A smarter way to engage your audience

Posted Digital Impact

Nonprofits often struggle to scale efforts due to limited funding and resources. In 2015, Engineers without Borders Canada (EWB) challenged itself  “to unite local voters and federally nominated candidates in a broad Canadian constituency in favour of Canadian leadership in improving health, education, and economic opportunity for people in the world’s poorest countries.” But, how could an organization with only four Advocacy and Policy staff engage an entire country?

Rally the troops

In The Networked Nonprofit, authors Beth Kanter and Allison Fine discuss a community-focused approach for resource constrained organizations to maximize impact:

“Networked Nonprofits know their organizations are part of a much larger ecosystem of organizations and individuals that are all incredible resources for their efforts.”

Rather than following a rigid format, networked nonprofits create meaningful connections both in real life and online to drive change. The book uses Surfrider Foundation as an example of how it leveraged its network to engage members to launch local activities across the country, such as beach cleanups.

Organizations might be tempted to say that social media isn’t “core to [our] work”. Kanter and Fine dispel this notion because, when it comes down to it, most nonprofits are in the business of building community and facilitating conversations. Social media is just another tool for organizations to do this. In fact, it enables them to do it on a much larger scale and efficiently.

A Canadian Success Story

Whether they were aware of it or not, the team at EWB was operating as a networked nonprofit. During the 2015 Federal Election, they launched a #PoliticsAside campaign.

While campaigners probably didn’t directly call up Stephen Harper, EWB made it easy for voters to get involved. The campaign leveraged online, partnerships with organizations like ONE and Make Poverty History, and in-person interactions “to put politics aside to end global poverty”. Activities included short videos, materials for voters to use including reports, tweets, e-mail templates, and events throughout the country.

Even if you didn’t know much about global poverty, you could read bite-sized facts and take simple actions such as tweeting or using a pre-populated e-mail template. For voters looking for more involvement, #PoliticsAside provided easy directions encouraging campaigners to call or meet with their local MP or attend local events. Campaigners in 309 ridings managed to gain the support of 171 candidates and 46 elected MPs, including Canada’s current PM, Justin Trudeau.


Have you seen any other Canadian nonprofits use digital to propel their efforts? Share in the comments below!


Next week: I’ll continue to share key insights from The Networked Nonprofit along with some Canadian case studies. Stay tuned!


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