How Nonprofit CEOs Use Social Media (Enthusiastically) for Personal and Organizational Leadership | Beth's Blog

How Nonprofit CEOs Use Social Media (Enthusiastically) for Personal and Organizational Leadership

Social Media Policy

As the leader and voice for your nonprofit organization, should you as the CEO or executive director use social media as part of your organizational or personal leadership tool set?    Certainly, your marketing communications staff has talked about the benefits of effective social media integration that personalizes your organization’s brand with the voice of its leader – you.   But getting into the habit of regular tweeting, Facebooking, or experimenting with new tools like Instagram is another story.

It’s not that you don’t think it is a good idea.   But you are probably, like most who work in the social change sector, incredibly busy.   Maybe you are muttering to yourself  “Who can find the time to do social media?”    It isn’t a matter of finding the time, it is a matter of making the time and starting with some steps.    Have a conversation with your social media team and ask these questions:

  • What do you spend time doing now that you could do better via social?
  • What other executive directors in your field that you respect, follow or and feel inspired by are using social creatively?
  • What are your strengths and preferences and what is the best match in terms of social channels?
  • How will social improve things you already KNOW and value?

The executive director for the ACLU-NJ, Udi Ofer, had that exact conversation with his staff when he was started last February and set up a Twitter account @UdiACLU and started using Instagram and YouTube to answer questions about marriage equality, DOMA, police misconduct, and other issues on the organization’s docket.    While the communications department has suggested the idea, he was on board from the start.  He does his own all of his own tweeting and as his communications staff reports, “enthusiastically at that!”

Udi was not on Twitter before he started tweeting for his organization and was a Twitter novice, but he was opened to sitting down with his communications staff for a half hour tutorial where they showed him the basics of using Twitter and how to do it from his mobile phone.  What did the trick was a “How To Tweet” cheat sheet that not only included the simple mechanics, but also sample tweets from other ACLU leaders around the country, subtle form of peer pressure. Says Eliza Stram, ACLU-NJ Communications Associate, “I was able to make the sometimes intimidating prospect of tweeting approachable and very doable. In other words, if your peer at another ACLU Affiliate can do it, then so can you!”

Stram also says that her new boss was very open and enthusiastic in trying out this new way of communication with reporters, civil liberties activists, and their supporters.  Says Stram, “Without that openness, I don’t believe he would be having nearly as much fun with Twitter as he is now.”

By using twitter, the ACLU-NJ’s is not just sharing what ate for breakfast, Udi provides quotes on his organization’s most important cases and issues to reporters, in addition to their traditional press release or emailed statement.  He is also publicly debating civil liberties issues with reporters, lawyers and followers.   As Eliza notes, “Something that would have been impossible to do unless you were sitting with him in his office. ”  There is the occasional personal tweet, but these serve to make him seem approachable and human.

While Udi is the face of the ACLU-NJ in the organization’s “official” communications such as press releases or in newspaper articles or sound bytes on the evening news,  Twitter has become the place where he injects warmth into the organization.     Says Eliza, “This is accomplished through the “Ask Udi Anything” project, which asked ACLU-NJ’s followers to pose questions about his goals for the organization and even what his favorite karaoke song is! By answering the public’s questions in a video Udi became an accessible, humorous, and more personal face for the ACLU-NJ.”

Udi is just one example of nonprofit CEOs and leaders who use Twitter and other social media platforms.   Take for example Robert Falls who is the artistic director of the Goodman Theater he not only uses his personal Twitter account to highlight the Goodman’s shows, but also to share creative ideas, connect with peers, and discuss the art of theatre.

Getting Past the Learning Curve

Don’t let the learning curve get in the way of adopting social media as a personal and organizational leadership tool for your organization as Alexandra Samuel advises in this recent post on the WSJ.   While learning any new skill or tool will feel daunting when you start, if you can get started with small steps and practice it daily for a short amount of time, like Udi you’ll be a whiz in a matter of weeks.     Samuel also offers some ways to approach social media as a personal leadership tool.  This include:

  • Create a Leadership Dashboard:  Using a tool like Mention or Feedly, you can put together a small list of leadership blogs or publications and set aside 15 minutes a day to read.
  • Stay Focused:  Use online visualize tools to mindmap ideas
  • Amplify Your Voice:   If you are sharing articles suggested your staff or colleagues “read this,”  switch the channel to something like Twitter.
  • Social Media Golf Course:   Find a tool or channel that is simply fun and have some play time.

If you are a nonprofit CEO, how did you get comfortable with incorporating social media into your personal and organizational leadership tool kit?   What support and encouragement did your staff provide?   Do you have an “ah ha” moment from social media a leadership tool that convinced you it wasn’t a waste of time?

At the end of the month,  I’ll be facilitating a workshop at the 92nd Street Y in NYC call “Social Media Mindsets and Toolsets for Nonprofit,” an interactive workshop is for executive directors and organizational leaders that work for nonprofits and want to learn tips and techniques for scaling social in their organizations.   The workshop is co-presented by Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society. This will be a great opportunity to take a deep dive about these issues.

36 Responses

  1. Jarid Brown says:

    Great article Beth! The most important point that you made in this article is that effectiveness is based upon leadership engaging in social media on their own and at a personal level. Social Media is about relationships and that is something that can only be achieved through leadership tackling it themselves. For the CEO it’s about demonstrating leadership to their employees and community, not just becoming a billboard for the organization. The challenge for communicators, is not trying to control how they communicate, but rather supporting their efforts, helping them to effectively manage the time and to understand the value.

  2. Liam Bayer says:

    Nonprofit leadership involvement in social media is one of the most important things for a non-profits success. This is a great article to share with CEOs/Executive Directors who may not think they have the time, energy or influence to be active in social media. There is a learning curve, but it gets easier and easier, and is well worth it. Great article for pitching leaders about the importance and ease of social media.

  3. Jono Smith says:

    I read this post through the lens of being a lapsed ACLU member/donor. I first became a member in my late 20s after Matthew Shepard was murdered, and I became acutely aware of their work defending the targets of discrimination. I gave for a few years and then shifted my giving elsewhere. A few years ago, I rejoined when a friend asked me to: he had just joined the board of his local ACLU chapter. Once he left the board, I stopped giving and again shifted my giving elsewhere.

    Even though I’m a digital native and active on social media, I have mixed feelings about someone in Udi’s position spending a lot of their time creating content for social media. Even if Udi’s “only” spending an hour a day on social media, that adds up to a month over one year. If I were one of their donors, I’d probably prefer he spend that time focused on soliciting major donors, lobbying, building relationships with the media, recruiting new board members, and focusing on strategy.

  4. […] As the leader and voice for your nonprofit organization, should you as the CEO or executive director use social media as part of your organizational or personal leadership tool set?  […]

  5. […] As the leader and voice for your nonprofit organization, should you as the CEO or executive director use social media as part of your organizational or personal leadership tool set?  […]

  6. Dare Thompson says:

    An hour a day is only 365 hours/year – or just over 30 hours/month – or 2-1/2 days a year. That doesn’t seem so bad if he’s doing this in a way that makes a more personal connection with supporters (including donors), not just passing on info that his staff could as easily tweet for him. HOWEVER, when he eventually leaves, that personal connection goes too, and Jono points out that he himself was connected with the ACLU based on a personal connection and left when the connection left. Better that the whole organization pulls supporters in and makes them feel connected. A little trickier, I think, but worth trying to do. How about a blog on THAT, Beth?

  7. I have just started using Twitter and Instagram on a regular basis, and launched a blog this week ( I was hesitant at first but I am amazed at how it has helped me process and crystalize ideas, as well as challenged me to stay current and engaged in the ongoing public conversation that surrounds our work. For those of us whose schedules are packed with back to back meetings and very little time to think, blogging is the perfect way to connect on both a personal and broader level. I already can see the potential for greater impact by engaging in the exchange of ideas and information that blogging allows, and hope that more CEOs will take the leap into the blogosphere. Thank you, Beth, for this thought provoking post!

  8. […] How Nonprofit CEOs Use Social Media (Enthusiastically) for Personal and Organizational Leadership: As the leader and voice for your nonprofit organization, should you use social media as part of your organizational or personal leadership tool set?    Certainly, your marketing communications staff has talked about the benefits of effective social media integration that personalizes your organization’s brand with the voice of its leader – you.   But getting into the habit of regular tweeting, Facebooking, or experimenting with new tools like Instagram is another story. If you don’t, will you regret it 5 years from now? More … […]

  9. Beth says:

    Hi Dare: Great idea! I have a post from two weeks ago that is relevant. Before the whole organization can do that however you need social media guidelines – and then training and a way to coordinate all staff. More about that here:

    The ACLU-NJ has an organizational presence – so this compliments Udi work.

    Jono – interesting comments .. thank you. Udi isn’t creating content, he is answering questions from stakeholders about the issues his organization is working on — something he does through other channels as part of his job.

  10. Alex says:

    What great timing for this! I’m giving a Tweetorial to my colleagues, including our VP, today.
    p.s. if you have a copy of the Twitter Cheat Sheet, I’d love to see it!

  11. Beth says:

    Hi Alex,

    I’m not sure what they use at ACLU-NJ – but here’s a Twitter Cheat Sheet that I have used to work with c-suite

    This is a good one for newbies

  12. Jim Canales says:

    Great set of comments here, and, as always, a thoughtful post by Beth to stimulate the dialogue.

    I’d like to pick up on one strand of the blog post related to how CEOs make/find the time for social media engagement. In my experience, I have found that by engaging on twitter, I have actually saved time. In the past, I made an effort to visit various blogs, websites, and other online information sources to stay apprised of my field (both philanthropy and the areas where the Irvine Foundation works). I have found that by following the right feeds, both institutional and individual, I get that same information more easily and, frankly, I am exposed to far more that I would never have found on my own. To be sure, it’s an investment of time, but I actually think it’s a more efficient use.

    The other side, of course, is the capacity to engage in dialogue, to learn from others, and to be transparent (especially important for those of us who work in foundations, given the opaque nature of how we work/what we do/how we decide). I have genuinely enjoyed the authentic, thoughtful and respectful dialogue that social media has enabled (I recently posted on this at

    To sum up: yes, it does take time, but there are ways social media usage can make our time investment both more efficient and more fruitful. At least for me, that’s what I have experienced.

  13. Beth says:

    Thanks Jim for your thoughts on this! Very much appreciated and will share it at the meeting today.

  14. Deanna Zandt says:

    I did an interview with Rinku Sen and Malkia Cyril about their social media habits that a buncha peeps have found useful:

    The biggest question I get is from leaders who are parents and/or caregivers: how to integrate and make time for digital activities in general, when they already feel overwhelmed.

  15. Hi Beth – I’ve been reading your blog for a while. Great insights 🙂

    Like you outlined, the challenge is often a combination of comfort, capacity and time restraints. But a social presence is also becoming a key differentiator for fundraising, corporate donations and volunteer engagement.

    “Social” has become a vague term and could mean anything from podcasting to replying to blog comments. I think a helpful step for leaders is to pick one thing, preferably one they’re naturally inclined to, and do just that for a while. The options can be overwhelming, so exercising superfocus can usually get leaders unstuck.

    It could be a blog (this may be a good read: ), weekly video, or scheduling a tweetchat. Small thing to start and buil that base of comfort.

    ACLU is taking the bull by the horns and displaying thought leadership – at the end of the day, organizations (profit and non-profit) have to ask if they’re leaders or followers. And if they’re willing to do the work it takes to lead.

  16. Beth says:

    Deanna: I love the interview you did with Rinku Sen and Malkia Cyril and linked to it another post about this topic. I think Jim’s advice above about not “finding the time” but making the time – and taking small steps is spot on.

    As a card carrying member of the “Sandwiched generation” – with elderly parents and teenage children, I can attest how difficult it is to find the time to learn new skills when you feel overwhelmed. I’ve managed to change my mindset around this to look at learning at something that I do for myself and that it helps me. I also am always taking small steps and not trying to go from 0 to 100 in a week. Once I give myself permission to learn and to learn slowly – you can’t stop me.

  17. Beth says:

    Ernest: Love your blog – thanks for commenting! I agree that the ACLU of NJ is doing a great job of being thought leaders, fearless ones at that!

  18. Beth says:

    Jim: Thanks so much for your comment and your tweet about your advice as a CEO in the social good sector and how to make the time. I did a workshop as part of Knight’s Digital Media strategies for community foundations – we had a mix of CEOs and VPs of Marketing in the room – so hearing from someone in a senior leadership position at a foundation was invaluable to them!

  19. […] Blog: How Nonprofit CEOs Use Social Media (Enthusiastically) for Personal and Organizational Leadership Firespring: Why You Need a Nonprofit Blog (and Who Should Write It) socialmediatoday: Blogging is […]

  20. […] public also lets you peruse someone’s timeline before you decide if you want to follow them. Many CEOs and executive directors these days have Twitter accounts, so you can learn from the top, and by engaging with your dream […]

  21. Udi Ofer says:

    Thank you, Beth, for this terrific piece, and thank you, all, for your insights on this issue. I particularly appreciated the conversation on whether engaging in social media is good use of an executive director’s precious time. I believe that it is, and below I explain why.

    I probably spend about a half-hour a day on Twitter, but most of that time is spent in 3-5 minute segments, many of them during moments when I would not be able to place a phone call or even write a long email.

    Essentially, there are four components to my Twitter work:

    First, it’s a way for me to obtain information, and as Jim stated, it is actually a very efficient use of time. By following the right feeds, I receive updates from journalists, advocates, policymakers, and members of the public in a way that wasn’t possible before. I would even go so far as saying that if you’re an organization that engages in public policy advocacy, then you are missing out if you’re not on Twitter as there are constant conversations happening on most key issues. An executive director should be aware of the conversations that are taking place on his or her issues.

    Second, I use Twitter to raise the profile of the issues that I, and my organization, care about. Most of the time I do so by sharing an article or report or some other piece that I’ve read or written, and include my thoughts on it. The actual work on sharing the article on Twitter (remember, I would read or write the piece regardless of whether I was tweeting about it) takes a couple of minutes.

    Third, I use Twitter to connect with members of the public and other individuals that I work with. Twitter allows for quick conversations that otherwise would not be possible, certainly not on a regular basis. It is also an opportunity to humanize me and my organization, and introduce myself and our issues to the public.

    Finally, it is true that it is more time consuming to engage in the more innovative projects, such as our “Ask Udi Anything” project. But this is not a recurring commitment, and I schedule the time for it ahead of time, as I would schedule the time for a donor meeting, lobby visit, or event. This doesn’t happen all too often, and I say no (or not now) when I don’t think that it will be good use of my time.

    As for when I do this, most of the half-hour is taken up by “fill-in” time, which I would describe as gaps in my day that couldn’t be filled in by a phone call or a meeting. Examples include when I wake up in the morning and read the papers, on the train on the way to work or back home, waiting for a meeting, on line while buying lunch, etc. The ease of Twitter allows me to use time that in many ways is added time, and that in the past would just include checking email, if even that.

    This has been a great conversation. Thank you, everyone!


  22. Beth says:

    Thanks Udi – this is very helpful to hear how you use “fill in” effectively! Given that many of us use social on mobile phones, we can find a lot of time!

  23. Excellent post and comments. See post on need for senior museum personnel to use Twitter

  24. […] where time is the theme, from the melting watches to the decay implied by the ants.  In earlierpost where I profile Udi Ofer, Executive Director of the ACLU-NJ and how he uses social media and […]

  25. […] As the leader and voice for your nonprofit organization, should you as the CEO or executive director use social media as part of your organizational or personal leadership tool set?  […]

  26. Roman says:

    I always find it inspiring to hear how others are utilizing and embracing social media. I think one of the biggest lessons I have learned from a leadership perspective is to never stop learning. With social media that can be very tasking since it seems like a new app or site pops up daily. I try to spend about 30-minutes a day reading articles such as this to learn about what others are doing or the newest trending application/site available. There is always something new to learn and apply.

  27. Beth says:

    Gretchen: Great post – I added to the CEO and Social resource list

  28. […] The quantity of social media candidates is increasing. 50% report they increased the quantity of candidates from social media indicating more and more recruiters are finding qualified applicants via social media. Executives considering a job change should keep their profiles updated to reflect their current resume, title and job roles. […]

  29. Jennifer says:

    Beth or Udi,

    Would one of you be willing to share the “How to Tweet” cheat Sheet?

    I have been refusing to start using twitter personally, and our organization has a very dusty twitter account that isn’t getting use (certainly not effective use)

    …Mostly because I don’t really know how to use it (and i’m in the younger crowd still!)


  30. Great article and comments! I had a fun experience recently that I use to illustrate how social media help create spontaneous peer networks: while at a board meeting in Mexico I tweeted about the benefits of eating invasive species, which got retweeted by someone attending the TEDxManhattan event on food system that a colleague of mine was live streaming and tweeting about in Portland, OR 🙂

  31. […] How Nonprofit CEOs Use Social Media (Enthusiastically) for Personal and Organizational Leadership: As the leader and voice for your nonprofit organization, should you as the CEO or executive director use social media as part of your organizational or personal leadership tool set? … Beth’s Blog […]

  32. Christine Carolan says:

    Greetings from a tiny NGO in Australia. Thanks for sharing all this. Any chance of sharing the How to Tweet cheat sheet? It sounds like an ace start.Ta. Christine

  33. Ahh -so disappointed – I’ll be in NYC May 2 & 3 – would have loved to attend your workshop at 92nd Street Y.
    Rosemary Mendel
    Executive Director
    Tickets for Kids

  34. Beth says:

    Rosemary: Ah, disappointed too! Perhaps another time!