Social Media, Signaling, and Donations: Testing the Financial Returns on Nonprofits’ Social Media Investment

51 Pages Posted: 24 Apr 2019

See all articles by Erica Harris

Erica Harris

Villanova University

Daniel Neely

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee

Gregory D. Saxton

Schulich School of Business, York University

Date Written: March 25, 2019

Abstract

Social media outlets present nonprofit organizations the opportunity of opening new communication and disclosure channels. Organizations must decide whether to set up these channels. They – and in turn their target audiences – must also decide how much to use social media. In this study we test a novel multi-level signaling theory framework to examine the relationship between social media investments and financial returns. Employing both cross-sectional and cross-temporal samples of 427 of the largest US non-hospital charities, we look at the donations returns from three dimensions of organizations’ social media efforts: 1) whether the organization has a social media presence, 2) how much the organization uses social media, and 3) the level of engagement of the organization’s audience. The findings support our conjecture that financial returns result from establishing a particular communication channel, from using that channel, and from having channel-specific audience effects. We also find that social media is able to substitute for traditional fundraising expenditures. These findings carry implications for the signaling theory and donation demand literatures and further our understanding of how these new media are changing the rules of donor engagement.

Keywords: donations, charities, nonprofits, signaling theory, social media

Suggested Citation

Harris, Erica and Neely, Daniel and Saxton, Gregory D., Social Media, Signaling, and Donations: Testing the Financial Returns on Nonprofits’ Social Media Investment (March 25, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3360173 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3360173

Erica Harris

Villanova University ( email )

Villanova, PA 19085
United States

Daniel Neely

University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee ( email )

Bolton Hall 802
3210 N. Maryland Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53211
United States

Gregory D. Saxton (Contact Author)

Schulich School of Business, York University ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3
Canada

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