I had the pleasure of presenting as part of a panel on social media at the Council on Foundations’ Family Philanthropy Conference in Miami. The session, “Tools of Engagement: Family Dynamics and Social Networking,” covered social networking as a critical piece of a foundation’s communications strategy.  

Joining me on the panel were speaker and consultant Rosetta Thurman and Mark Carpenter, public relations manager of COF. Of the various fact and figures that were presented during the session, what struck me most was that only 39 percent of  foundations use Facebook and only 31 percent are using Twitter. Conversely, 89 percent of nonprofits, use Facebook and 57 percent use twitter. (Aren’t many of these nonprofits the grantees of foundations?)

Put another way, very few grant makers are participating in the conversations their nonprofit counterparts are talking about. Worse yet, they’re not even listening.

The participation level of the session underscored the fact that this topic is on the minds of many. The atmosphere was palpable as the attending family foundations wrestled with the reality that they aren’t yet in the game. When asked about the barriers to their social media participation, those in attendance answered with concerns familiar to many of us:

There’s no time.

What’s my ROI?

How do we control the message?

As the strategic communications partner of The Patterson Foundation, I’ve dealt with these questions before. We’ve done our best to tackle and solve many of these issues.

The Patterson Foundation believes that foundations must invest resources beyond the check, including adding value through strategic communications. The Patterson Foundation backs this up with action. Their investment in communications dramatically increases the capacity of many of its nonprofit partners.

We’re in an exciting yet disruptive time in the communications space. The emergence of technology has drastically altered the way people communicate. Social media enables us to listen and engage. Emerging philanthropic leaders understand what those who are fearful of the unknown have yet to discover: the power of communications has been transferred to the individual.

If we want to engage a younger generation of philanthropists, the question to embrace social media becomes when, not if. I believe the answer is NOW.

Sam Stern is chief brandtrepreneur at CAP. This post originally appeared on Connective Tissue, a Patterson Foundation blog.

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