Social Publishing: Scribd as a Tool for Nonprofit Outreach

Lori Halley 20 January 2009 8 comments

There are any number of ways a nonprofit can make a document available to readers online. You can publish the text itself on your website, provide a download link for the document, or email a copy to those on your opt-in mailing list. You can even embed a PDF file or Powerpoint presentation in a web page.  But those publishing methods won’t carry your words very far beyond your existing audience. Combine the convenience of online document sharing with the power of social networking, however, and a “social publishing” tool like could ramp up your outreach.


With more than 50,000 documents uploaded daily in 90 different languages, and 50 million readers each month, has built an online community around document sharing. You can upload your own documents (by email, web, or from their desktop), search out and read or download the documents of others (by tag, category, keyword, or user), give a "thumbs up" or leave a comment, save your favorites, connect with other users in groups  based on similar interests, and share any Scribd-published documents in a dozen different ways.

It’s an elegant solution to sharing large documents easily. Anyone who can see a YouTube video has the technology to read these online publications. And because documents are stored on Scribd's server, not your own webspace, cost of bandwidth is no barrier to to nonprofits who want to publish widely and often.

But can publishing on Scribd really help to promote your message to a new audience?

Consider this:

Last week, a friend sent me a link to an academic paper, Nonprofit 2.0: Blogs, online videos and Facebook to promote your mission, written by Aaron Stiner as part of his nonprofit studies at Arizona State University.  (She drew it to my attention because Wild Apricot was mentioned in the text — and its worth noting without that bit of person-to-person social sharing, the work would probably have escaped my notice.) I followed the link to, read the document right there on the website, and was immediately taken with Stiner’s explanation of Web 2.0:

The internet has become not only a medium for consuming information, but also a platform upon which every user has the power to produce content as well. … [Instead of] the flow of content moving unilaterally from the producer to the consumer, Web 2.0 is based on user centered applications that promote communication, user empowerment, collaboration and social networking.

Stiner goes on to explore, as his title suggests, how nonprofits can use three key Web 2.0 tools in promoting their causes.  It’s a thoughtful and idea-rich treatment of the topic, and a good introduction for nonprofits who are just beginning to explore blogging and other social media.

Since reading the document, I’ve used Scribd's tools to download a copy for myself, email the link to several colleagues, bookmark it on Delicious, share it on StumbleUpon, and even embed the iPaper reader on this web page. (See below -- go ahead, click the toolbar buttons to try it out!)  And I'm just one reader. Not bad mileage, eh?

“With the self-description of ‘democratizing publishing’ through its document sharing community, it’s hard not to be immediately intrigued,” says SocialButtrfly Alexandra Rampy, who has also been exploring this week.

The challenge, inevitably, lies in sorting the wheat from the chaff — finding valuable reading material on a specific topic, quickly and efficiently.

Finding Nonprofits on is a veritable gold mine of information you may not find elsewhere online, but documents of specific interest to nonprofits are scattered across different categories based on document types — eBooks, academic papers, spreadsheets, and so on.  Listing by topics is apparently still very much a work-in-progress: Programming, origami, and the 2008 US Election are all in the brief topic list, but nothing there yet for nonprofit interests. And only a handful of Groups are self-identified as nonprofits.

The best option at the moment may be to search by tags, even though every user will choose and use tags in a slightly different way: For example, a search today on Scribd’s tag/nonprofit shows 321 documents, while tag/nonprofits (plural) shows 16 documents in the results. Enter “nonprofit” or “nonprofits” as simple search terms, however, and the results list many thousands of documents as containing those words.

Online communities like Scribd have the potential to be an invaluable resource for nonprofits, for teaching and learning, sharing information and promoting their cause, and connecting with other nonprofits who pursue a compatible mission. (As Alexandra Rampy asks her readers, “what would ‘social publishing’ through a non-profit/social change lens look like?”) It’s a powerful concept, this "social publishing" — and perhaps we simply need to figure out how to better focus the tools, to make it an even more valuable tool for nonprofits?

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 20 January 2009 at 4:28 PM

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  • Alex, aka SocialButterfly said:

    Tuesday, 20 January 2009 at 11:56 AM

    Thanks for the great discussion re: Twitter and here. I think focusing in would be a great first step...making it easier to funnel and find both documents and people that you share interests with. I'll also have to look up that paper too...looks pretty interesting!

  • Elaine Harrigan said:

    Wednesday, 21 January 2009 at 5:28 AM

    Interesting info. Where I'm located, a group of nonprofit arts & cultural organizations are looking at ways that our key marketing, programming and development people can interact, help each other, and share resources--especially re: technology and social networking that's developing so fast, we barely have time to blink. Scribd and other tools like LinkedIn seem to offer some promise in helping organizations connect with each other to work better and smarter. This is critical for nonprofits that are historically understaffed and where staff members have to wear a lot of hats.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 22 January 2009 at 2:49 PM

    Alex, if you figure out a way to get that focus, feel free to share! :)

    Elaine, I love the idea of small nonprofits banding together to help each other figure these things out: that's likely to be almost essential as tech changes so rapidly and money gets even tighter. You're giving me ideas...

  • Steve Levine said:

    Friday, 06 February 2009 at 7:19 AM

    Cool. Not only do I like the technology, I like the white paper you use as an example. In fact, embedded in our blog -

    Thanks for ANOTHER useful tip.

  • Meg said:

    Wednesday, 11 February 2009 at 4:30 AM

    Thanks for the info about Scribd. I haven't heard of it and it seems like a great tool, especially once the organization of the site improves.

  • Mohammed Alfadhel said:

    Saturday, 14 February 2009 at 8:58 PM

    Dear Sir,

    I am a teacher of English and would like to know how to publish my educational articles.I would be extremely grateful if you could help me.

    I look forward to hearing from you.


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Sunday, 15 February 2009 at 4:23 AM

    Mohammed, the list of Frequently Asked Questions on the website does a good job of explaining how to sign up for an account and publish your articles there. See: .

  • Silicon Beach Training said:

    Wednesday, 03 March 2010 at 5:40 AM

    Hi Rebecca, thanks for sharing this -

    I just wrote about managing Social Media Activity and linked your post - - when talking about Scribd.



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