A client, Micah House, a nonprofit agency serving refugees, has been struggling with ways to effectively communicate information to its volunteers and supporters about information that can change daily. Volunteers who cook and serve meals to guests needed to know how many guests to cook for. Also, there is a need to send out requests for material needs. For example, guests often need furniture or help with moving when they get their own apartment. Sending out daily e-mails was not the answer. Not only was it burdensome to the staff, but many volunteers did not check their e-mail frequently enough.

Then, one day not long ago, I was sitting in on a presentation about social media at the Association of Fundraising Professionals‘ one-day conference, Fundraising Day, in  Toronto. There was the solution—Twitter! The micro-blogging service just might do the trick. If you know Facebook, then think of Twitter as having just the status, or ‘What’s on your mind’, field on a Facebook page.  It’s easy to use, works on multiple platforms (web, RSS feeds, or on your cell phone) and can keep people informed quickly. Not only that, but it has the potential to communicate in new ways to the agency’s existing audience and communicate to a new audience as well.

I proposed the idea and it was well received. In just a minute or two an account was set up. For volunteers who were not up on Twitter, it was easy to add a bit of code to the agency’s web site so the most recent posts appear there, too. Within minutes of announcing that they were on Twitter, the account started accumulating followers.

This will not answer all of Micah House’s communication challenges. This tool will not reach every person it needs to, but it’s an easy solution to help in many ways and will  complement its other communication strategies. But it does improve communication, it shows that the agency is flexible and creative, and it is reaching out to potentially new supporters. Social media also has its own set of etiquette that needs to be followed in order for it to work. (There’s already lots on the web in that department.)

How about you, have you seen a creative way to put social media to work for your nonprofit or business?