Friday, January 30, 2009

Utilizing Social Media in a Non Profit: The Anita Borg Institute Story

I asked the are nonprofits using technology in this "down" economy? Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology, answered with some amazing examples of how they are using social media to stay in touch with their members and drive organizational loyalty.

Utilizing Social Media in a Non Profit: The Anita Borg Institute Story

by Jerri Barrett

One of the new rules of non-profit communications is that you need to communicate in multiple ways so that you reach your constituency in their preferred method of receiving information. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, and Linked In are just some of the ways to reach out to build your communities of supporters.

The Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology is the host for the online listserv Systers, the oldest online community for women in computing and after 21 years has over 3000 members. Other early social media activities included the launch of a blog, located on our website ( , and My Space pages being established to support our conference “The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.” We learned from these early efforts that our constituency was not using MySpace but that other Online Social Media groups were more promising. In 2008 we invested in the effort by hiring a dedicated Communities Manager.

A central lesson in the successful launch of online communities is tying their activities to one’s nonprofit mission. As opposed to strictly a marketing channel, online communities that become an integral part of delivering your organizations’ mission are poised to significantly increase not only your reach, but your impact.

Late 2007, we launched our LinkedIn for Good Anita Borg group. That group grew rapidly as 2008 progressed. After little more than a year, we now have over 1300 members in our LinkedIn Group. The group exists primarily for networking, though we do continuously communicate to the group about the Institute’s programs and activities. Part of the success can be attributed to the recognition of the critical need for networking in a recession economy for finding new positions. In addition to our core constituency of technical women, this group has attracted recruiters. This combination is a huge benefit to the participants who are seeking support during a job search. We exist to promote the recruitment, retention, and advancement of technical women, so the LinkedIn group has become another tool in our program arsenal.

For the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), 2008 was the year of Twitter. Our Community Manager actively tweets about all aspects of our activities. In addition, our events frequently have participants tweeting throughout. Creating a community of people tweeting is critical to raising the profile of your organization and its events, and keeping your constituency engaged with and inspired about your programs.

Blogging also achieved greater visibility in the organization in 2008. In addition to maintaining our Institute blog, we launched our CEO’s blog ( and a Fast Company blog ( We engaged more of our community in blogging to support our Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Our Facebook presence has scaled tremendously in the past 18 months. We now host a primary Facebook page that is focused on all things related to the Institute. The content of the page is fed from our website so any new blog posts, articles or press releases on the main site are automatically updated on the Facebook page. The main ABI Facebook Page has 435 fans. In addition to the main page, event pages have also been created that event attendees can check for the most current information and updates about the events. Currently we have the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing 2009 page and the Women of Vision 2009 Pages in place. Each event page launched in late 2008 and the Grace Hopper page already has over 250 participants.

The Grace Hopper Celebration itself incorporates multiple kinds of social media. The Conference is the largest gathering of Women in Computing in the world and in 2008 attracted 1450 attendees from 22 countries. The attendees range from undergraduates to senior level technical women, so Social Media becomes critical to communicating across a wide ranging constituency. We recruit volunteers to post fresh content into our various groups. Photographers actively post their photos on Flickr; video bloggers post footage on YouTube and their Facebook pages, bloggers sit in sessions and blog, and tweets are flowing from all aspects of the event. We took blogging to a new level last year by having an official blog dedicated to the event and recruited presenters at the conference to preview their presentations and recruit audiences throughout the summer. The role of online communities has taken an increased importance in our annual conference. We estimate that over 40% of our Grace Hopper Celebration attendees were part of our Grace Hopper Facebook group; YouTube, the GHC Blog, and Twitter scored high in terms of participant’s views of which tools most enhanced their conference experience.

So what are our next steps in Social Media? We are currently finding ways to more actively engage people in the communities and call them to action to help support our mission of changing the culture of technology to achieve greater numbers of women in the technology pipeline. We are also constantly working to generate more value added content to each of the communities to keep them engaged in our mission. We work to add new content through both the efforts of our staff, guest bloggers, and guest writers from other non profits and technology companies. You can access all our communities through our website at

Jerri Barrett, Director of Marketing, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
Email : Web:

1 comment:

  1. Another skill to watch out for and work to develop in the emerging field of using social media to further your work in nonprofit is video. If you're in the DC area February 12-13, come to our conference Making Your Media Matter and learn more!
    Micael Bogar
    Projects Manager