The Use of Social Media by Nonprofit Organizations: An Examination from the Diffusion of Innovations Perspective

The Use of Social Media by Nonprofit Organizations: An Examination from the Diffusion of Innovations Perspective

Richard D. Waters (North Carolina State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch042
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Abstract

Nonprofit organizations are an essential part of the social, political, and economic landscape of contemporary society. Social media provide ample opportunities for these organizations to increase their community presence, impact, effectiveness, and efficiency. A qualitative study of 39 nonprofit leaders explored how nonprofits are utilizing the potential of the social media technologies to carry out their programs and services. Thematic analysis revealed that nonprofits are slowly embracing the possibilities offered by the new social interaction technologies. Most nonprofit organizations lag behind and wait to see how other nonprofits incorporate these new communication outlets into their budgets and daily operations. Paralleling Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory, innovators and early adopters are using social media to revitalize their fundraising and volunteering efforts while the majority lags behind.
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Introduction

Nonprofit organizations are an essential part of the social, political, and economic landscape of contemporary society. They provide a way for individuals to connect to their communities, effectively participate in the democratic process and ultimately to “make a difference.” Currently, there are more than 1.9 million nonprofits in the United States (IRS, 2006). Though it is difficult to generalize about what nonprofit organizations are or what they do, most of these organizations share similar experiences, for example, raising funds or attracting volunteers.

Despite widespread interests (e.g., healthcare, economic development, religion, political, and social issues), a nonprofit organization can be defined as a voluntary association of a group of individuals bound together to pursue shared missions or goals (Lohmann 1992). In such mission-based organizations members are neither forced to relate nor enticed by the prospect of personal profit or gain, while their operation is facilitated by an endowment of resources. Through their mission-oriented work, nonprofits generate social capital—the attitude and willingness of people to engage in collective activity to address issues on the basis of shared values and beliefs, which in turn reinforce trust, confidence, and commitment of the participants (Hall, 2005).

Although nonprofits vary enormously in scope and scale, ranging from informal grassroots organizations with no assets and employees to multibillion-dollar foundations, they are facing new challenges as technological advances change the way nonprofits carry out their missions. Moreover, external stakeholders increasingly influence nonprofit organizations to adopt new technologies, including social media. The present chapter introduces a qualitative study of 39 nonprofit leaders designed to explore how nonprofits are utilizing the potential of social media to carry out their programs and services. During the study, twelve one-on-one interviews and three focus groups were conducted with nonprofit organization communicators.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Late Majority: The fourth wave of adopters of new technologies, who represent a group that generally adopts new technologies to stay even with their peer networks even though they are often cautious of change and sensitive to prices.

Cybervolunteering: Contributing time and effort to a nonprofit organization through an online connection, rather than, or in addition to, an on-site service.

Laggards: The fifth and final wave of adopters of new technologies, who want to maintain the status quo by refusing to purchase or accept new technologies or ideas because they are very skeptical.

Vlogging: Blog authoring that contains video clips to assist in relaying messages; vlogging is becoming more common as equipment becomes more accessible and distribution channels, such as YouTube and Google Video, increase their storage capacity.

E-Philanthropy: The cultivation and management of relationships with key stakeholders of nonprofit organizations using the Internet.

Innovators: The first adopters of new technologies who are willing to face uncertainty and risks as they interact with new technologies and ideas.

Early Majority: The third wave of adopters of new technologies, who represent the group that adopts a technology just before the “average” person based on the actions of opinion leaders in their social system.

Diffusion of Innovations: The study of how, why, and at what rate new technologies and ideas spread through a social system or organization.

Early Adopters: The second (after the innovators) wave of adopters of new technologies, who represent opinion leaders in a social system because of their decision-making skills.

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