Something has been gnawing on me for a while. I keep hearing or seeing statistics like “90% of nonprofits are on social media” but I just don’t believe it. I’m a big enough nerd to have downloaded all the IRS data, so we decided to take a deeper look.
89% on Facebook? No Way
It turns out that a number of the quoted statistics come from the Nonprofit Social Network Survey. It’s a well produced report, but nobody should be considering it an accurate sector-wide analysis. What happens is that people read the survey, and then send out a Tweet or a Facebook update, or write a blog post, but fail to note that the survey was blasted out to lots of nonprofits, but the results were compiled from self-selecting respondents. That is not a scientific approach, because the data is derived only from nonprofits who could be contacted, and took the time to respond. This infographic from Craig Connects has also been misunderstood: it’s only based on the top 50 nonprofits by income.
Nate Silver, of the FiveThirtyEight blog, takes great pains to analyze the accuracy and precision (and bias) of various political polls, and I doubt he would like the misleading titles on these posts:
What happens then? People look at the title and share it, and people start to believe that 9 out of 10 nonprofits are using Facebook, which is simply not true.
How do we know?
We looked. We selected 100 random nonprofits from the available IRS data, and searched for a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account for each. We started with the database of 1.6M nonprofits and used SQL to select 100 random rows.
Please note the sample size is probably too small. Also note that 14 of the 100 were structurally questionable, in that clearly the EIN belonged to a local or regional chapter, but they were able to share in a national social media presence. How you consider local or regional nonprofits has a significant effect on these numbers (presented including the 14):
- 61% have a website
- 35% have a Facebook page
- 24% have a Twitter account
- 6,822: Average number of Facebook Likes*
- 2.263: Average number of Twitter Followers*
* Includes Ducks Unlimited, Lions Club, Rotary International, and others with a larger national social media presence. Removing just the Rotary International numbers (the largest) reduces the average to around 5,500 on Facebook and 900 Twitter.
We’re probably guilty of spreading inaccurate online content too. It happens. The scary part is how easy it is for an entire industry to believe statistics that are totally inaccurate! Some of the nonprofits we talk to are bummed because they only have a few thousand people following them on social media. Turns out, they’re ahead of the curve – most organizations haven’t even started!