Proctor & Gamble, currently the world’s 8th largest corporation and over 170 years old, was the first company to put a toll-free 1-800 number on all of its product packaging.  The first year after doing so, it received 200,000 phone calls from customers offering ideas or complaints.  P&G, with revenues of almost $80 billion in 2009, spends hundreds of millions of marketing dollars aimed at identifying and locating customers.  But all it needed to do was flip a switch and suddenly 200,000 customers reversed the process and started finding P&G.

Nonprofits, schools, and companies are beginning to think of social media the same way.  Just turn on the channel (with a blog, a Facebook profile, Twitter, YouTube, or a specialty service like AlumFi), and let your donors, volunteers, and customers find you.  Take their messages seriously.  Respond to them over the same social network with which they contacted you.  You’ll have richer communications, better relationships with your base, and a better year overall than you would otherwise have had.

Will Marlow is the co-creator of AlumniFidelity, where he helps schools such as the University of Virginia, William & Mary, the University of Oklahoma, and Bowling Green State University, as well as about 25 other schools and nonprofits,  with online fundraising and marketing campaigns.  Email him at