Pimp My Nonprofit: Student Movement for Real Change

Last night, I attended “Pimp My Nonprofit,” an event by NetSquared DC designed to help a worthy nonprofit better use technology. More than thirty people with a wide range of online marketing skills and interests took part in this meetup at the Affinity Lab in Adams Morgan. Drinks and snacks, key to any brainstorming session, were provided by GeniusRocket.

The nonprofit to be pimped was Student Movement for Real Change (SMRC), an organization that was founded to connect American college students with schools in Africa that need assistance. Students apply for internships that, “provide college students on-the-ground development experience, cultural immersion, and the necessary leadership skills to develop sustainable projects that address local needs through a 6 or 8 week internship (depending on the community) in developing communities” to quote the SMRC web site.

Vanessa Carter of SMRC gave a brief overview of SMRC and the challenges they face. Like many nonprofits, they’re a very small organization with a limited budget. Their main marketing objectives are to obtain:


  • Interns. They’ve had success getting applicants for their programs in Africa through the use of Google Ads. These search-based ads are how most potential interns find out about the program.
  • Donations. They recently redesigned their web site and it includes a nice red donate button on the home page. They’ve also had limited success raising money through Facebook Causes.

The question Vanessa had for the group was, “Out of the sea of social media tools – Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, blogs – which is worth doing?” With a very small staff, limited time and a reluctance to learn anything complicated, which of these tools would be most effective for her organization?

The group weighed in with their advice. Many of the participants were active users of these tools and brought lessons learned from applying these tools to similar nonprofits. They provided both strategic insight and concrete tactical advice:

  • Facebook: Given that SMRC wants to reach college students, Facebook would be the place to prioritize. While some of the group thought that Facebook was too broad of a social network, the consensus was that Facebook was the network that college students are on all the time. The advice was that SMRC should expand its presence on Facebook.
  • Facebook Ads: Facebook knows an extraordinary amount about its users and can provide very targeted ads, which is pretty frightening, but would be effective for SMRC. The ads could be run when students are looking for internships.
  • MySpace: While a comment was made that MySpace was “over”, this service is used by vast numbers of high school students, who might be future SMRC interns.
  • Google Ads: SMRC has had success with Google Ads but the advice was to look at the metrics behind the campaigns, to analyze what search terms were working and adjust accordingly.
  • Twitter: Nothing brings out controversy like Twitter! The group went back and forth about this, about the wonders of Twitter (I agree) but that it’s really an early-adopter tool and not yet mainstream (I agree again).
  • Blogs: SMRC already has a few blogs on their site. Everyone agreed that blogs are necessary in this day and age but that more guidance is needed for bloggers and that they need to be done more consistently.
  • Video: The wonders of the Flip camera were much extolled, for it allows video to be cheaply shot and uploaded to YouTube. This would be an ideal tool for SMRC.
  • Email Listservs: It’s very Web 1.0 but is still an effective tool.
  • The SMRC web site: While the site was just redesigned, the group thought it could be improved upon through the addition of the tag line, describing the organization, and by better using the home page real estate.
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM): Nonprofits need better tools to manage their relationships with donors. Nobody seemed too excited about their CRM system.

At the end of the meeting, the folks at Genius Rocket offered to help Vanessa produce a video ad for SMRC. So, she not only left with a long (and hopefully useful) list of to-dos, she also received some donated assistance. And all of us geniuses who offered our help got tasty snacks and the satisfaction of helping a good cause.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

2 thoughts on “Pimp My Nonprofit: Student Movement for Real Change”

  1. This is a great summary of the kind of interaction that happens at NetSquared DC events. We’ll definitely point future speakers / featured nonprofits to it for a quick overview. Thanks for coming, and glad you enjoyed it!

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