Family foundations are a modest bunch. Most prefer operating quietly in the background, out of the limelight, away from any undue attention. What this means is that, many foundations—particularly those that keep their operations on the smaller side—have been slow to take advantage of social media.

This is starting to change. Foundations are finding that social media is important for advocating for the causes they care about, and deepening community connections. In a recent National Center for Family Philanthropy webinar Telling Your Story to Maximize Community Impact, four funders how they use social media, and why.

The most compelling reason: “If you don’t define yourself, others will define you,” said Jay Ruderman, president of The Ruderman Family Foundation. Sure, social media means putting yourself out there—which, for family foundations, can mean increased exposure and more funding requests. Yet foundations have a tremendous power to leverage the stories they tell—and their stories can help grantees. Here are more lessons learned:

Social media is leadership. 

“If you feel important about an issue and put your resources behind it, social media is a great place to advocate for it, and engage with people globally on it,” said Lora Smith, communications officer of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem. “We can reach anyone, anywhere, in a way we weren’t able to do 10 years ago.”

Social media is storytelling.

The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem has come up with a creative way to get their grantee stories out there. They invite grantees to be guest bloggers, and they pay per post. “We give grantees an honorarium of $200 per blog post, as a recognition of their time,” said Smith. “This gives them a place to share their success stories and what they are learning. We provide the platform and audience, and grantees speak for themselves.”

Kate Wolford, president of the McKnight Foundation in Minnesota, agreed that social media is a great place to share stories. “We help our grantees shine through their communications—that’s what we’re all about.”

Before you share something online, Wolford said, think about what you want to accomplish. “Think audience, think goals, don’t think tools,” she said. In other words, figure out the story you want to tell—and why you want to tell it, and then find the best way to communicate it.

Social media is a conversation.

According to Vince Stehle of Media Impact Funders, “social media is a conversation, and should be treated as such.” It’s more about your tweets and posts—it’s how you respond and interact and add to the bigger conversation.

Here’s a helpful tip for anyone: On Twitter, if you use all 140 characters that’s allotted to you, it makes it hard for someone to re-Tweet or reply effectively. “Think of what you’re writing as a haiku. Leave a little room at the end to invite people in,” said Ruderman. “It’s more effective when your network makes it to their network.”

Social media is personal and professional.

It’s okay to show a little personality sometimes, even for a professional foundation. If you’re all businesslike, all the time, it might get boring for the folks who follow you. Consider once a week or occasionally sharing something to engage people in a more entertaining way.

“People are attracted to passion, and passion shines through whether it’s in a Tweet, a blog, an op-ed or an interview,” said Ruderman. “Show what your passionate about on social media, and you will build awareness and connections around an issue.”


How are you getting your message out there on social media? And if you’re a funder, how is it helping your grantees? Please share your comments and ideas here.

[Note: This webinar recording will be available starting the week of March 3rd. Check NCFP’s Family Philanthropy Online to learn more.]