, posting updates only intermittently until they grew comfortable and understood how to best use the new technology.

“At first we didn’t use (Facebook) well. We didn’t stay current,” said Paulette Church, executive director of the Durango Adult Education Center.

Church said it took some outside advice to help her grasp the potential. The Community Resource Center, a Denver-based firm that offers expertise and training to nonprofits, came to Durango in summer 2010 for Rural Philanthropy Days. Representatives exhorted local nonprofits to view social media as a “business tool rather than a personal tool,” Church said.

Fort Lewis College also launched a nonprofit management certificate program in January 2010. Social media is part of the curriculum, and Church described the seminars as “instructive and useful.”

“We figured out we can’t be static,” she said.

Angie Beach, assistant executive director of Music in the Mountains, said limited time can prevent frequent updates, but nonetheless she considers Facebook a potent communication tool, especially for maintaining interest in seasonal events.

“The vision is to create a sense of community around Music in the Mountains, to keep it at the forefront of peoples’ minds, update them on what our musicians are doing throughout the year. Do they have families? Interests or causes outside of music? We also do music-education advocacy. It keeps the conversation going.”

lgroskopf@durangoherald.com

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