Everyone Has a Little Facebook in Them
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Facebook is not just for college students anymore. Many non-profits are using Facebook and other social networking sites to raise awareness for their causes, and to promote their services. One of these non-profits is Housing for New Hope, a North Carolina homeless service provider and PATH provider serving Durham and Orange Counties.
“Tweet.” “Friend.” “Wiki.” Social networking, and user-generated website content have become so popular that even homeless service agencies are setting up accounts to further their missions. Many national and local homeless service agencies are exploring the possibilities, which are surprisingly easy to use. “Six months ago I attended a workshop on new media where it was strongly suggested that Facebook could help promote our cause. This was the first time I heard the word ‘tweet’” recalls Eric Breit, Development Director for Housing For New Hope.
“On a personal level, I am actually anti-Facebook, but I believe that everyone has a little Facebook in them and I get to pursue that at work. You never know where it might lead. You don’t know who is looking, but I really see a lot of potential,” says Eric.
Housing For New Hope is a dynamic non-profit organization working to prevent and end homelessness, one valuable person at a time. This organization provides a unique continuum of care through outreach and crisis assistance, transitional housing, and permanent housing for citizens in North Carolina’s Durham and Orange Counties.
In summer 2009, Housing for New Hope created a Facebook page. Website development costs can easily amount to thousands of dollars while Facebook pages are free, easy to set up, and low commitment. The Facebook page became a critical tool for updating donors, potential donors, and the community with Housing for New Hope news and activities.
Facebook “pages” work in the same way as personal accounts. The person who manages the page can post a message to the “wall” and so can anyone who “adds” the organization. Liberal posting ability does add some challenges, “For example, if one of our staff members is a vegan revolutionary and that staff member posts from her own personal account, then that could affect our organizations reputation…but to the best of my knowledge, we have no vegan revolutionaries,” says Eric. If this is a concern for an organization, it is possible to set it so only the administrator can post to the page.
Before starting the Facebook page, Eric conducted Internet research to see what other organizations were doing. He observed that they tend to fall into a few different categories, including pages that talk about the success of the program, aggressive fundraising campaigns, and external links to related news items. On the Housing for New Hope Facebook Page, Eric and others link to major articles about government polices and post about their staff holiday party and upcoming events. Eric pays close attention to his audience when choosing what to post. “We are supported by 22 congregations in the area. Sixty percent of our revenues come from government sources and so with that in mind I try to balance our posts to also highlight the work of faith communities, or grant funding related news… I really want different voices on our Facebook page. It can’t be just me, so I would like staff to write about what they are doing in the field,” explains Eric.
After building their own page, Housing for New Hope lets people know about it. Many staff have signatures in their emails that encourage people to join their page. At the top of their bi-monthly newsletter, there is a notice about their page. Eric mentions Facebook opportunities in staff meetings, especially to student interns who are volunteering at the organization. He describes their promotion of the page as organic.
“We are learning as we go about how to integrate Facebook. I think that generally speaking there is a tone, and a feeling that people get. It tends to be less formal than email, and more formal than My Space. It is lighthearted and concise. I am trying to respect this and work within these boundaries,” explains Eric. While Eric would also like to see social media provide an opportunity for extending their outreach capacity, this has not happened yet.
“I had this idea that someone would post on our site that they had seen someone in need of services at the intersection of city streets in Durham, and that it might be an opportunity to note, this man did not look well, does anyone know anything about him? This could increase our ability to help people on the streets like a tool for extending outreach,” says Eric. While this has not happened yet, and most posts are generated from within the organization, Eric is hopeful and committed to writing new posts daily.
“The strategy on Facebook for now at Housing for New Hope is that we want to share the richness of our work. There are so many stories and the issue of homelessness touches on so many facets of life from mental health, to healthcare, to the impact on publicly funded systems. I think it allows us with very little effort to share all of that with anyone who wants to listen, anyone who is paying attention.”
To find out more about Housing for New Hope visit their Facebook page.
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Newton Centre, MA