Staffing Your Online Strategy

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Remember when social media was a fun personal diversion and it was cutting edge for your organization just to have a nice website? Now whipping up a steady stream of fresh content on a variety of platforms is pretty much required for any nonprofit who cares about public presence.

We often get questions from nonprofits wanting to hire someone to manage their online strategy, like: "How many hours per week should a communications person invest?" "Who do we hire?" "How much do we pay them?"

Here are some hourly estimates and tips on who to hire and what to pay, drawn from NTEN’s 8th Annual Nonprofit Technology Staffing & Investments Report and the book Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits

We've also included some tips to help make sure your communication team gets the support they need and are well-equipped to meet your goals.

What It Takes

Social media management is important and time consuming; it involves a certain savviness, a devotion to current trends and practices, and a great deal of work. In other words, don’t just ask Joyce in accounting if she wants to manage the Pinterest page on her downtime.

The title “Online Communication Manager” should be made official in job descriptions and technology staff should be included in bigger discussions of organizational strategy and vision. Leading organizations build technology training into their budget, a priority that NTEN discovered is strongly correlated with technology impact.

Size Matters

If your office consists of 20 staff members, two ferns, and a cat, odds are a glitzy online communication department is out of your reach. But how many technology-responsible staff should you have per capita?

NTEN surveyed 781 nonprofit organizations of all different sizes and came up with the following definitions and averages:

Size definitions by average number of total staff

  •      Small 6.9 employed staff
  •      Medium: 26.5
  •      Large: 102.3 and
  •      Very large: 489.9

Number of technology-responsible staff per person

  •      Small orgs 1.7 
  •      Medium 2.5
  •      Large 4.0
  •     Very large 12.0

On average, organizations field one technology-responsible person for every 30.6 staff members.

Leading Organizations Invest

  • What NTEN defined as “Leading” organizations employ about 9 times more total technology staff than “Struggling” organizations.
  • The median technology budget of organizations of every size falls between 1.4% and 2% of the overall operating budget.

If you want to drill down into key benchmarks further and compare your own organization's data against the research, check out NTEN's online benchmarking profiles.

Anticipated Salary Expenses

The following averages are taken from NTEN’s survey of over 700 organizations. Pay scale varies by region. (See above definitions for small, medium, large and very large organizations.)

Average of total tech salaries by size:

  •     Small $12,250
  •     Medium $66,251
  •     Large $121,395
  •     Very Large $421,124

Anticipated Time Expenditure

The following weekly time estimates are taken directly from the book Mobile For Good: A How-to Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits:

  •      Blogging (4 hours): To write an average of two short posts weekly which includes the time necessary to find, edit, and insert photos and integrate video.
  •      Facebook (4 hours): To post and schedule status updates four to six times weekly, respond to messages and comments, and monitor insights.
  •      Twitter (4 hours): To tweet and retweet an average of four times daily, to respond to messages and mentions, to organize followers into lists, and to strategically follow others.
  •      Google+ (4 hours): To share updates three to four times weekly, +1 the posts of others, and participate in Google+ Communities.
  •      LinkedIn (4 hours): To share two to three posts weekly, maintain your personal profile, and participate in LinkedIn Groups.
  •      YouTube (1 hour weekly): To upload video, create playlists, subscribe to other channels, and study the video campaigns of other nonprofits.
  •      Pinterest (3 hour weekly): To pin or repin images twice daily and maintain your boards.
  •      Instagram (3 hours weekly): To share one to two images or videos daily and like the photos of others.
  •      Tumblr (3 hours weekly): To post or reblog one to two times daily and like the posts of others.
  •      Miscellaneous activities (4 hours weekly): To create Facebook invitations, promote and host quarterly tweet chats and Google+ Hangouts, report live, and participate in awareness day campaigns.
  •      Create graphics and visual content (3 hours weekly): To design branded images, infographics, video, online presentations, and social network banners.
  •      Research (2 hours weekly): To investigate trends in nonprofit technology and monitor breaking news and current affairs.
  •      Feedback (1 hour weekly): To track and report on success.

So pick and choose your platforms wisely. Depending on your size, email messaging and website maintenance alone can take 5-40 hours per week.

Stay Focused

If your resources are tight, focus on your website, email messaging and online fundraising campaigns rather than trying to plant your flag on every platform. This is where you’ll see the highest return for your efforts. Keep in mind that a spotty, inconsistent presence on social media is almost worse than no presence at all.

Make It a Team Effort

Communication/social media staff can't work alone or in isolation. Their messaging won't be nearly as meaningful, or as resonant, if they're not closely integrated into program team meetings and communications. Every organization should create a culture of sharing anecdotes, testimonies, photos, programs, events, video, and anything of interest to constituents, with the people in charge of content strategy.

In some cases we recommend designating a full team. Even if only one member is actually doing the day-to-day management and publishing, you should have other team members feeding content to the person responsible and reviewing content for accuracy.

Establish a Central Point of Command

Hire or designate one person as the online communication expert whose job description includes staying on top of trends and best practices.

Even if you are a small organization trying to divvy out social media responsibilities amongst various people, you should have one communication overlord who makes sure everyone is on the same page and your various platforms are all running in concert. Timing and coordination of posts on various media is important which means someone has to orchestrate the release of content.

Create Quality Content

Your content creator should be creative, have a clear sense of what will appeal to the target audience, be working from a clearly defined communication plan, and have some dexterity with visual content.

And always remember that the hub of your online communication strategy is the website. Original content is published there, and can then be repurposed for use across social media. You can often milk four to five short messages from one article.

Final Words

If your organization is still debating the merits of seriously investing in an online strategy - or staff to manage it - it’s time to bury the hatchet. With mobile/social media fundraising and communication expected to outstrip print fundraising and communication within the next ten years, to fall behind now is, essentially, to drop out. The shift has already happened, there is no ignoring it or going halvsies here. It's time to invest.