Thursday, August 27, 2009

Should Small Nonprofits Use Facebook as a Total CRM Solution?

I was talking to my friend Evan Parker, Manager, Digital Membership for The Nature Conservancy yesterday and he raised an interesting question.

Should very small nonprofits, i.e. orgs with staffs of 1 -2 people and/or mostly volunteer-led use Facebook as their CRM?

In case you don't know this tech lingo, a CRM is a Customer Relationship Management system. For example, Salesforce is a CRM. So are Convio and Sphere. A CRM is a super-charged database. With a CRM you can manage your contacts, send email and raise money. Every organization needs one at some point.

Fact is you can do all these things right now via Facebook for FREE. Well, the technology and applications are free, the management of the tool is not.

Here's how it would work:

1. Your Facebook Page would serve as the home page of your website.
2. Facebook would also serve as your email services provider (ESP) since you can email your fans directly via your Page.
3. Causes would serve as your "Donate Now" button.

I've generally been opposed to this idea. You can read more here. My thinking is that there is a logical progression you should follow when wading in online - especially if your goal is to raise money - and moving into "social" is 3rd not 1st on the list. However, Evan reminded me that not everyone's goal is to raise money. You may be more interested in using your web presence to do programming and or raise awareness of your issue.

What do you think? Are you using Facebook as a total CRM solution for your organization? Would you? If not, why not?



Amy Sample Ward said...

It's an interesting "devil's advocate" position to take but I really couldn't argue for it. I've worked in (past and present!) organizations with 2-3 people total on staff and would never use only Facebook - whether it was for sending out a message, or for my complete CRM. First, you don't actually have CRM functionality—sure you can message the people that are fans of your page, but that's it (no custom lists, no tracking, no personalization). Second, you have just siphoned off who will hear, respond to, or share your message by limiting your exposure to Facebook. Yes, there are numbers that show the millions of users. But, are they your community? And even if they are your community, do they want to use Facebook for connecting with, hearing from, and engaging with your organization (or do they just want to share pictures with their family, or find college friends, etc.)?

Again, I appreciate options that capitalize on free tools and simplify the workload for small organizations - but really don't think this is strategically a good decision nor do I think it is mission-centered (except for those organizations' whose communities are both all in Facebook and all want to be using the platform in this way, which is very, very few organizations).

John Haydon said...

Great idea, but I don't think it's scalable. Plus, it limits the NPO's opportunity to:

1. Offer targeted opt-in messaging, like you can do with Aweber or Constant Contact.

2. Engage with folks that are not very active Facebook users.

3. Bring fundraising efforts outside of Facebook.

4. Be taken seriously as an organization committed to making an impact on the world.

The bottom line is that there's always a cost for "free".

Allyson Kapin said...

Like Amy and John say below, at this point in time, using Facebook as a CRM is not very scalable. While I think Facebook is part of the toolbox for branding your issue, it should not be used as "The Tool". There are plenty of inexpensive CRM options for nonprofits like Democracy In Action, and even platforms like Constant Contact and My Emma that a small nonprofit could benefit from.

Laura S. Quinn said...

People use the term CRM to mean different things, but to me it means having one system to holistically track and understand all the interactions all your constituents have with your org. As other people have said, unless every one of your constituents is on Facebook, and you can serve your mission solely through outreach via Facebook, I can't see how using Facebook as a CRM makes any sense.

Dahna Goldstein said...

Thanks, Jocelyn, for an interesting post. I agree with the various comments made, and want to push their arguments just a bit further. At a core level, the *only* reason a nonprofit should use Facebook altogether is to meet its stakeholders where they are. Like others have said, to only use Facebook would assume that all of the organization's stakeholders are on Facebook and want to receive communications from the organization in that medium. I have a hard time imagining a nonprofit for which that is the case.

There's also a risk aspect. This isn't Facebook's core functionality. What if Facebook decided to stop supporting pages for nonprofits, and/or the ability to message your fans? There is no way to get contact data out in order to continue the relationships in a different system.

Brenna said...

I completely agree with everyone's comments, FB could never really be a full CRM for any nonprofit. The limited abilities page admins have to customize and contact select fans and the very limited tracking capabilities makes it wholly a part of the puzzle and not a solution. FB should definitely be used, and in some cases used aggressively like we did for CSPF recently, but it is not the end all be all because organizations still need to communicate with supporters through other channels and FB does not facilitate this well.

Rena said...

In a word: No. Many good reasons have been given thus far, but nobody has mentioned what I think is the most important one: security of donor information.

I donate to many organizations, but I will not donate to (or even become a fan of, in many cases) even my favorites through facebook because the Causes application is fundamentally insecure. The application developer has access to all of my information and that of my friends once I use Causes.

Not to mention, if you become a fan of a cause on Facebook, your name can be gleaned (along with any information you make public) by all manner of other organizations, future or current employers, etc.

I'm sure that there are free software tools out there that can address scalability and maintain the trust that donors put in an organization when they become a member or donate.

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