How Can We- and Why Should We- Use Facebook to Engage Family Members?

Facebook_SilhouettesBy Kelly Medinger

Whether you are a Facebook neophyte or a self-proclaimed Facebookaholoic, there is no doubt that Facebook and other social media platforms have changed the landscape of why and how we communicate.

So how does this landscape affect a private family foundation?  Especially when the family’s privacy is paramount?

At the Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation, we considered how to harness the power of social media to meet our mission of bringing the family together through philanthropy.  This is the story of why and how we approached this undertaking.



The Knott Foundation’s bylaws state that the two main purposes of the Foundation are: (1) to further charitable activities; and (2) to nurture and sustain family unity.  How these twin missions of charity and family unity played out in the real world, and more precisely the digital world, led us to look at social media opportunities.

We saw that while our website served as a digital (and public) presence for our grantees and the nonprofit community, we lacked a digital (and private) space for our trustees and their family members to learn about and interact with the Foundation.

With the mission of family unity in mind, the board decided to employ a private, monitored presence on Facebook to connect our current trustees and prospective trustees to the work of the Foundation and the Knott family.

Why Facebook?  More than one billion people across the globe actively use Facebook.  In the United States alone, Facebook has approximately 95 million users.  While young adults (18-25) lead the way, there are 28 million people over the age of 45 active on Facebook.  And the 55-64 age group is almost the size of the 13-17 age group.  All of this supports the fact that Facebook is not limited to “young” people.

These statistics are important to us because the Knott family is growing every day.  The Foundation’s donors, Marion I. and Henry J. Knott, had 13 children, more than 50 grandchildren, and even more great grandchildren and now great-great grandchildren.  Consequently, engaging the family in our work has become a multi-generational, and in some cases transcontinental, effort.

Facebook exampleA Private Facebook Group

The Knott Foundation’s presence on Facebook was designed for Knott family members, regardless of age, geographic location, or whether they currently served as a trustee of the Foundation.

We established a private Facebook group for these family members with the following goals in mind:

  • To allow family members – trustees and non-trustees, from all generations, who have active profiles on Facebook – to interact with one another in a new venue, in a new way.
  • To help the Foundation promote its good work and spread the word about the impact of philanthropy to a wider audience of the Knott family.
  • To provide a direct line for open dialogue regarding issues the Foundation cares about, the family cares about, and the work that we all do.

Membership in the group has grown steadily.  It began one year ago with 5 members and has increased to 26 members hailing from two generations of the family.  Notably, membership is split evenly between trustees who are already serving on the Foundation’s board, and non-trustees who otherwise would have very little communication with the Foundation. 

Activity levels have been high.  We post weekly to the group in one of four general content categories:  Knott Foundation specific news; Knott family news; philanthropy news; or issues of interest that correspond to our giving areas.  Every month our posts have generated likes and/or comments from group members.  In addition, we are able to track the number of members who simply see a post.

Even more interesting is that these activity metrics have allowed us to generate a yield rate for likes and comments on posts based on the content category.  The yield rate tells us that the most popular content is Knott family news, followed by Knott Foundation specific posts.  For example, a post about a Foundation trustee who was appointed to another board generated a number of likes and comments, as did pictures from a recent service event for trustees and their children, which was hosted by the Foundation.

In today’s age where teenagers have been dubbed “screen-agers,” it seems vital to adopt new ways of communicating with people and engaging them in dialogue that has a strategic message.  Being a family foundation, the Knott Foundation is further tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that the next generation of family members is informed and interested in the prospect of leading the Foundation into the coming age – making multi-faceted communication with the family even more critical.

As a platform for interaction online, and a venue for initiating discussions that hopefully continue off-line, Facebook has helped us connect with our current and future Foundation members in a new way.  Ultimately, we want the family to have some kind of connection to the Foundation, whether or not they are serving on the board, and Facebook allows us to do this in a way that makes sense to them.

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