If you haven't heard of Facebook, I'm sorry to break it to you, but you are living under a rock. However, if you haven't seen a use for Facebook for your organization, then you are not alone, and we are here to help. Many people view online social networking tools, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Myspace as time-draining distractions. But a benefit of Facebook that may not have occurred to you is that Facebook will allow you to aggregate content from around the Web, and easily pull it into one central page, which will help you spread the word about your organization. Facebook also has the benefit of having your installed audience, your network of friends at your fingertips, so you can easily announce new activities, campaigns, and events to your self-selected constituency of like-minded individuals and groups, without having to email a large group of people and risking the effects of a spam filter's black hole.

Facebook screenshotFacebook can be an essential tool for nonprofit organizing, because it is an efficient way to connect with other organizations and people which might not have known about your organization before. It's also an easy venue to plug into an existing audience that has similar interests. If your nonprofit has video content, podcasts, interviews, or documents just languishing on your desktop, creating a presence on Facebook provides an easy way to upload these types of media, without spending the time or resources required for updating your own Web site.

The way that Facebook interacts with other social media tools, like Twitter, blogs, and Flickr, can provide a simple interface to consistently and easily update your community of supporters with news of your organization's activities. If all this social media stuff is new to you, check out this primer on Web 2.0 and social media from the National Service Resource Center to learn the basics.

Best of all, using Facebook is free so the cost is only in how much time you and your staff choose to invest. What's the return on the investment? If not a direct monetary ROI, there will definitely be a marketing return that becomes evident as your network grows. Creating a fan page on Facebook is also a great way to increase your volunteer base and to help your members do the advertising of your organization’s mission for you. Check out Frogloop — the Care2 nonprofit blog — for their ROI calculator for social network campaigns to decide.

Nonprofits considering creating a Facebook presence should also read CauseWired by Tom Watson, as it demystifies Web 2.0 community tools, like Facebook, and helps activists and social change agents mobilize and raise awareness about their mission.

Finally, if you are worried about your pictures from your last trip to the Bahamas with your high school buddies (with whom you reconnected on Facebook) being visible to your nonprofit colleagues, take a word of advice: Nothing on the Internet is private. It is common practice for a hiring manager to search online for prospective employees. You can set up a Facebook fan page and create a network for your organization from there, but you will need to have an account to connect with others. It is more effective to connect with others as a real person than it is as a faceless organization. It's much more effective to become a personality on the Web, no matter the magnitude of your stardom, and let the person'behind the organization make the announcements and grow the network. If you really want something to remain private, don’t post it under your own name on the Web

How Can Your Nonprofit Get Started?

Here are a handful of resources around the TechSoup.org world to get you started. From creating a Facebook profile, starting a group, and importing your blog into your Facebook notes, these tools will walk you through the steps to get your nonprofit on Facebook and engaging with new and existing supporters in an entirely new way!

Outside resources:

Do you use Facebook for your nonprofit affiliations and networks? Post the link to your profile and discuss how you use this newly expanded online social networking tool in our Community forums.

Susan Tenby, Parernships, Online Community and Social Media Director, Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup.org.