Sunday, May 15, 2011

Engaging Our Audiences: ROI vs ROE

Reading Idealware's latest newsletter, which I use as a resource to keep myself informed on technology in the nonprofit sector (check out their product reviews for great tips on free and low cost solutions for nonprofits), I came across a great article submitted by Community Organizer 2.0 about Return On Engagement, or what Brandon Murphy originally noted as the true value of social media in a case study published just a few days ago.

Murphy posits that many of the digital media experiences we create--be they apps, videos, blogs, and so on--create dead end experiences for many of the users whose interest we want to convert into action may not be accurately measured by the standard ROI metric. Instead, he suggests, we should examine return on investment as returns on interaction and influence--ultimately, creating a greater return on engagement. Implied in this new approach is that is through engaging our audiences, and empowering them to share and engage their networks in a ripple effect, we can more accurately measure how effective our efforts can be.

Now, if we take this concept and look at it through the lens of a nonprofit organization, the question becomes: "How can we increase a return on engagement for both our community supporters and the communities we directly serve?"

Murphy and Debra Askanase both bring up concepts familiar to everyone in our community: advocacy and ownership. Whether we realize it or not, the efforts and support of the talented staff, volunteers, contributors, and community members who get involved with our nonprofits have embodied the advocacy mission by taking ownership in our organizations.

In looking at the tangible deliverables we're often tasked with, i.e. the creation of a new capital campaign, launching of a mobile community app, etc., it becomes more important to look beyond the fulfillment of that goal as an objective in an of itself. The process of feedback and collaboration in turn produce goals that are "owned" by the very audiences they seek to serve. It is in this Return on Engagement, then, that we find true value in the work we do.

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