Social Media Strategy: Athletes for a Cure

Post by Frank Barry - 5.13.2009 - Follow me on Twitter

We work with some incredible organizations here at Blackbaud. Recently we’ve been talking a lot about how social media can be used effectively in the nonprofit space and how social media tools can be leveraged to improve your web site so we thought to ourselves – what better way to help you see the value of social media for nonprofits than to give you the stage here at NetWits Think Tank. Consider this the first post in a series on Social Media Strategy where we will highlight various nonprofits by allowing them to share their story.

Athletes for a Cure LogoHuge thanks goes out to Scott Zagarino from Athletes for a Cure who spent some time with us and shared a few of his social media insights for nonprofits and event oriented organizations. If you want to know more about what Athletes for a Cure is all about check them out on their BlogFacebook and Twitter.

Let’s jump right into the interview …

Why did you decide to jump into using Social media?

In late 2007 the handwriting was on the wall. All of those teaser mortgages were coming due, the derivative house of cards was beginning to tumble, and defense spending was spiraling out of control. It didn't take a genius, which I'm not, to see that we were headed toward a 3-hole belt tightening, and the first notch in my opinion was going to be event giving from small donors.

There are two solutions to most financial issues. Either "lower the bridge" by lowering expenses, or "raise the river" by increasing revenue. Since event fundraising is the most expensive money to raise in philanthropy, and the economy was going to actually lower the river, the solution had to be in expenses. This was an opportunity for us at Athletes for a Cure, since our mandate from our humble beginnings two and a half years ago was to create a sustainable event fundraising model in a completely new paradigm.

I've always been an early adopter, and I was spending a lot of time watching the evolution of the social platform. My observation was that if used correctly it would be the perfect avenue to cut communications expenses while providing the key benefit to us of creating an ongoing dialog with our constituency free from the "ask."

What process did you employ to get to your current social media strategy?

The old Yiddish saying comes to mind here, "Measure ten times before you cut instead of the other way around." I spent literally hundreds of hours looking at blogs, Searching Facebook Fan Pages, using a personal Twitter account to watch timelines, and looking at all of the burgeoning technologies and news. What I learned, I learned by watching before building anything. The most important thing I learned in all of that was flexibility. The best analogy is that over the years I've done a lot of work with Special Operations personnel and one of the most outstanding characteristics, which in my opinion runs completely contrary to corporate "think" is that they train and rehearse so rigorously is because the knowledge of how a plan works thoroughly allows for greater efficiency, effectiveness and execution when the plan goes to hell.

Can you give some advice on how to get started?

We give all of our new people the following three (3) rules:

  1. Listen ten (10) times as much as you speak until people know you.
  2. Contribute, never sell.
  3. This is a kind of anarchy that every generation enjoys for only a short while. Have fun, enjoy yourself and don't be afraid to tell on yourself.

What obstacles/challenges did you have to overcome in ‘selling’ social media to your internal stakeholders?

Probably the biggest hurdle was overcoming the how it monetizes itself question, usually spoken as "We're not investing so you can play on Facebook. " My .02 is that if you're going to present this to uniformed decision makers, it's best in the long term to hold your ground on building relationships that result in mutual support, not how to create a strategy that focuses on ways to ask for money.

How about some advice on how to sustain?

That's easy. In philanthropy our job (which sadly is often lost in the din of the cash register) is to be of service. To me that's our highest calling and the most fulfilling thing I do. If I keep my network focused on people we serve, and like-minded people who want to help, sustaining my network becomes the most effective, fulfilling thing I do in my daily life. Conversely, if one were to simply try to accumulate an immense, and impressive number of names in their network, most of whom they wouldn't cross a room to shake hands with, then my advice would be sheer greed or extraordinary discipline.

How would you help another nonprofit harness the potential of social media?

This is my "one floor social elevator speech." My Dad died of cancer a few years ago. My lasting memory of him was when he would enter a crowded room, he would zero in on the most uncomfortable person, walk up to them, put out his hand and say, "My name is Frank Zagarino and I'm glad to know you." If that's your presence no matter what platform suits you, you can't go wrong.

What the number one most important thing to remember when using social media?

Be social. People will always figure out what you do and if you support them, they'll support you.

How do you measure success with social media, the infamous ROI?

I just left a board meeting where I had to do just that. In this economy we are up 192% in fundraising revenue, and 5% under budgeted expenses on this year's budget. The key number to tie to is that we cut 23% from our print budgets and revenue went up. The reciprocal would be to spend a lot of time trying to quantify sources. The question is, back to my Special Ops friends, “What is the objective?”. Do you want less efficient, lower revenue with great process or higher revenue, better relationships and lower cost? Pick the date you start your social program and keep the graph. It's hard to argue with the bottom line.

How has the adoption and use of social media grown internally?

I see a lot more Facebook Wall Posts and tweets with familiar internal names than I did six months ago. The side benefit is that you really get to know who you're working with (laughing).

What are some of the most common misconceptions you’ve had to overcome?

Two most common are, "It's a toy," and "It's a sales tool."

Tell us some things not to do?

A much smarter person than me already did this. Read, "All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten," by Robert Fulghum.


Scott and his team at Athletes for a Cure are doing a great job leveraging social media to enhance their organizations brand and message. We appreciate you spending some time with us and sharing what you have learned with our readers. This type of insight and sharing is invaluable to other nonprofits out there looking to get their feet wet with social media or improve what they are already doing.


Related info:

A few more nonprofit interview posts:


Posted in: nonprofit, fundraising, nptech, socialmedia, socialnetworking


Speak up! What challenges have you faced? What successes have you had? Please share your story with us here in the comments. We know Athletes for a Cure isn’t the only nonprofit out there doing great work!

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