Revised January 5, 2017
Evaluating Online Activities:
Online Action Should Create & Support Offline Action & Results
Your organization has a profile on an online
social networking site such as FaceBook,
and you have hundreds of "friends" linked from your profile.
Your organization has thousands of subscribers to an email newsletter.
Dozens of people virtually attended your virtual presentation on Second
You have hundreds, even thousands, of people following you on Twitter
Hundreds, even thousands, of people voted for you on some contest as the
"best" nonprofit, or the one with the best idea.
Hundreds of "friends." Thousands of followers. Dozens of "virtual"
attendees. Those are impressive numbers on the surface, but if those
numbers don't translate into more volunteers, repeat volunteers, new and
repeat donors, new and repeat clients, greater onsite event attendance,
legislation, press coverage, or public pressure, they are just that:
For online activities to be of any value, online action must create and
support offline action or behavior, or measurable engagement with
targeted audiences. What could this look like?
Evaluation of your online activities can be done formally and informally.
Formally, there are email surveys, phone (or online audio) surveys,
web-based surveys, and focus groups (which can be done online, using various
tools, or onsite), as well as reviewing data, such as demographic changes
among volunteers that could be attributed to your social media activities.
- An increase in the number of volunteers providing service to your
- An increase in the number of volunteers who stay with your
organization over a longer term
- A greater diversity of volunteers providing service, with greater
representation from under-represented groups
- Greater numbers of donors
- More repeat donors
- New donors
- Greater attendance to conferences, workshops, etc.
- Greater attendance to events with an entrance fee, which creates
- Greater numbers of downloads or purchases of a publication or other
- Greater numbers of clients or people served
- More repeat clients
- A greater diversity of clients receiving services from your
- Larger numbers of people writing government officials, corporate
representatives or the media regarding the cause your organization
promotes, or engaging in other activism and advocacy on your behalf
- Larger numbers of people filling out surveys that you will use in
creating proposals, reports and publications regarding your
- More feedback from volunteers, donors, clients and the general public
regarding your work
- Elected officials, government workers (police, social workers), or
other officials commenting on your work (online, or making a reference
offline to something you shared online)
- Volunteers and clients reporting a perception of greater support from
- Volunteers and clients reporting a new / changed perception that
relates to your mission (for instance, those you engage with online
reporting that they are no longer prejudiced against a particular group
or community) or a change in behavior or practice that relates to your
organization's mission (for instance, if you were an organization that
promotes recycling, and those you engage with online telling you they
are recycling more)
- Volunteers, clients, staff, the general public and/or the press
reporting a perception of greater support from your organization, an
improved perception of the organization's impact, an increased awareness
about the cause an organization promotes, etc.
- People commenting on your Facebook status updates, asking questions or
affirming your message or even disagreeing with something, giving you an
opportunity to comment further.
- "Likes" on status updates/messages.
To track the results of your organization's online activities, you
Informally, you can ask volunteers, donors or others you encounter in a
casual setting about your organization's online activities. "What do you
think of the debate this week on our online discussion group" is a great
conversation starter while waiting for your coffee, or a worthwhile last
sentence in an email discussion something else. Informal or casual ways of
seeking feedback are just as important as formal ways; creating an
atmosphere where feedback and observation is welcomed at anytime means
success and problems don't wait to be discovered. Keep track of what you
hear or read informally about online activities by your organization. This
includes compliments, complaints, observations, whatever. No matter what you
hear about online activities by your organization, write it down for later
investigation or to use in an internal report. This ensures that issues are
really captured and will, hopefully, actually be addressed. Negative issues
don't go away on their own, and may wait silently until remembered at the
least opportune moment.
- Ask all new volunteers, donors, clients, event attendees and others
how they heard about your organization
- Track attendance to all events, from volunteer orientations to large
conferences, and compare attendance before and after online activities
- Track volunteer service contributions (when were the offers made in
relation to social media activities?)
- Track donor financial contributions (when were the offers made in
relation to social media activities?)
- Survey new and repeat volunteers, donors, clients and event attendees
regarding why they came or return to your organization or events
- Ask questions in surveys of volunteers, donors, clients, event
attendees and others regarding your organizations online activities and
how they feel this does, or does not, support them in their relationship
with your organization, how it does, or does not, prompt them to write
or call government officials, corporate representatives or the media
regarding the cause your organization promotes, etc.
- Do pre-online event and post-online event/activity surveys or
quizzes, to see if perceptions or awareness changes
- Continually track and review the demographics of volunteers, donors,
clients and others involved with your organization
- Continually track and review feedback from volunteers, donors,
clients and the general public regarding your work
- Consult with government officials, corporate representatives or the
media regarding activities by your supporters and their perception of
Taking this even further: is your organization touting its online
activities as supporting its mission? Then you are saying that your online
activities are helping to meet your organization's outcomes -- you are
saying these online activities aren't just outputs, but that you have
measures to show real impact by your online activities towards your
mission. More on Measuring
Real Outcomes from Hildy Gottlieb (the "Practical Examples" at the
bottom of the page is particularly helpful).
Are there any online results that can reflect success regarding your
organization's online activities? Yes. Instead of number of followers,
consider these measures:
It will take internal investigation to find out if this is happening. If it
is, then reflect these incidents and changes in internal and
- Are there any instances of your online community defending your
organization to those who are criticizing it?
- Have suggestions that have been made by volunteers, donors or online
community members online lead to changes at your organization?
- Are various departments - not just one - at your organization
incorporating online engagement into their work plans and strategies?
Contact me with YOUR ideas regarding
how to evaluate online activities.
Also see this article on how
social media success can actually mean a FAILURE in customer service.
No, Michael Dell, I don't want to use (Google+) Hangouts to
connect with Dell customer service. What I want, from you or any company,
is to ensure I actually get the best customer service experience possible
when I actually use your "normal" customer service channels.
And consider this article on HOW
TO: Calculate the ROI of Your Social Media Campaign. This is a
corporate approach to ROI in social media that has some advice that's
applicable to the nonprofit/NGO/mission-based sector - but also shows why
for-profit approaches don't always work in the nonprofit world. For
instance, I don't encourage anyone to value volunteers or donors only on
the amount of revenue he or she will bring to your company over the course
of their lifetime with your organization...
Other organization's resources:
Potential Power for Social Good – with REAL examples
SnapChat is a phone-based app that uses photos or videos, with text, to
create its messages to an account’s subscribers; you have a fleeting
moment to captivate your audience, because 10 seconds after a user opens
the message, it disappears. It's a very popular platform with young
people. Should your nonprofit be using it? This page will help you
- Handling Online Criticism
Online criticism of a nonprofit organization, even by its own
supporters, is inevitable. It may be about an organization's new logo or
new mission statement, the lack of parking, or that the volunteer
orientation being too long. It may be substantial questions regarding an
organization's business practices and perceived lack of transparency.
How a nonprofit organization handles online criticism speaks volumes
about that organization, for weeks, months, and maybe even years to
come. There's no way to avoid it, but there are ways to address
criticism that can help an organization to be perceived as even more
trustworthy and worth supporting.
- Using Real-Time Communications With
Many organizations use real-time online communications -- usually called
"chats" -- to hold online meetings with volunteers, or to allow
volunteers to interact with staff, clients, or each other. This resource
provides more information on chats -- what they are, how agencies are
using them to interact with volunteers, tips to encourage and maintain
participation in chats, and where to find chat platforms.
- Internet discussion groups for volunteers
Many agencies have created e-mail-based discussion groups or newsgroups
for their volunteers. These asynchronous online tools allow agencies to
easily make announcements to volunteers, and sometimes also allow
volunteers to interact with each other, get suggestions and feedback,
and ask questions. They can also serve as a written record of
participation, concerns, trends and issues for volunteers. Unlike chats,
volunteers can participate whenever they wish, and they don't need
special software to do so.
- Using Video to Support Online
Video is a great way to further support volunteers, and your computer
probably already has all of the tools you need to make a video, or to
engage in a live video conversation with others. Video isn't something
to use only with online volunteers or remote volunteers (those providing
onsite service at a different location than yours). It's also a tool you
can use with new and current volunteers. In addition to an organization
producing videos for volunteers, it can also work the other way around:
volunteers can produce videos for organizations. This resource provides
information on your options, and links to my own short video on the
- What are good blog topics for
The word "blog" is short for "web log", and means keeping a journal or
diary online. Blogging is NOT a new concept -- people have been doing it
long before it had a snazzy media label. The appeal of blogging for an
online audience is that it's more personal and less formal than other
information on a web site. Readers who want to connect with an
organization on a more personal level, or who are more intensely
interested in an organization than the perhaps general public as a
whole, love blogs. Blogs can come from your Executive Director, other
staff members, volunteers, and even those you serve. Content options are
many, and this list reviews some of
- For Nonprofits Considering
Their Own Podcasts:
Why It's Worth Exploring, and Content Considerations
I present my first podcast about... podcasts (transcript included).
Specifically, I talk about how podcasts can be used by nonprofits, and
just how easy it is to do.
- Nonprofit Organizations and Online
Social Networking (OSN): Advice and Commentary
OSN is buzz phrase used to describe special web-based online communities
that are accessible only for community members, like LinkedIn,
Friendster, FaceBook, MySpace and Care2. Is there a value for nonprofit
organizations to engage in OSN platforms? This
resource offers a realistic set of possibilities and
- Microblogging and Volunteers
Microblogging means sending text messages of less than 140
characters to several cell phones and/or via the Internet to
subscribers. This resource is a
no-nonsense, anti-fluff, anti-hype, practical list to help nonprofits
explore microblogging and use it effectively with volunteers, event
attendees and others they are trying to reach.
- Stages of Maturity in
Nonprofit Orgs Using Online Services
What does a networking technology-savvy nonprofit organization look
like? To help nonprofits think about networking tech standards they
should pursue, and possible goals for the future, I've created this
assessment of the states of maturity for a nonprofit organization's use
of networking/online technologies.
- Safety in Online Volunteering
Information to help your agency create general safety guidelines
for all online volunteering programs, suggestions and examples for those
managing programs involving youth as online volunteers, and
suggestions for bringing together youth and adult online volunteers.
- COMMENTARY: The Growing
Digital Divide Among Nonprofit Organizations /
Civil Society in the USA (and maybe it's not just digital)
I'm seeing a disturbing trend: a gap between those organizations who are
using the Internet in a myriad of ways to support their missions, and
those who are still largely on the sidelines and not using network
technologies in working with their volunteers. The question is, are
these sidelined nonprofits there because of lack of access to resources,
of lack of will to embrace them?
- How People In Remote Locations Can
Work on the Same Document
The key to sharing documents among people in remote locations isn't your
computer technology; it's how your humans save and share information.
- Online culture and online community
It's becoming the norm for mission-based organizations (NGOs, NPOs and
others) to use Internet tools to work with volunteers (including board
members), staff, donors and others. This section of my site has been greatly
updated, providing even more ideas and resources on how to work with
others online, in language that's easy to understand for those
considering or just getting started in using online technologies with
volunteers, donors and other supporters.
Return to my list of resources relating to online
culture & communities of volunteers
Virtual Volunteering Guidebook
for purchase as a paperback & an ebook from Energize,
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