I just reviewed a post at The Nonprofit Times  that came across my Twitter stream via @AshtonGilliard (looks like her first tweet too!  Welcome to the Twitter-sphere Ashton!.)  With the online version of the NPT column not accepting comments, I felt compelled to make my voice heard here at my blog.  To be fair, my interest is almost academic, though not uninformed.  While not currently in service to the community on any NPO board, I have started nonprofits, led them and helped manage them by having been on several NPO boards, I think I have a leg to stand on here.

First item at hand is that NPT did not make it easy for me to participate in the discussion on their topic – here they are espousing social engagement and then THEY do not allow a conversation on their post or article.  It may be that as it is a reposting of the content from print, they thought may never occurred to them to support a discussion on this very hot topic.   In my experience though, it is not unusual to see this kind of behavior – a lot of organizations see social as just another form of media and treat it like it was print, radio or TV which is all one-way.

Beyond them apparently not really wanting to engage, my sense of the article is that the writer seemed to be taking issue with stats that show MySpace is declining (it is), that ROI in nonprofits is somehow different from other businesses (it’s not) and that there is work involved in correlating the data that can show an ROI that is meaningful (and there is!)  They present a spreadsheet calculator for nonprofits (from Care2.com) that delivers a projected ROI of some kind of online effort. 

IMHO, projected ROI vs. actual ROI are often two very different numbers and using a tool like this is maybe helpful, but if you deliver results that are wildly off, what then? Imagine that for all the money finance puts into treasury services they’re somehow off on their figures?  What if they’re off 10% – heads would roll I think, but somehow we’re expected to allow marketing projects to be off to an even greater degree.  The travesty to me is that most organizations spend far more on items like banking to measure and track their money (already in the bank) than they spend on measuring their marketing (impacting future revenue / donations).

The article is just a bit too off for me to say that I think it’ll be helpful to NPO’s, but if it gets them thinking about how social can support their mission then it’s a good post.  What’s possibly more relevant is a discussion that every outreach effort needs to be tracked, just like a marketing campaign anywhere else.  An ROI model that considers all aspects of media and marketing is what really relevant here – the burden of suddenly asking social-based marketing to prove an ROI when previous marketing efforts have is somewhat disingenuous.  All marketing should be aligned with ROI; the really cool part about social marketing is that it is by far the most measureable form of media we have right now.

So whether your an NPO, commercial entity with regional, national or global reach you should be demanding and working towards a relevant ROI model for all your campaigns and marketing efforts.