Author Archives: Joel Harrison

About Joel Harrison

Joel’s mission is to spread ideas that help people rally together to change our world. He is a writer, podcaster, designer, and the founder of Methodic Content, a nonprofit marketing agency providing creative services and communication strategy to nonprofits.

5 Biggest Mistakes Executive Directors Make on Social Media [with Chris Brandt]

See Chris Brandt at The Digital Nonprofit 2019.

As a founder or executive director of a nonprofit, the decisions you make around social media can be as important as almost any other in your organization.

One flop and the world can come at you with pitchforks. One hit and you’re riding the Lemons for Leukemia all the way to the world record of donor registrations in a day.

But in actuality, the chances of that are slim-to-none, and the biggest mistakes are usually around tactical choices that stifle your chances of growth.

We all hope for online success like the Lemons for Leukemia campaign, or the ice-bucket challenge. Something that goes so viral that my parents can find out about it, and they still txt 2day like ppl did long b4 smartphones.

However, slow, steady growth is often the path of most nonprofit’s social media, that is, unless you’re falling into these 5 biggest mistakes.

I was fortunate to have a conversation with Chris Brandt, founder of Charity Agency and former ED of Music Heals, about his experience with social media, and the mistakes he sees EDs making.

Chris will also be speaking on this very topic at the Digital Nonprofit Conference on June 11, 2019. His talk is titled: Social Media from the Top, and in this interview, we get a brief look into how he sees this space. (Tickets still available, see him and 6 other expert presenters in person).

Oh and I think I forgot to mention that Chris was able to secure a $280,000 donation as a result of activities on Instagram. Still think social media is a nice-to-have afterthought?

Mistake #1: Not Being On Social Media Yourself

Okay, without being too blatantly obvious, Chris explains that many executive directors feel that having the organization’s voice is enough online. The thing is, social media is about people and as a leader you need to be the face of your organization. Of course, you already know this, but it absolutely extends to social media too.

So you really have two options, you can either be entrenched in your organization’s accounts, or even better, use your own personal brand to spread the message.

“People donate to their friends and people doing great work, not to organizations”

– Chris Brandt

If you can give a very real and transparent look at the work from your perspective, it will go a long way for stewardship and fundraising.

Mistake #2: Thinking You Have Nothing to Say

Just last week a grilled cheese sandwich caught my eye on Instagram and reconnected a relationship that faded away over a year ago. It gave me a reason to message that person again. True story.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right. Posting a picture of your lunch isn’t going to get people to donate to your organization. But showing the real you, and the work you do builds relationships. And again, as Chris said before, “people donate to their friends”.

But let’s say lunch selfies aren’t your thing, the options are truly endless. A meeting you had with a friend, an update from your program, the staff meeting, the new design work you’re doing. These are all part of your story.

The important part here is that if you post once a month, these posts seem insignificant. But if you’re regularly posting with a mixture of content, those small, seemingly mundane events of the day begin to paint the bigger picture. The picture of you out in front leading an organization that’s tackling a mission worthy of support.

Expert Tip

Don’t be afraid to think small, especially with visual content.

Chris gives an example of a music event he did that involved children. Limited by wanting to protect their privacy on social media, he quickly snapped a picture of the ukuleles all lined up and wrote a post about the experience. Small details can mean big stories.

Mistake #3: Focusing on Media Instead of Social in Social Media

I mentioned Chris was able to secure a $280,000 donation from activities on Instagram, which is proof that social media is absolutely a fundraising tool.

BUT, and here’s the big one, it is not simply an advertising platform. Many executive directors get sucked into thinking, “we’re low on donations this month, let’s send a message asking for donations on Facebook” or “we have an event coming up, let’s post about it to get attendees”.

While neither of those is inherently bad, always focusing on broadcasting your organization’s needs is not what social media platforms were designed for.

“80-90% of your social shouldn’t be about selling or asking”, said Chris.

So what else is there you ask? Connect with people. Comment on their posts, or respond to their comments. Share posts that THEY would find value in, not you. Ask questions, listen and respond. That is what being social means.

Mistake #4: Leaving Your Social Media to Someone Else

“Would you put an intern or volunteer in front of a million dollar donor? You just did when you outsourced your social media.”

– Chris Brandt

There’s so much behind this statement. First of all, we could be talking about your organization’s social account, or we could be talking about your personal one as the ED, it doesn’t matter.

While you might think social media is an afterthought, everyone from strangers, to volunteers, to spam accounts, right up to your biggest donors and sponsors could be watching any and all of your posts on social media. This is why it’s critical to have the proper voice behind your accounts, and why your voice as the ED is so valuable.

Expert Tip

If you are going to outsource the management of your accounts to interns, have them take control of the in-between, non-critical content. Have a couple months before your next big event? Get them to share pieces of your newsletter and call-to-actions to subscribe.

Mistake #5: Not Understanding or Targeting Your Audience

This also comes down to the idea of creating value for your audience instead of value for your organization. What posts can you share that your ideal follower would like to engage with?

Chris shared an example of how one of their most engaging posts at Music Heals one year was actually a reposted photo of Adele when she was touring the Vancouver area. They understood their audience, musicians and music fans, and gave them content to engage with without asking for anything in return.

This idea that you should be targeting a specific group of people comes naturally to some organizations and can be a struggle for others. But just know, that targeting a specific audience makes this entire process 10x easier and more impactful for your followers.

Expert Tip

Spend a few minutes and get clear on your target audience, then think about what you could share that’s NOT about your organization, but still provides value to that community.

Want More? The Digital Nonprofit 2019 is Coming Up

To dive deep into this topic on how you, as an executive director, can lead your organization online, consider attending NetSquared’s all-day conference in June.

Join over 200 other nonprofit professionals, executive directors, and industry influencers to watch Chris present, as well as keynotes from Beth Kanter and Vu Le.

This conference sells out fast every year, so be sure to get your tickets early!


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Signs Your Nonprofit Staff are Heading to Burnout (and you too!)

Take a breath in, then out. Your work pile just got bigger. Your board wants you to host another event, your best volunteer just left, and you’re starting to question how long you can keep this up…

For some, this doesn’t just happen once in a while. It seems like slogging through, and always being buried in a backlog, is just normal for many nonprofit leaders.

That’s why I’m anxiously counting down the days to The Digital Nonprofit 2019 conference in June! (Go here to get tickets) Beth Kanter will be presenting a keynote talk titled The Happy Healthy Nonprofit: Linking Self-Care and Wellbeing to Organizational Impact – just in time for many nonprofits who need to hear this message.

But, even through the struggle, nonprofit work is very rewarding. You still get rushes of satisfaction that keep you going. That’s why it can be hard to step back and have the awareness to contemplate if you’re burning yourself out.

But what about your staff or volunteers?

It’s much easier to work on ourselves, but what about recognizing issues with staff or volunteers?

Are you working them to the point of burn out?

Probably not intentionally. Often, the pressure of working long hours, and giving it that extra push to get it all done, sneaks out of nowhere. It’s an unwritten expectation that’s absorbed through the culture and accelerated by our own compassionate, helpful personalities.

What’s the harm in asking?

As a leader, you might have the perception that “I’m not forcing anyone to do anything. I just asked, and they jumped on the idea”.

It’s fantastic that you have such inspired employees or volunteers. However, the reason they’re working for a nonprofit is likely a desire to help others. This makes it so easy for them to say YES.

I know because I’m the same way. I used to volunteer to lead music at church. It started out occasionally, then once a month, then somebody left and I was doing it almost every week. What was initially a fun contribution, turned into an overwhelming obligation.

When I hear of a need, my immediate reaction is, “I can do something to help”. I pile on the work and tend to overload myself. The kicker? I’m totally excited to do it, so you wouldn’t know it’s even an issue!

Well, you wouldn’t know until later… I eventually had enough and dropped out of that music role completely.

So as a leader, it’s your job to help your staff recognize signs of burnout. You need to be conscious of the culture you’re creating and actively battle against it to keep your people refreshed, passionate, and productive.

In her new book, Beth Kanter revealed key signs of burnout for nonprofit fundraisers, but it also applies to you and your nonprofit staff and volunteers. Beth’s new book, The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit, co-written with Aliza Sherman, is also her inspiration for her upcoming keynote presentation at The Digital Nonprofit Conference 2019, June 11 in Vancouver.

Visit the event page to register for tickets

1st Sign: Irritation at Small (seemingly insignificant) Things

You might hear of a staff member that’s causing issues with people and getting overly frustrated at printer jams. Yes, people have bad days, but if this happens frequently, it might be time to check in with them (or check in with yourself), as burnout might be around the corner.

As Beth Kanter explains it, “every nonprofit fundraiser has to put up with some annoyances, but if you’re feeling like you’re at your wit’s end at the start of the day, you might be burning out. Left unchecked, this can evolve into angry outbursts and serious arguments both at home and at work.”

2nd Sign: Frequent Distractions and Lack of Focus

This can be a bit hard to recognize in others, and it can also have multiple causes, but when you’re getting overworked and stressed, an obvious symptom can be distractions. You end up finding yourself, or your staff, seeking out more chit chat than usual. Or those phones are out frequently, and Facebook is on the computer screen more often than usual. When productivity is dropping like this it could be from feeling so overworked that sitting down to pick 1 task out of the 100 seems impossible. Finding distractions is much easier.

3rd Sign: Feeling Sluggish and Tired Despite Sleeping Well

Again there can be a variety of reasons that your staff could seem tired, and to uncover this sign you probably need to start having conversations with people. Begin by asking them questions with genuine concern about their health and their sleep. Ruling these out will help you determine if this is a sign of burnout – or simply just a cold that won’t go away.

If you feel you’re too close to the situation, try asking other colleagues about the employees in question. Often people are more comfortable chatting to people who are not their direct boss.

4th Sign: Consistently Working Overtime

This can be a difficult one because if it’s a reality, it’s usually because there is work that NEEDS to be done, right? Well, that might be the case, but if you or your staff are constantly working overtime, it means they’re not refreshing.

Former FBI agent, Chris Voss, says that people are up to 30% smarter when they’re in a positive frame of mind. I would say relaxation and time with family and friends helps you to be in a positive frame of mind. So you can do the math on how productivity and performance would be dragged down by being overworked.

Get Back a Healthy Workplace

Of course, this doesn’t apply to just your staff, it’s your volunteers, it’s your board, and it’s you too. We’re all susceptible to getting burnt out. These signs don’t always result in quitting, but it can lead to a lot of contagious negativity in the workplace, poor health, and a drain of resources.

So next time you’re saying hi to an employee, skipping your lunch, or getting frustrated at nothing. Think about Beth’s 4 warning signs of burnout. Once identified, then you can dive deeper and take action.

If you’d like to dive deeper into this topic, come hang out with NetSquared, Beth Kanter, Vu Le, and over 200 other nonprofit leaders at The Digital Nonprofit Conference 2019.

Register for tickets today (limited availability for early bird pricing!)