Nonprofits often perceive foundations as monolithic black boxes into which emails and grant proposals disappear. Unfortunately, that sentiment does little for Knight Foundation’s mission of fostering informed and engaged communities. Experimenting with social media has been critical for combating that impression. It has enabled us to open up our grantmaking staff and processes, share our insights, and build stronger networks.
We’re using social media to foster better conversations with our grantees. Even seemingly small gestures have gone a long way toward building online credibility. For example, Knight fields grantee questions on Twitter and responds with timely information, benefitting fellow grantees with similar questions and reducing staff time spent answering questions. Meanwhile, the program staff that runs the Knight News Challenge has hosted Google+ Hangouts to connect with potential grantees and partners. We’ve also used webinars and live-chats to increase our reach.
Why do we take this approach? The success of our mission depends on the success of our grantees, partners, and networks. Since these key audiences increasingly use social media to communicate, especially in our funding areas of media innovation and technology for engagement, it’s important to meet them where they reside.
Beyond grants management, Knight leverages social media to support the work of our partner organizations. We’ve helped grantees attract broader support and raise their visibility by featuring their work for visitors to our website and our 30,000 Twitter followers to read. This includes a variety of tactics, from posting videos of Knight News Challenge winners on our site, to writing blog posts about grantees such as Citizen Effect, a movement to recruit citizen philanthropists in Philadelphia and Detroit. We’ve also helped grantees recruit for job openings by using our established networks on social media platforms.
Knight increases access to its resources, events, and thought-capital through social media. By live-blogging and live-tweeting this year’s Media Learning Seminar, we nearly tripled the amount of people who were able to participate. Meanwhile, Knight disseminates its research and evaluation project findings through social media so grantees and leaders in the fields where we work can apply lessons learned. For example, a recent evaluation on social impact games that included data visualizations and infographics achieved a good deal of adoption because the content was shareable on social media; we even noticed people pinning the infographic on Pinterest. Social media enables us to be more innovative in our evaluations and experiment with new ways to make insights accessible and relevant to partners in the field.
The commitment to social media across all levels of our organization – from our board and CEO to our staff – has been critical to advancing these efforts. So has stronger collaboration between our communications department and program staff. Our communications team has provided one-on-one trainings in social media tools like Twitter and Storify because, ultimately, program staff that manage grantee relationships constitute the outward looking face of the foundation.
The Center for Effective Philanthropy’s social media report demonstrates that funders can better harness the power of social media with their grantees, and Knight is no exception (Note: Knight Foundation grantees were not included in the report data, but we will soon receive results from our own grantee survey.) Knight wants to learn more from grantees about how we could use social media to advance their work. We also need to analyze our social media efforts more rigorously so we better understand which tactics have been effective, what kinds of content our network values, and how we focus future efforts.
Knight has completed an initial shift from using social media to communicate with grantees to using social media to increase their success. We’re excited to continue iterating our approach to deploying social media to accomplish our goals and those of our partners.
Jon Sotsky is Director of Strategy & Assessment at Knight Foundation. He can be found on Twitter @jonsotsky. Elizabeth R. Miller is Communications Associate at Knight Foundation. She can be found on Twitter @ElzbthMllr.
Join the conversation about the findings featured in Grantees’ Limited Engagement with Foundations’ Social Media on Twitter using the hashtag #cepsocialmedia.