Pro Bono Feature

Social Media and Pro Bono: An Essential for Program Success

Online social media has achieved a permanent place in modern society. What started out as a fun activity for young people has blossomed into a mainstream tool used not only for social interaction but also business networking and marketing. Use of social media extends across nationalities and age brackets and should be considered regardless of a program’s constituency.

For pro bono programs with limited financial and staff resources, social media is a great new tool. Today websites are necessary to establish an impression of stability and credibility both to potential volunteers and potential clients. Websites alone, however, do not provide the optimal opportunity to reach the legal community. As Lisa A. Bowen, pro bono shareholder at Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C., stated “…websites are, in general, kind of dry and rather static. There is important information, but not much excitement. Once you have visited a website for a law firm, business, or pro bono program, you are not likely to return often.”1

Social media can be best summarized as web based, mobile technology used to communicate through interactive dialogue. Typically this is facilitated through sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Social media allows a pro bono provider to connect with the community in a way that can be more effective and is, for the most part, free to the program. Although there are numerous ways in which social media can be beneficial to pro bono, we will focus on five areas where social media can assist in supporting or strengthening a program: marketing, recruitment, fundraising, intelligence gathering and extending accolades.

Marketing

The most beneficial use of social media for a pro bono program is the opportunity to market to a large audience at virtually no cost. Pro bono managers can alert current volunteers, potential volunteers and even potential clients of upcoming events in an interactive and immediate way.

Effective marketing can also be achieved through interactive participation from community members. Facebook, Foursquare and Scvngr allow individuals to “check in” when they are at a location, such as an office, program or clinic. This creates an opportunity for followers or fans to serve as extended marketers by promoting a pro bono program or project to all of their friends.

By providing up to date information and maintaining meaningful conversation with members of the pro bono community, programs build a rapport from which endless marketing opportunities can arise. It is important to keep in mind, however, that people do not want to be talked at; they prefer to be talked to and to be heard in return. Programs who use social media solely to push information can find that people quickly stop listening. Social media is highly interactive and to be effective, a program should post regularly about what is happening in the pro bono community, ask questions and respond to feedback. If followers do not feel they are being engaged they are less likely to revisit a Facebook page, Twitter feed or other social site. As Kivi Miller2 puts it, a program should avoid one way broadcasting and should instead view social media like a party where one can mix, mingle and socialize. Once a program has established a two-way relationship with fans and followers, they have access to a large base of individuals who will assist with publicizing a pro bono program’s core activities, such as recruitment and fundraising.

Recruitment

Pro bono programs can connect with potential volunteers both directly and indirectly through websites like Facebook and Twitter. By tweeting,3 posting, and blogging, programs regularly inform followers of what is happening within the program. A relationship develops in which individuals interested in volunteering or those who support a particular program’s goals hear first hand what is happening within the program. According to Kivi Miller, social media fans want to go behind the scenes of an organization. By tweeting and posting up to date information programs provide an opportunity to feel a part of the program and its activities.

Pro bono managers are also able to post or tweet “help needed” information which informs viewers about opportunities to become involved. The ABA Military Pro Bono Project regularly uses Facebook to post available pro bono cases with a brief description of the issues involved. This lets potential volunteers stay abreast of pro bono opportunities and shows the community as a whole the type of work accomplished through the program.

Lastly, social media can assist in recruitment efforts by facilitating easy and accessible training opportunities. By offering webinars and video training tools, a program is able to provide convenient access to information that volunteers can use to gain the knowledge necessary to successfully handle a pro bono case. If opportunities for training are more convenient for volunteers it can be significantly easier to encourage participation and ease the “fear of the unknown” many volunteers associate with pro bono work.

Accolades

Social media also provides a free and convenient opportunity to highlight the accomplishments of the volunteer attorneys who have given their time and skill in a manner worthy of recognition as well as those of the program itself.  Many pro bono programs list attorney volunteers in bar association or other publications, highlighting the achievements an attorney made in a pro bono client’s life. Making these same announcements through social media sites is another way to inform individuals about the achievements of a pro bono program as well as encourage the continued support of current volunteers. As an example, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) recently highlighted the attorneys of the month on Twitter and provided a link to the full article about the case handled. This multi-faceted promotion of both the attorneys and the work accomplished through the volunteer relationship is attractive to readers and to attorneys considering becoming future volunteers. Additionally, KIND drove traffic from Twitter to the organization’s website, where readers can access additional information about the organization. By providing accolades to pro bono attorneys, programs support their recruitment efforts in a way that is genuine and effective.

Another manner in which pro bono programs use social media to offer accolades is by highlighting successful cases handled. These announcements, although similar to those highlighting attorneys, focus more on the impact of pro bono representation. On the ABA Military Pro Bono Project’s Facebook page there are “Success Story” notes posted to the wall that highlight the outcomes of cases handled through the program. By posting a note a program has more room to fully discuss the details of the case which is important in perpetuating the forwarding of information by members of a pro bono program’s social media community. Links to the note can then be circulated via Twitter and other social media outlets.

As Logan Smalley, founder and co-president of the Darius Goes West Foundation stated: “You have to stimulate an emotional incentive for people – so they feel a sense of pride and joy when they forward your organization’s story to their friends.” This can be accomplished by highlighting both the accomplishments of the organization as a whole and giving a meaningful account of how clients’ lives have been affected.

Fundraising

A growing trend is to use social media to enhance pre-existing campaigns or, increasingly, to create fundraising campaigns. Many organizations use social media to promote traditional fundraising such as raffles, 5K walk/runs or fundraising galas. The use of free social media posts, tweets and blogging provides a quick and far reaching means of informing the public about upcoming events. Additionally, social media encourages event participants to spread the word in a way that is fun and inviting.

Programs can also use social media to direct followers to the donation section of the program’s web page. According to Blackbaud, a nonprofit technology solutions company, “Twitter users increased their fundraising goals at least three times and raised nearly ten times more than those who did not use Twitter. In fact, Twitter is the only method in which the average fundraiser consistently beats his or her goal. Adding Twitter to any other effort increases the likelihood of donation.”  

There are also opportunities to use social media to raise funds directly. The Red Cross and other organizations have successfully solicited donations through Twitter and mobile phone campaigns. Other organizations have used Twitter and Facebook to garner support for Chase Community giving and other competitive funding.

Social media fundraising provides a safe, easy and instant mechanism to donate funds. It is not only a viable option for pro bono programs but one that must be seriously considered in these tough economic times.

Intelligence Gathering

Finally, social media can be an effective tool in gathering information from the public. A program can get feedback every day by simply paying close attention to what the community is discussing. The hot topic of the day or the complaints and concerns of community members become visible just by following what is being said. When speaking of the benefits of Twitter, Marc A. Pitman, of fundraisingcoach.com, states that by reading tweets from followers “[y]ou can form your very own “listening post” and hear what others are saying about the issues that affect your mission. This can help you generate ideas and tell your story better.”

Additionally, programs can get instant feedback from fans through polls and insightful questions. Polls are short and simple to use and can aid in determining the type of cases volunteers are interested in working on, the areas of training volunteer attorneys would like made available or the aspects of an organization’s volunteer program in need of improvement.

Blog posts also provide an opportunity for information gathering. Readers are able to leave comments and discuss amongst themselves their thoughts on a particular issue highlighted through a program’s blog. For example, the Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service is using a blog to hold a national conversation on pro bono by periodically posting questions and inviting readers to respond in the comments.

Conclusion

With proper use, social media can highlight the fun side of pro bono and give the community a stake in the success of the program. Such a feeling is likely to lead to increased participation, improved retention and a greater commitment to ensuring the goals of the program are met successfully. It is important for every pro bono provider to recognize the great potential of social media and to capitalize on this free medium. Pitman sums it up best when he states: “Social media sites allow you to extend conversations with donors, build stronger relationships between them and your organization, listen to what others are saying about your cause or your organization, and meet colleagues for training and for real-time help. And it’s free.” (emphasis added).


1 See complete blog post at http://thepbeye.probonoinst.org/2011/06/08/guest-blog-social-media-and-pro-bono/. Lisa A. Borden also writes for the firm’s pro bono blog at One Good Turn.

2 Kivi Miller is president of NonprofitMarketingGuide.com and the author of "The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause" (Jossey-Bass, 2010)

3 A tweet is a post or a status update on Twitter, a microblogging website.